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Is Laws set to return as Clegg’s consigliere?

By Angela Harbutt
March 10th, 2011 at 1:09 am | 2 Comments | Posted in coalition, Liberal Democrats


Get ready to break out the champagne.

 The Independent reports in today’s paper that David Laws looks set to return to the heart of the Coalition Government. We at Liberal Vision can only pray the report is true. His presence has been truly missed.

According to the Inde, Nick Clegg and David Cameron have had private discussions about appointing Mr Laws to work alongside Oliver Letwin and Francis Maude in the Cabinet Office. 

 Amusingly the Daily Mail describes the role as  “..Mr Clegg’s ‘consigliere’ in Whitehall.” . Oh I wish.

The Inde reports, more soberly, that David will be  taking on responsibility for “co-ordinating and driving through all aspects of the Coalition’s policy agenda”  (a job currently undertaken by Danny Alexander).

Danny has been a good and loyal friend to Nick Clegg  for some time – so it would seem unlikely that he will raise any objections to Nick’s plans to return David to the heart of the Coalition. Especially as it comes with senior Tory approval. Surely its a win-win? Danny gets to focus more clearly on his work at the Treasury, whilst Nick gets one of the Lib Dems greatest minds (and Orange-booker) working on Coaltion policy (and future Lib Dem policy no doubt). 

The post is unlikely to be a “full cabinet position” – (that might upset the “Tory-Lib Dem balance” (yawn)),  but would allow David to attend Cabinet and would have influence over all areas of policy. That should be enough to be going on with.

As the Inde rightly points out, any comeback would be dependent on David being cleared by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards which is, as far as we can tell, STILL investigating whether David broke expenses rules. So when exactly is the investigation going to be concluded? Perhaps the conversations between Dave and Nick are an indication that the investigation is finally drawing to a close.

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Enemies of enterprise seek control on tobacco

By Angela Harbutt
March 9th, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Comments Off on Enemies of enterprise seek control on tobacco | Posted in Personal Freedom

The ban on displaying tobacco products announced today is deeply disappointing. 

As noted over on the Tobacco Retailers Alliance website,  “the policy to ban retail displays of tobacco in shops was a policy by the previous Labour government. Throughout the Bill’s passage through Parliament both the Conservatives and Lib Dems expressed concern that the policy was not based on sound evidence to prove that hiding tobacco out of sight in shops would cut youth smoking rates.

Andrew Lansley even cited the example of Canada, where youth smoking rates have remained steady despite a display ban has been phased in over a decade. Less than two weeks ago, Cancer Research published data from Ireland showing that youth smoking has actually increased since a display ban came into force 18 months ago.”  Read more here..

How the policy to ban retail displays of tobacco in shops came to be Coalition policy is therefore utterly bizarre – and worrying.

In similar vein, the following letter appeared in the Daily Telegraph (Letters page) today asking just how committed is this government to enterprise,  and how serious was David Cameron when he said, just a few days ago, that he would wage war on bureaucrats who concoct ridiculous rules and regulations.

SIR – Today, smokers are asked to observe No Smoking Day. They may also finally get to hear Government proposals that could ban the display of tobacco products in retail outlets, and only allow tobacco to be sold in plain, state-prescribed packaging.

If the Coalition is committed to defeating the enemies of enterprise, as David Cameron, the Prime Minister, claims, a good start would be to call a halt to the relentless campaign to “denormalise” smoking through an endless barrage of new controls, directives and diktats.

Mr Cameron claimed last weekend that he would wage war on bureaucrats who concoct ridiculous rules and regulations. Banning the branding of tobacco products or making cigarettes an under-the-counter product would be yet another victory for these very bureaucrats. Life would become more difficult for newsagents and tobacconists and easier for the providers of illicit tobacco to pass off their wares as legitimate.

We cannot yet be sure whether the Prime Minister’s commitment to combating regulation and red tape is truly serious. If his Government now unveils proposals to further restrict the sale and purchase of tobacco, it will be a clear sign that his new commitment to enterprise is little more than political rhetoric.

Patrick Basham
Director, Democracy Institute
Dr Eamonn Butler
Director, Adam Smith Institute
Donna Edmunds
Director of Research, Progressive Vision
Dr Helen Evans
Director, Nurses for Reform
Dr Tim Evans
Chairman, Economic Policy Centre
Daniel Hamilton
Director, Big Brother Watch
Angela Harbutt
Executive Director, Liberal Vision
Tim Knox
Acting Director, Centre for Policy Studies
Mark Littlewood
Director General, Institute of Economic Affairs
Matthew Sinclair
Director, The TaxPayers’ Alliance
Simon Richards
Director, The Freedom Association

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The mother of all government apologies is just around the corner…

By Angela Harbutt
March 8th, 2011 at 4:26 pm | 9 Comments | Posted in health, Lifestyle Products, Personal Freedom

…”A health time bomb” is how BBC1’s Panorama described the cigarette counterfeiting crisis facing Britain, in last night’s programme “Smoking and the Bandits“.  The scale of the illicit trade on tobacco is eye-watering – an estimated £4billion in lost tax revenue in the UK every year according to Panorama – though I have seen much bigger figures elsewhere.

The reason why the counterfeit tobacco trade has mushroomed in the UK is obvious… “80% of the cigarette price is tax, making our country the second most expensive place in the world to buy cigarettes“.    And so the proliferation of knock-off cigarettes and rolling tobacco – selling at less than half the price of legitimate tobacco –  has reached epidemic levels. Illicit tobacco is now widely available everywhere…. open air markets, car boot sales, newsagents, pubs, factories and universities up and down the country.

