Sunday, 21 December 2014

30.8 million of us have jobs

This week we learned that 30.8 million of us have jobs.[1] While I have blogged about the economy a bit recently, on the back of this news I wanted to come back to this topic because of how important this fact is.

There is a human face to the numbers when we talk about the 30.8 million of us in Britain in work. Statistics are often announced an impersonal way, which to be fair is understandable given the impersonal nature of numbers. However, behind the employment figures released on 17 December 2014 are people like you and I who now have the security of a regular pay packet. We 30.8 million people are not just digits in a spreadsheet, we are real people. We have real lives, real concerns, real bills to pay, real families to take care of. None of which would be possible without a job.

Behind the fact that 30.8 million of us have jobs is another story too, because having a £1 in your pocket is one thing but being able to make that go further is another. Having a job makes it possible to meet our obligations but there is more to it than that. How far our money goes is important too. That’s why it was good news when we learned another one of those lifeless statistics, on inflation, showed pay levels are increasing faster than prices in shops are increasing. More of us have the security of a steady wage, and now we have the extra security of knowing that the money in our pockets can get us a bit more too.

These are signs that the Conservatives’ long-term economic plan is working. There is still more to do, as mentioned in my previous blog, the Chancellor was clear on that in the 2014 Autumn Statement. However, for the hardworking taxpayers doing the right thing and trying to get on in life, we can take these statistics as a sign that Britain is on the right road. For many of us the fear since the economic downturn in 2008 has been that things would only get worse. However, the difficult decisions taken by the Conservatives since they entered government in 2010 have made sure that a) things have stopped getting worse and b) we are moving towards things being better. Of the 30.8 million of us who have jobs today, 1.75 million have got those jobs since David Cameron became Prime Minister.

We are moving towards a better, brighter more secure future. A lot of us have spent the years since the downturn began just trying to keep above water, so it can be hard to believe that things are actually improving. However, the statistics speak for themselves. Impersonal as the numbers may be they tell a true story. We have stopped falling and, instead of just clinging on, we are starting to climb our way back. Nonetheless, the slightest jolt could knock us off again.

If the Government were to stop trying to deal with our debts, if the Government were to begin spending and borrowing so it will have to tax more, all our personal finances would be at risk. Businesses may have to fire people to cope with the increased costs, and those us lucky to keep our jobs would find what’s left in our bank accounts at the end of the month would be less than we deserve it to be. There is no alternative to the Conservatives’ long-term economic plan to secure our future, and we must stick to it to guarantee future prosperity for ourselves, our families and our country.

[1] ONS, UK Labour Market December 2014, 17 December 2014, link

Saturday, 6 December 2014

On course for prosperity

On 3 December 2014 George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, delivered the last Autumn Statement of the current Parliament. I was pleased by what I heard. The long-term plan to stop Britain borrowing more by 2018 will allow the Conservatives to deliver on their commitment to cut tax for 30 million people that year, ensuring everyone working 30 hours on the minimum wage will pay no tax. At the same time, stopping businesses paying national insurance on apprentices under 25 will encourage them to give jobs to more young people. That increases the chances of young people in Britain having the security of steady pay and the hope of a better future.

However, not everyone is as positive about the Autumn Statement as I am. The two main criticisms seem to have been a) 60 per cent of spending cuts are still to come and b) the plan would take us back to the 1930's. To some not enough cutting has been done, to others too much is in the works.  

There is still more to do. Nobody denies that. In fact George Obsorne said this when he gave the Autumn Statement.[1] The Conservatives’ have a long-term economic plan because our country’s deficit is a long-term problem. At this point people tend to say that the Coalition used to talk about clearing the deficit in one Parliament. Furthermore, many of those people seem genuinely motivated by the knowledge that the more of taxpayers’ money government is borrowing against, the less of taxpayers’ money it can stop taking. They worry more borrowing means lower chances of hardworking people getting the tax cuts they deserve. In principle I agree, which is why I support dealing with Britain’s deficit, but in practice I appreciate why it has taken longer than expected.

