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Fat taxes are not just nannying – they don’t work.

By Angela Harbutt
October 11th, 2011 at 11:24 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in health


Here is a very interesting article by Patrick Basham and John Luic, providing a very thoughtful and well-researched piece arguing why fat taxes don’t work. Their conclusion, surprise surprise is that the answer is a simple economic one – demand for food tends to be largely insensitive to price and that there is considerable research on food prices that has demonstrated this inelasticity…

“The latest economic research strongly suggests that a fat tax may simply prove to be a futile instrument in influencing the behaviour and habits of the overweight and the obese. Those consumers ‘addicted’ (to use the obesity crusaders’ term) to unhealthy food will not be dissuaded from their eating habits and patterns by a tax. Those consumers who strongly prefer ‘unhealthy’ foods – those we term dietary ‘risk takers’ – continue to eat and drink according to their individual preferences until such time as it becomes prohibitively expensive to do so..”

It’s a must read. Here’s hoping that someone puts a copy into David Cameron’s in-tray.


Lesson1: Never defend Chris Huhne unless you have all the facts

By Angela Harbutt
October 10th, 2011 at 11:36 am | 7 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

After the Hapless Huhne affair (poor choice of words I know) which we noted here at the time, I read Paul Walters explanation of it all on LDV with interest at the weekend.

I was surprised, particularly given Chris’ track record,that such a bold defence was mounted so promptly. Experience would have told most people to “hold on a while” just in case….

Here in essence is what Paul  said…

“Chris Huhne had obviously been having a private text exchange with (that ubiquitous Huhne Aunt Sally) “a staff member” (if you believe what Huhne told the BBC’s excellent Peter Henley..)”

“…the story concerned was probably quite inconsequential, bearing in mind that someone reasonably experienced in press matters..”

“This “#tweetfailgate” story would not have taken wing so much, had it not fed into the general assumption that Chris Huhne practises media manipulative skullduggery behind the scenes.”

“…thank goodness that the LibDems have a few people, like Chris Huhne, who know their way around the dark arts of the media”

Where to start?

WRONG – Huhne has now admitted he fed a story to a journalist about a fellow coalition minister. NOT a fellow staffer then.

WRONG -The story is NOT inconsequential. A minister is caught briefing against a fellow cabinet minister and doubles the sin by then lying – on the record – to the BBC about his actions. If lying and briefing against fellow ministers is inconsequential then what on earth is “consequential”?

RIGHT &WRONG – Yes the tweetgate story gained legs because Chris does have a reputation for manipulative skulduggery. That is NOT a good thing whatever some people might think. But a tweet from any Government minister saying “From someone else fine but I do not want my fingerprints on the story. C” was always going to cause excitement.

WRONG – Chris clearly does not know his way around “the dark arts of media”. If he did he would not have a rep for “skulduggery” (some of the very best I know at this have kept their work off radar – it would shock you to the core if they were named – now there’s real manipulative skulduggery). He has also stumbled from one hapless incident to another – without any control over any of the stories he has been the centre of.

What Paul Walter didn’t say was something along the lines of …”hey Chris Huhne pushes his balls around in a wheelbarrow and whatever it turns out he has done this time, doubtless “teflon-man” will bounce back from it like he always does“.

Except I think that would be wrong too. Chris has quite clearly shot his leadership bolt – and with every day that passes his time as minister looks increasingly untenable. I don’t say that with any relish. But as a Lib Dem that cares more about the party than the career of any individual – the question has to be asked – how long can Chris’ haplessness be allowed to continue?

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Has Cameron made his last “liberal Conservative” speech?

By Angela Harbutt
October 9th, 2011 at 7:40 pm | 16 Comments | Posted in Nudge Dredd

Am I the only one who is getting increasingly annoyed at the two-faced Cameron that seems to be emerging ?

On the one hand he urges us all to engage with his Big Society project – insisting that this is about “treating adults like adults” and asking people to “take responsibility for their lives” – but falls back on nannying and legislation at the first sign that society isn’t marching to his new tune quite as quickly as he would like.

Back in 2009 – before he was elected he was very clear that society was broken because big government interfered too much:

Why is our society broken? Because government got too big, did too much and undermined responsibility”…. “But this idea, this approach, that for every problem there is a government solution, for every issue and initiative, for every situation a tzar….”….”you know the biggest problem with this big government, it’s not the cost, though that’s bad enough, it’s the steady erosion of responsibility and it is our task to lead Britain in a completely different direction”

Even in February 2011 his mantra was still along the lines of personal responsibility:

“The big society is about changing the way our country is run. No more of a government treating everyone like children who are incapable of taking their own decisions. Instead, let’s treat adults like adults and give them more responsibility over their lives.”

“And the big question we have to ask ourselves is this: do we want a country where politicians, bureaucrats and the powers-that-be treat everyone like children who are incapable of taking their own decisions and taking responsibility for their lives? Or do we want a country where we treat adults like adults, and give them more power and more responsibility over their lives?”

Now it all seems to be about government getting involved in the way people bring up their children, introducing another consultation into tobacco (plain packaging), stopping all “explicit” advertising on hoardings and even considering a FAT tax for everyone (despite the fact that back in 2008, when on the hunt for votes, Andrew Lansley said “..Providing information is empowering, lecturing people is not. So, no excuses, no nannying..”).

Now Cameron tells us…. “…we’ve got to be less sensitive to the charge that this is about interfering or nannying”.

So what on earth is going on?