And its not just the lost revenue to the tax man  that should concern us. It’s the fact that the trade is no longer being run by Dell boy down the road with his little white van and entrepreneurial flair. The trade is now run by large well organised international crime gangs using their gargantuan tobacco profits to fund god-knows what else.  One container of illicit goods costing £100,000 returns the gangs a profit of £1million. This is now BIG business for BIG CRIME syndicates. 

And if you don’t care what the gangs do with the money they make, and even less about the loss to the tax coffers, then you might be be concerned by what is actually IN these counterfeit products. A counterfeit pouch of Golden Virginia purchased by the Panorama team had 30 times the levels of lead found in a pouch of legitimate  Virginia – not to mention the humongous levels of cadmium and arsenic found in other fake tobacco examined. This is the “health time bomb” Panorama refer to – let’s not worry about the nicotine right now…….

So how to stop this trade ? Well, the government has already announced an increase in spend for HMRC to stop tax evasion and fraud. How much of the increase will be directed toward stopping illicit tobacco sales is unclear. What ever it is it won’t be enough to catch the veritable tsunami of illicit tobacco that is pouringinto the country (go watch the programme if you doubt me). So the answer to cutting the illicit tobacco trade hardly seems to lie with more HRMC men and their waggy-tail sniffer dogs.

We need a big idea to tackle the illicit tobacco trade – and fast!

One “big idea” staring us all in the face of course is to CUT the duty on legitimate tobacco – to remove the incentive for punters to buy the cheaper  alternatives full of who-knows what heavy metals an poisons. Cutting tobacco tax would almost certainly increase legitimate sales at the expense of  the illegal sales.

Raising tax on tobacco in recent years has, I suggest, not “cut smoking” as the health-fanatics would have us believe. It has driven it underground. Diverting the cash from tax coffers to crime gangs.

Another “big idea” would be for government to liaise with tobacco companies (yes that would involve sitting in the same room) to find ways to make it much more difficult to counterfeit their products (the vast majority of people purchasing the tobacco have no idea it is fake – but assume it has been brought over from elsewhere in Europe) .

So what is the Coalition Government’s big idea?  Oh I know to announce tomorrow (on “No Smoking” Day) the introduction of plain packaging on LEGITIMATE tobacco products. That’ll work (not!).

Criminal gangs must think Christmas has come early. Lets make it 100% easier to sell tax free poison-filled knock-offs and make the cost of the fakery even cheaper – no more complicated forgery to pay for. I can almost hear the whoops of delight from here.

This looks, for all the world, like another government apology in the waiting. What will it be this time… “a misunderstanding”…a “rethink after new evidence came to light”…”a matter of unintended consequences”…

…The best one of course will be the plaintive cry that “we were only trying to save the kids”… Well chaps if you really want to “save the kids” then find a way of stopping the disgusting lead…arsenic..cadmium filled alternatives from wiping out the legitimate stuff that looks like candy by comparison. Because I can tell you that kids are not going to smoke any less as a result of your action tomorrow and if there are two cigarettes that look identical and one is half the price of the other we all know which one the kids are going to buy. ….Oh and if your only answer is that you have “increased funding to HMRC” then you deserve everything that is going to be thrown at you.

Given you seem a bit short on quality PR advise right now let me help..  HOLD OFF … Think long term, not short term. Go for real success, not tomorrow’s headline..Think about what is the effective measure, not what is the easiest measure. Mostly – be very clear of the consequences of what you are about to do… and if you are in any doubt…hit that pause button now.

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Giving away the banks is fraught with danger

By Tom Papworth
March 8th, 2011 at 11:28 am | Comments Off on Giving away the banks is fraught with danger | Posted in Uncategorized

Over at the Adam Smith Institute, Dr. Eamonn Butler criticises Stephen Williams’ proposals to give away the Government’s shares in RBS and Lloyds to each and every person in the country. As Eammon notes, this form of privatisation proved disastrous in post-communist Russia, where citizens sold their shares too cheaply to oligarchs with deep pockets. Even if they hang onto the shares, Eammon doubts that they would become the interested shareholders that would ensure good governance of the company, as is surely desired.

I agree with him, but I also see two further problems with this proposal.

[Continue reading]

Giving away shares in RBS to 60 million people made holding the AGM a challenge

Who wants to save their high street, anyway?

By Tom Papworth
March 4th, 2011 at 4:23 pm | 6 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

I’ve just read this brief post by George Mason University economist Don Boudreaux and enjoyed it so much I thought I might reproduce it in full.

(Fingers crossed Mr. Bourdreaux is one of those libertarians that doesn’t believe in intellectual property!)

A friend asked me earlier today a Wal-Mart question.  I remembered this letter to the editor of The Economist that I wrote in 2006; I post it here at the Cafe for the first time:

In “Opening up the big box” (Feb. 25) you overlook a significant benefit of Wal-Mart – namely, by relieving Main Street’s retail spaces of the need to supply staple goods such as groceries and hardware, Wal-Mart frees these spaces to be transformed into ethnic restaurants, wi-fied cafes, art galleries, arts theaters, and specialty retail shops.

Wal-Mart makes downtown areas more diverse and lively.

Donald J. Boudreaux

This happy effect of Wal-Mart first dawned on me back in the mid-1990s when I lived near Greenville, SC.  Many of my older friends in South Carolina – such as Bruce Yandle, the late Hugh Macaulay, and the late Wallace Trevillian – remembered Main St. in Greenville from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s.  They described the hardware store that no longer exists on Main St., as well as the barber shop, the mom’n’pop grocery store, the diner, and the pharmacy.  But the Main St. in Greenville that I knew (having moved to South Carolina only in 1992) was booming and lively with fusion restaurants, art galleries, wine bars, and up-scale gift shops.

See also here.

I could not agree more. It is amazing how much of the preservation brigade’s narrative boils down to preserving the present in aspic!

Those were the days. More's the pity!