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+++Stop Press+++ Lib Dem 2015 manifesto to cut spending by an additional £30bn

By Angela Harbutt
November 29th, 2011 at 11:23 pm | 7 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

A remarkably brave and honest performance by Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander on Newsnight, mere moments ago.

Given the disappointing deficit reduction figures to date, the next government will have to make additional savings of around £30bn to get the public finances back into balance.

Danny made it unambiguously clear that a commitment to find these savings will be in the next manifesto.

Even Paxo was surprised about his frankness and unambiguous clarity.

A top performance.

And at least we also know the task for LibDem conference for the next couple of years. And at least it’s a clear challenge, which should help us avoid any danger of descending into an irresponsible “whinge fest”.

So, where would we start in finding those additional savings?

*UPDATE* – You can view the interview here.

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What hope is there for liberty if truth becomes a plaything of militant lobbyists?

By Guest
November 29th, 2011 at 10:26 am | 4 Comments | Posted in Government, health, Spin

Tobacco was unfortunately very much in the news again recently with the BMA launching a campaign to ban smoking in cars probably as a prelude to what will then seem a more reasonable move to get it banned when children are present. I want to focus here not on the ban but on the methods being used by its advocates.

On Radio 4s Today programme Vivienne Nathanson of the BMA was questioned about her evidence:

Nathanson: Well, the evidence is, in fact, that the levels of toxins that can build up in a car do reach 23 times the levels in a smoky bar…

Interviewer: And that is—sorry to interrupt you—but that is peer-reviewed?

Nathanson: Yes, absolutely.

Interviewer: Everyone in the scientific community accepts that it’s true?

Nathanson: Absolutely.

The BMA has since issued a major correction and apology with the explanation that the mistake was caused by human error.  These things happen but as Head of Science and Ethics, Nathanson has a duty to check. I find her glib assertions regarding peer review and scientific consensus indefensible. It is hard to see how they could be made in error.

The same day over on Radio 5, a phone in caller queried the general evidence base for passive smoke harm and Deborah Arnott of ASH countered by emphasizing claims that heart attacks have been reduced by smoking bans:

“There’s very good evidence supported by the BMA, the Royal College of Physicians, the World Health Organisation, the Standing Committee on Tobacco & Health which reported to the Department of Health. The Coalition Government very recently conducted a review of smokefree legislation, and what we’ve seen is a significant decline in heart attacks following the implementation of the legislation. The evidence is incontrovertible.”

In response to criticism that a fall in heart attacks in England post the 2006 Health Act was part of an existing trend, she said:

“Yes, but the decline is greater than trend. And that’s in a peer-reviewed article published in a very reputable journal, and it’s been found not just in England, Scotland, but everywhere that smokefree legislation in public places has been brought in.”

The statistics on heart attack hospital admissions in the UK are freely available to all on line. Here is a link to the NHS data for Scotland.

Using the measure preferred by the tobacco control industry and the hospital admissions data from NHS statisticians (table AC5) we can calculate emergency admissions for heart attacks as follows:

12 months pre ban:             7905
0-12 months post ban:        7250        (-8.29%)
12-24 months post ban:      8913        (+12.75%)
24-36 months post ban:      7707        (-2.50%)

() = % change from pre ban baseline

The word Arnott used was incontrovertible, the claim is a 17% reduction and the intervention was presented by some supporters as certain to have an immediate major impact on public health. Taking all that into account we should see a consistent, trend independent effect in the public record but whichever table or measure we use it is impossible to objectively claim that such an effect exists.

I value sober analysis of NHS statistics more than I do articles authored by tobacco control activists, peer reviewed or otherwise. I am not alone in this view and it is unlikely that Arnott is unaware of the serious credibility issues facing all the studies that support her claim or indeed of the existence of other work that contradicts it. The evidence is very far from incontrovertible.

Arnott is a skilled professional propagandist who is all too aware that, whatever the actual truth; provided that she sounds convincing her version will be believed by enough otherwise ill-informed people to achieve her objective. An article here gives some insight into her personality and the nature of her campaign.

Arnott is correct in saying that there has been a peer reviewed publication in the BMJ that supports her claim.  It claims a 2.4% decrease in heart attacks due to the ban but fails to adequately explain how the result was arrived at. This approach is sadly increasingly common in medical journals. Bearing in mind Arnott’s comment on trends, it is notable that, according to the NHS, the overall decline in heart attacks for the 12 months post ban was 4.26% compared to a 5.19% decline 2 years before the ban. The post ban decline was in fact neither large nor significant. The BMJ paper was produced by a team led by Anna Gilmore.

Arnott is also correct in saying that there has been a review of the 2006 Health Act. It was written by Linda Bauld.

The authorship of both these papers throws up some very searching questions about ethics at the Department of Health. Surely in a society that allegedly values honesty and transparency we have a right to expect government to review policy and measure its efficacy using the most qualified, objective and unimpeachable resources available. Why then did the DH directly commission two not especially qualified people both of whom have a notable history of anti-tobacco activism? The results were hardly likely to be seen as either credible or objective.

ASH is largely funded by the Department of Health and appears to be in firm control of the government’s agenda.

How can we possibly have a free and liberal society if we allow the truth to become the property of pressure groups directly funded by government departments?  The principles at stake here radiate way beyond tobacco. We urgently need to reform the charity sector and I would suggest also the Department of Health.

Thanks to Chris Snowdon and Frank Davis for giving their time to transcribe the radio interviews.

Written by Chris Oakley.