Do we simply accept that Cameron is a just another two-faced politician who says what ever suits? He may have felt the need to appear “liberal” pre-election but is, at heart, an old fashioned Tory that can’t help but look down his sneery nose at those who are too fat, too chavvy or too stupid to help themselves and knows in his heart that Nanny knows best?

Possibly. He has an interfering gene in him that’s for sure – having a go at WHSmith for putting chocolate oranges at the check out, BHS for its sale of tiny tots padded bras, Lily Allen for her song lyrics etc.

But if we do believe his stated desire to be a “liberal Conservative”  why is he seemingly being tossed from pillar to post, wanting to be liberal, but overseeing an increasing number of policies that are anything but?

I really don’t know. Perhaps he has given up on the fight with the Tory right. Perhaps he doesn’t have sufficient control over his Ministers to ensure that departments stick to the plan. Or perhaps his Ministers don’t have enough control over the Whitehall bureaucrats that ultimately formulate policy. It’s possible Cameron’s reliance on polls and focus groups have driven him into the arms of Mumsnet/Mothers Unions/ASH/BMA.

Whatever the reason, it looks right now as though Cameron has decided to leave liberalism to the Liberals.

He is seemingly being tossed from pillar to post, wanting to be liberal, but overseeing an increasing number of policies that are anything but.
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Classical liberalism and animal rights

By Guest
October 8th, 2011 at 9:03 am | 9 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

Like most people, I went through most of my life without giving much consideration to animal rights. I never reflected on whether classical liberals ought to take the issue more seriously, I really never gave it much attention at all. Sure, when shopping in the supermarket I used to choose free-range eggs over battery produced eggs, but I was still content to eat meat. In fact my diet was the typical British diet of today, meat with a side of meat, skip the fruit and vegetables.

But then I was tricked into actually looking into the issue. Somebody posted a video of Richard Dawkins talking to Peter Singer. I had no idea who Peter Singer was, but as an atheist, I’m always interested in seeing what Dawkins has to say, so I sat down with a tasty chicken leg and watched. To my surprise it was actually Dawkins asking Singer the questions and it wasn’t about religion, but animal rights.

The arguments made sense and whilst I wasn’t instantly converted, they touched a nerve. My interest was stirred enough for me to delve deeper into the subject and eventually I found my way to an article that made the case for animal rights from a libertarian point of view. The argument was so stunningly logical and in my eyes, indisputable, that I decided then to eliminate meat from my diet.

Every year in the UK alone, more than a billion animals are killed so they can end up on our plates. In most cases they lead a miserable existence, living in cramped conditions, being manipulated in any way possible as long as it suits our ends. I can’t stress enough how crucial it is that those who eat meat take the time to conduct some research into what actually happens to these animals.

Why should classical liberals in particular be concerned? Because it’s a clear breach of the non-aggression principle. Nobody is asking for ‘free’ education for pigs, or an NHS for our pets (well ok, maybe Animals Count are, but we can ignore them.) These are basic negative rights. Freedom from torture, freedom from murder – what liberal could possibly disagree with that?

Ah, you say. Of course we care about negative rights, for humans, but animals are different. We might have a duty to refrain from wanton cruelty, but generally their interests are not as important as ours.

What convinced me that the above view was wrong was the argument from marginal cases. So what does this mean? Well, think of all the reasons people give to justify humans being treated differently to other animals. We’re vastly more intelligent, we can reason, we have a greater capacity to mourn the death of our loved ones, we’re capable of higher levels of empathy – and so on. Whilst this is all true in most cases, it is not true in all cases. Marginal cases are humans who are no more capable of meeting the aforementioned criteria than animals. For example, the severely mentally disabled are no more able to mourn the death of loved one than a duck. Newborn babies are no more intelligent than a cow. Yet these human beings still enjoy the same rights as all human beings.

In the case of newborn babies, some may argue that it’s their future potential that gives them their rights. That argument neither grants rights to the permanently mentally disabled, nor to babies with a terminal illness. The reality is that it’s surprisingly difficult to think of any criteria for granting rights to marginal cases, but not to animals. If we really think about why it is wrong to torture a baby, surely it is because they are capable of feeling pain, not because they have the potential to be highly intelligent later in their life. Sentience is what grants humans their negative rights and therefore it should also give animals the same basic rights.

The way we currently treat animals is a great ethical blind spot in our society. I’m not suggesting that vegans are morally superior to meat eaters. There are millions of well-meaning, good people in this country who eat meat simply because it’s a cultural norm and they have never thought about the issue in any depth. To see how great evil can go unnoticed in this way, one has only to remember that when the Founding Fathers stated that all men were entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, millions of human beings were still being kept as slaves in America.

Classical liberals have a long and proud history of challenging the status quo when evil persists, this is what separates us from conservatives. It’s crucial that we take up this fight and become passionate defenders of animal rights, because animals cannot speak for themselves. No chicken is going to stand in front of a podium and tell us that they had a dream. I believe that this is the great liberation movement of the 21st century and I implore all classical liberals to support it.

Ben Lodge is a recent graduate from the University of Exeter.

It’s Hapless Huhne not Calamity Clegg..

By Angela Harbutt
October 7th, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Comments Off on It’s Hapless Huhne not Calamity Clegg.. | Posted in Liberal Democrats

What a twit! It was Chris Huhne who coined the phrase “Calamity Clegg”  yet it is “Hapless Huhne” who is running from one bad story to another. Earlier this evening Hune was reported to have tweeted “From someone else fine but I do not want my fingerprints on the story. C” . Doh! Rumours are flying that it refers to a row brewing between Huhne and Osborne. That, frankly, is the best case scenario. If some mischievous paper runs a story on Nick Clegg !! Well….

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