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Tuesday, May 27, 2008 

Of bank holidays, churnalism, and tax cuts.

Ah, bank holidays. Carefree days to share with the family while the heavens open outdoors. Or, alternatively, if you're a churnalist, a rather less carefree day struggling to fill up your newspaper. How about a story about a cat that's the only employee left at a Japanese railway station? Purrfect! Another middle class white teenager dies after an atypical drunken argument which happens across the land every weekend tragically gets out of hand? Time to restart the "Broken Britain" campaign in typically hysterical fashion! And, if you're the Grauniad, you can fill up the pages and your Comment is Fatuous blog site with all the news that's fit to flush from the increasingly tedious Hay-on-Wye book festival it just happens to sponsor.

If you're really, really desperate, you can even get an MP to write a comment piece for you. And lo, the Daily Telegraph comment editor saw it, and it was good, for he had managed to get Denis MacShane, from that bunch of socialist money thieves known as the Labour party to write an article calling for a smaller state and a cut in tax. Never mind that MacShane has always been on the right of the party, thought that the Iraq war was a fantastic idea and still thinks so, but this can be presented as a Labour MP speaking the unspeakable.

Or something. As it is, MacShane has produced an article almost as irritating as the Hay festival. In all his glory, MacShane tries to present the opinion that the poor should pay less tax as though no one on the left has ever said it, just as err, everyone realises that the tax credit scheme is hugely wasteful, costing a bomb and even then not working as efficiently as it should be. The answer has been obvious for quite some time: abolish the damn thing, raise the personal allowance significantly so that the poorest up to the middle-earners pay either very little or no tax at all, and fill the gap by raising the top rate of the very richest, taxing the non-doms, by ignoring the demands of the CBI, by not raising the inheritance tax threshold beyond the entirely reasonable £500,000, and imposing windfall taxes when companies such as oil firms make obscene profits because of the current oil bubble.

MacShane isn't finished there however. No, he also wants to target the waste in local councils, of the corpulent spending on press officers and consultants, on the ministers flying off on their jaunts. It doesn't matter that under Blair, who MacShane defended to the hilt time and again, this sort of spending got completely out of hand; he instead shrugs this off by saying that he doesn't know of a single minister "who doesn't privately despair of the waste of money" on the above. Why not publicly instead of privately despair? MacShane hasn't even mentioned the biggest and most egregious of the wastes: the private finance initiative, which has been used by Brown to keep so much of the spending and borrowing off the balance sheet.

If MacShane was hoping for a decent response from Telegraph readers he was wrong, as the Telegraph censors even less than the Grauniad (quite rightly, given some of the comments left for dear old Denis) and they let rip with both barrels, even if most of them are deluding themselves thinking that the new Blairites in the Conservative party are going to offer anything different whatsoever other than piecemeal cuts here and there while Whitehall remains just as bloated, if not more so, as the trend is for ever more spending on consultants and PR experts, not less, especially while the Conservative fightback is being helmed by ex-News of the Screws editor Andy Coulson. You can of course take completely the opposite view to MacShane and not be necessarily wrong either, as Bob Piper and Stan Rosenthal say:

What on earth is an ex-Labour minister doing writing an article for a right-wing newspaper that feeds into right-wing propoganda about the tax system?

Probably because dear old Denis is actually pretty right-wing himself.

Let's not kid ourselves though - this was partly to fill a gap after a slow news day and partly some of the thinkers outside the cabinet being let off the leash to suggest that there might be changes afoot. MacShane's offering is in fact probably more likely to be pursued than the course of action suggested by Compass for example, as to do as they suggest would have the tabloids and Telegraph in even more of a rage, even if it might, just might win back some of the support lost. And again, who knows, considering that the hauliers are throwing their rattles out of their collective pram again, while completely ignoring that even if tax makes up around 70% of the cost of diesel/petrol it's the oil price that has led to it spiralling to nearly £1.30 a litre, which the government seems ever more likely to give in to, tax cuts or the cancelling of rises could yet be back in vogue.

MacShane isn't the only way helping with the churning, as Dave Osler notes, with the Guardian bigging up a piece in Prospect by a former Blair speech writer who thinks that (yes, I realise it's just an example) if asthma patients want to spend their money on double-glazing, then they should allowed to be. It's a quite superb idea, it must be said, and shows where all the new thinking is coming from, and it isn't on the "old" left, that's for sure. Collins rounds it off by saying that the Blairites are increasingly impressed by David Cameron, which couldn't be because he's prepared to go the distance Blair couldn't, and that the real difference is "between the liberal and the authoritarian, not left and right". It doesn't seem to matter that by any scale, the new Blairites are just as authoritarian, if not more so than new Labour, as evidenced by boot camps for the unemployed, promises of zero tolerance and limits on immigration. If elected they'll probably have to stick with abolishing ID cards, although again, considering how much Labour have already spent on them, they (and us) might be stuck with them, but I don't believe for a second that they'll stick with their opposition to extending detention without charge once they don't have to pretend to give a fig about what Liberty thinks.

If the "new" new left is dead, then the new new new left is sure going to take some beating. Especially on bank holidays.

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I would say that the Telegraph, along with other right-wing newspapers censors and manipulates their comment threads far more than the Guardian. I've only ever had one comment published on the Torygraph's site, and that had been tampered with by the moderators with the efect of severely watering down my point.

Also worth bearing in mind that the Guardian (I think still) moderates comments after they have been published, whereas the Telegraph moderates before allowing it on the site. That's why most comment there is often voicing the same opinion.

Nevertheless, an excellent post again, Mr S.

A quick note on Comment is Free
Apart from the sometimes useless articles, Comment is Free's main problem is that it is persistently targeted by right-wing commenters, who flock to the site when the various news alerts they have set up signal that a particular writer or topic has just been published. There is little in the way of leftist or liberal comment the same way, because, er, such people are much less likely to get away with posting during work time.

A friend pointed out to me that another unfortunate consequence of a Tory government being returned would be that Phil Collins could leave exile in Switzerland and return to the country. I wasn't aware he'd been writing speeches for Blair whilst in the Alps.

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