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Should your taxes be used to fund a Premier League football club?

By Timothy Cox
November 28th, 2011 at 10:11 pm | 10 Comments | Posted in Government, Poverty, Tax


One of the fastest-growing petitions in recent weeks has been this effort to stop millions of pounds in government funds being handed over to Tottenham Hotspur FC.

You can view it here:

Spurs recently announced annual revenue of £163.5m, a significant chunk of which they spend paying their squad of millionaire footballers.

Yet having launched a strong campaign to take over the (tax-funded) Olympic stadium in Stratford, the club is now set to receive a large taxpayer “incentive” to build themselves a new stadium in Tottenham.

Unsurprisingly Mayor Boris is happily trying to chuck the cash their way while the lobbying and rent-seeking is being driven forward by local MP David Lammy.

The riots, which began in Tottenham, are being used as a justification for the funding, which apparently involves “regenerating” the area.

Regardless of the flaws in believing that areas are reformed by chucking a load of cash at them from elsewhere (they aren’t), one must ask if this is the best way of improving the outlook for young people in the neighbourhood.

Is throwing money at the nearest football club, which actually wanted to leave the area, the best way of helping local people?

And if any regeneration is good for impoverished areas, why doesn’t the government fund all private developments in poor neighbourhoods? What about Tesco? They bring jobs to poor areas when the open new stores. What about Lidl and Morrisons? Who decides on the alleged social benefits of each new scheme?

And why weren’t other football clubs subsidised for bringing jobs to their areas when they build new stadia? Down the road, Arsenal invested hundreds of millions on a new stadium and had to build masses of affordable flats and help fund a new recycling centre and put money aside for public transport improvements.

Why did they have to pay the state millions on top of their own costs, when Spurs are set to be subsidised?

Why aren’t the government looking to subsidise new grounds for Chelsea and QPR? Shouldn’t they be “incentivised” to “regenerate” other poor areas in London?

The decision to fund Spurs smacks of the usual corporate cronyism that sadly still pervades the political system. Nearly any development can be dressed up as worthy of “support” by self-interested vote-hungry politicians and manipulated by equally ravenous businessmen.

Sign the petition to stop your taxes going towards Tottenham Hotspur FC.

David Laws interview now available to view

By Angela Harbutt
November 28th, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Comments Off on David Laws interview now available to view | Posted in Liberal Democrats

For those of you unable to attend (or just want to watch again) Mark Littlewood’s cracking interview with David Laws MP at the IEA last week, the video is now up. My favourite line from David Laws.. “The Lib Dems… are the party that best fuses social justice and economic liberalism”. Overall however, you will notice that it is a rather cautious David that turned up for the event. This is no bad thing in my view. As much as David might loathe speculation about his return to the front bench, his answers and demeanour on the night suggest we may be getting closer to just such an announcement.

Go to IEA to watch video.

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The broad church that is the Liberal Democrats

By Simon Goldie
November 28th, 2011 at 10:37 am | 6 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy, Social Liberal Forum, Uncategorized

In a series of comments under the post, The Strange Rebirth of Classical Liberalism, the question of what the Liberal Democrats are all about came up several times. One comment by Dan asked about the party’s view of limited government and the free market. Instead of responding directly by discussing my own experiences, I thought it might be more illuminating to look at what different strands make up the Liberal Democrats. This is partly because I see myself as a commentator on the party and how liberalism has developed.

It is a cliche to say that the party is a broad church. All political parties are.

In one sense, the Liberal Democrats are a new party. Formed after a merger, the party combines at least two political traditions. The SDP rejected a Labour party that was adopting policies like unilateral nuclear disarmament and withdrawal from the European Community. The party placed itself deliberately in the centre ground and shared some headline policies with the Liberal party.

The Liberal party was born out of a merger a century before between the Whigs and the Radicals. This tradition was influenced by the ideas of Adam Smith, John Locke and John Stuart Mill. It was shaped by a reforming impulse that manifested itself with repeal of the Corn Laws, pushing for free trade and the establishment of the rule of law. Its non-conformist radicalism made common cause with the co-operative, and mutual, movement and a concern for the poor.

Over time these strands have evolved, but they can still be identified in the party.

Simon Hughes, a member of the Liberal party, clearly comes from that non-conformist radical tradition. He has a deep concern for people in society who through no fault of their own struggle to get by. His instincts are liberal but mixes this with a desire for equality of opportunity.

The ex SDP side of the Liberal Democrats are more like Scandinavian social democrats. They are for a free market and strong public services.

The ‘Orange Book’ liberals, some of which are ex SDP, want to see government helping the most vulnerable in society and believe the freerer the market the more likely that is to happen. Some, like Chris Huhne, believe that regulatory frameworks can help develop markets that would not otherwise come into fruition.

The social liberals also support a free market, albeit one that is more heavily regulated. They tend to be sceptical about using market mechanics to help provide public services while the ‘Orange Bookers’ are more comfortable with this.

Since its inception, the party has supported constitutional reform which in their view would limit, and check, executive power. Traditionally, the classical liberals within the Conservative party have opposed these reforms. Some reject change because they believe tinkering with the constitution is dangerous, some dislike the idea of the executive being constrained while others take the view that constitutional change won’t actually limit government. Whether the changes that the Lib Dems argue for will work is open to debate. The point though is that the commitment to limiting government has always been there.

Clearly, the Liberal Democrats are not a classical liberal party. But there are members who are classical liberals and even social liberals are influenced by the ideas of liberty, tolerance, limited government, sound money and the distribution of power.