Deficit reduction is for the benefit of the British people, it cannot be done at our expense. We can debate what factors have led to slower progress than we had hoped e.g. the impact of global oil prices on North Sea tax revenues, but the fact is when you are faced with a bigger problem than anticipated you often need longer to fix it than first thought. The Conservatives’ have done their best to negotiate between cutting back on how much taxpayer money government spends, and ensuring enough of our hard earned money goes into our public services. As I have written previously, government spending decisions are not abstract they impact every single person in our country. Every £1 spent by government has to come from someone who could use it on themselves and their family. Every £1 saved from a public service means that service must adapt to meet the needs of the British people. The Government has had to walk the line between making fewer cuts, which would have led to taxes and interest rates rising, and making harsher cuts, which would have been too much for our NHS and education system to take. I believe they’ve done a good job. To quote George Osborne at length:

‘Today, the deficit is half what we inherited. Our long-term economic plan is working. Now, Britain faces a choice. Do we squander the economic security that we have gained, and go back to the disastrous decisions on spending, borrowing and welfare that got us into this mess, or do we finish the job, and go on building the secure economy that works for everyone? I say: we stay the course. We stay on course for prosperity.’[2]

We are not headed backward in time; we are headed forwards to a time where the burden of government spending on our bank balances can finally be eased. That will require government become leaner, and it will require more difficult decisions over how the taxes taken from us are spent. However, it will ultimately result in what people need most right now: a little extra in the bank after pay day to help us meet our obligations, to look after those we care about, and to plan for the kind of future we really want.

[1] George Osborne, Hansard, 3 December 2014, Col. 305, link.
[2] George Osborne, ibid., 3 December 2014, Col. 305, link.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Explaining our motives

Whenever the issue of public services is discussed the accusation that Conservatives want to cut these rears its head. Over the weekend the Chancellor, George Osborne, committed an extra £2 billion a year to help support our NHS. However, despite the health service itself welcoming Osborne’s investment, somehow the discussion has moved onto accusations about service reductions. Apparently some find it hard to reconcile that Conservatives want to deal with Britain’s debt burden and protect its public services. In fact some go further and question the motives of Conservatives in trying to control public spending at all. This last point I want to tackle in my blog today.

The reason we need to control public spending is because when it gets out of control the poorest are hit hardest. In politics people tend to use mild, inoffensive terms like ‘public expenditure’, ‘government money’, ‘Whitehall spending’. This has the impact of dulling the impact of the words. However, in plain English, when politicians say these things they are talking about our money. They are talking about going into our bank accounts and removing money, through taxation, for them to use. The soft language masks a hard reality: There is no such thing as government money, it’s our money. There is no such thing as government debt, it’s our debt. The more government spends the more it must tax us, either today to use directly or tomorrow to pay off its borrowing. Those least able to afford it when government needs to tax more are the hardworking people already struggling to get by.

We need to control public spending to give people in our country the financial security they need and deserve. George Osborne once said ‘the country has overspent; it has not been under-taxed’[1] and he was right. For people who work hard, do the right thing, and want to get on in life, payday often brings no real relief. Instead, many are greeted with the sight of a pay check that has been eaten away by tax. The last thing they need is for their taxes to go up. Sadly that would be the consequence of abandoning our long-term plan to deal with Britain’s debts.

Conservatives are not trying to get government spending under control because we don’t care but because we do. Behind every billion government promises here or there is a face, a family, someone who will have to get by on a little less unless care is taken to reduce government spending elsewhere. Justifiably people ask what about those in the public sector, don’t they have stories too? The answer, naturally, is of course. Unfortunately life often presents us with two doors: one marked ‘bad’ and another marked ‘worse’. Can we really boost public sector pay if that means down the line everyone will have to pay more tax anyway, a pay rise that could be nullified by a later tax rise anyway?

Conservatives have had to make difficult decisions to secure a better future for Britain. It has not been pleasant or pleasurable but it has been and remains necessary. We have bought ourselves some time with what we have done so far, now we need to finish the job. That way in the near future people can be rewarded for their patience throughout this process with lower taxes, allowing them to actually save and start planning better futures for themselves and their families.

[1] George Osborne, Hansard, 22 June 2010, Col. 166

Monday, 10 November 2014

Piers Morgan and the N word

I came across a Piers Morgan piece (link) today in which he comments on use of the N-word and its widespread use among Black Americans. Morgan caveats his view and it would be unfair not to highlight he tries to be sensitive about it, but effectively he says Black people are undermining the civil rights movement by using the word. Given the common use of the word among Black Britons, and my disagreement with his position, I thought I’d detour from my usual topics to take this issue on.

There are elements of Morgan’s piece that I find myself more or less in agreement with. In fact, I think he makes a strong start. To cite him at length on the use of the N-word by Black people: ‘They’re aware of its history; they know from their parents and grandparents that arrogant, dumb, racist whites used it as a wicked, derogatory insult against their black slave forebears. And they enjoy the freedom of being able to say it now in the knowledge that it’s become taboo for whites to do so’[1]. On this I would say, for some Black people, Morgan is on the right track. However, he then starts going in the wrong direction.

In his critique of Mike Tyson’s views on the use of the N-word by Black people, Morgan displays a lack of empathy that prevents him from seeing a point of view different to his own. To some extent I don’t blame him. Morgan sees the whole story of the N-word from a White metropolitan urban standpoint, and given his background that might be expected. However, I would ask Morgan to try to step into Tyson’s shoes (and that of many other Black people) and try harder to get where he is coming from.

To deny Black people the right to use this word, to many Black people, would actually undermine our status as free men and women. Human beings have long understood the power of a name. In the Bible, the author of the first chapters of Genesis uses man’s ability to name things as a way to show his power over them. Likewise, when human beings wish to dehumanise one another they often strip them of their names and give them numbers. What Morgan needs to try and appreciate is that in the eyes of many Black people allowing White people to name us, and then later redefine the terms in which we are named, would maintain a certain dynamic we are keen to move away from. It is not that we enjoy the taboo of being able to say something White people cannot say. It is that we, as Black people, enjoy being able to determine ourselves on our own terms. Many White people may not approve, often with decent reasons like Morgan, but this is not something we are seeking anyone’s approval on.

Likewise, when Morgan says the N-word ‘symbolises…white-run, imperialist, violent, sexually malevolent barbarism’, that is all entirely from a White person’s perspective. To many Black people the N-word is actually associated with the first time you heard So Solid Crew drop ‘21 seconds’, laughing at Chris Rock’s stand up, or watching great TV like ‘The Wire’. Its use has become so common that to reject it entirely would be to reject contemporary Black culture. To paraphrase a well known Chris Rock skit, there’s a lot of N-words in a Doctor Dre song. For a Black person to entirely remove themselves from the use of the word, they would almost have to stop being Black. Like allowing White people to define us, that’s something most Black people simply won’t do.

I appreciate where Morgan is coming from with his arguments, and to some extent I accept the case he makes about racists, but I go back to the words he quotes from Tyson: ‘We have to think about how this word originated, where it came from. Just because we stop saying it won’t stop them (white racists) from saying it. They’re mad because they say it’s a double standard if they can’t say what we say amongst each other? I don’t plan on stopping saying it anytime soon’[2] Morgan is viewing the word with reference to a group of White people, in this case the sadly racist type. What he needs to understand is that for many Black people the word is not used with reference to White people or anyone else: We definite ourselves and on our own terms.

[1] Piers Morgan, MailOnline, 10 November 2014, link
[2] Mike Tyson, MailOnline, 10 November 2014, link

Sunday, 9 November 2014

25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall

As well as being Remembrance Sunday, today marks 25 years since the Berlin Wall came down. I was very young at the time so I do not remember it very well. Mostly what sticks in my memory are pictures of happy people on TV, faces expressing joy and relief. I did not know why they looked so happy. It was only years later, when I learned about Socialism and what it had done to Eastern Europe, that I began to understand.

Conservatives are often mischaracterised as being opposed to something, as opposed to representing something. The opponents of Conservatism prefer to see it as reactionary, an attempt to cling on to the past. In the present, where most peoples’ recollections of the Soviet Union are limited to what they get from video games and 80s action films, this is a relatively easy sell. However, the generation that took down the Berlin Wall knew differently. They realised that some values, like freedom of speech and belief, must be held onto and fought for. They realised that the torch of freedom does not pass itself on from generation to generation, but that each generation must work to keep it alight and make sure the next can benefit from its warmth.

Conservatism is about being conscious that living in a free society is not free. The freedoms we enjoy as part of this society came at a great cost and they must be preserved. Socialism offered, what turned out to be, an illusory future at the expense of the present. Conservatives stood against that by asserting no possible future was worth sacrificing the freedoms that people enjoy today. Disraeli said ‘the great question is not whether you should resist change which is inevitable, but whether that change should be carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws and the traditions of a people’[1]. For the Socialists of Eastern Europe and elsewhere existing tradition was seen as the enemy of ‘progress’. They viewed tradition as something to be wiped out along with those who clung to it, such as in Mao’s cultural revolution. For Conservatives elevating an ideology above such a basic right as individual freedom is wrong.

An entire generation has grown up without the memory of how miserable peoples’ lives can be made, if the value of their lives and freedoms is deemed less important than ‘progress’. As Conservatives it is our job to remind them of events like the fall of the Berlin Wall. That way they will never forget and never be seduced into repeating such mistakes.

[1] Benjamin Disraeli, Speech at Edinburgh, 1867

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Conservatives and ethnic minorities

I have intended to start blogging about being a Black British Conservative for awhile. However, recent events have given me the push I needed to actually do so. I intend to use my blog to explain why I am a Conservative, rather than tackle current events, but I will use this post to discuss Lady Warsi´s decision to leave the Government. Reason being, her resignation has got commentators asking if the Conservatives can win over ethnic minorities. Given the theme of this blog it seems a sensible place to start.

I respect Lady Warsi´s decision to leave the Government, but I am unsure how much of an impact it will have on how ethnic minority Britons vote. One in four voters cannot recognise Ed Miliband from a photograph[i]. If so many still cannot recognise Miliband, who has been campaigning to succeed David Cameron since 2010, I wonder how many people know Lady Warsi or that she was a foreign office minister until last week? In Populus´ polling of the most recognised news stories for 6 and 7 August 2014 Lady Warsi´s resignation went unrecognised.[ii] It is possible the marginal impact on particular communities may have been greater than Populus recorded. However, I wonder whether this is yet another case of Westminster being self-referential? I have yet to speak to anyone who mentioned the resignation, and I am unsure how much of a wave it is making outside of the Westminster village.

The reporting of Lady Warsi´s resignation also provides an interesting window into the way the Westminster village sees ethnic minorities. Some media outlets covered her resignation in a way that almost implied tokenism could help the Conservatives: as if Conservatives could win over ethnic minority voters simply by having more dark faces to sell our message. Were I inclined to be mean spirited, I would suggest it is, at best, naive to think ethnic minority voters care more about a politician´s colour than what they stand for.

The Conservatives need to build more trust among ethnic minority voters and, in my opinion, who is and is not a minister will not effect that too much. In fact, I feel analysis that suggests otherwise is a distraction from the serious business of looking at what the Conservatives need to do to win over ethnic minority voters.

The key, which I think the Conservatives understand, is that we need to engage with ethnic minorities more. All ethnic minorities are different, and the views of one group may differ radically from the views of another, but that is something I think is common to all. As Conservatives we believe in creating a better, brighter and more secure future for everyone in Britain. However, to convince ethnic minorities of that, we need to be more present and active in their communities.

Conservatives need greater visibility and presence in areas where ethnic minority populations are concentrated. It is a sad fact that in many areas of our country people will never see a person with a blue rosette on. They never get the chance to talk to a Conservative, or have an opportunity to ask how we are going to deliver on our promises, and hear about our long-term economic plan to secure a brighter future for them and their families.

To some extent this is a question about the health of the voluntary Conservative party, to some extent this is a question of practical constraints like resources. However, I feel, it has very little to do with who holds what position in Whitehall. Like all citizens of our country, ethnic minority voters want to know people care about what they think and what they have to say. The easiest way for Conservatives to demonstrate that is to go and talk to them, regularly. To show we are here, we want to take part in their communities, and we are not going to disappear after the election, because we genuinely care about building a better and more secure future for them.

[i] YouGov, Not so famous faces, 10 May 2013, link
[ii] Populus, Something for the Weekend, 8 August 2014, link