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Dancing on the head of a pin

So what’s the difference between socialism and conservatism? Judging by the spitting and hissing of the Labour Party’s Douglas Alexander, in conversation this morning with Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin, it’s about £20 billion pounds. This is the vile slash-and-burn difference between the amount Mr Letwin says he can trim off the government’s future spending plans, and the amount the Labour Party are aiming to trim off the government’s own spending plans, at least according to a leaked internal government sponsored plan, from Sir Peter Gershon.

This trimming of £20 billion pounds is going to require immediate and severe cuts to skoolznozpitals, say Mr Alexander. Tish, says Mr Letwin, we’re simply going to grow public spending just ever so slightly slower than you are. Which as a British taxpayer, I found particularly reassuring this morning, while stuck on the M4 motorway trying to get onto the M25. Indeed, the difference between where Mr Alexander’s sensible trimming becomes the end of all civilisation as we know it, is the difference between either £683 billion pounds of taxation spending or £663 billion pounds of taxation spending; Mr Letwin really is right to claim that there’s barely a Rizla cigarette paper separating our two major political parties. Indeed the layer is so thin, a financial difference almost at the margins of statistical irrelevance, that the Pope could sanction it as an allowable condom.

Which does of course beg the obvious question, just what are the Conservatives for? To me, the price of their power is barely worth the effort of listening, anymore.

Oliver and Michael, tell me you are going to cut taxes, rather than slopping the gravy from one plate to another, and then maybe I’ll start listening again. Till then, roll on the end of the Conservative Party. Step aside, get out of the way, and let’s see if something more interesting can evolve from your ruins.

25 comments to Dancing on the head of a pin

  • But, Andy, the Tories are not going to “step aside, get out of the way.” The best we can hope for is that they will actually win and do something with their power a bit more to our liking – perhaps, over time ever more so.

    It is nothing more than a comfortable cop out for minority interest parties to come out with this sort of “step aside” stuff. The left took it to a higher plane during the 1980’s. Keep it real. Vote in the party that might at least listen, even if it doesn’t declare a Rothbardian bright new dawn in the first flush of power!

  • TheWobbly Guy

    That boils down to a very simple fact. Do the majority of Britons wish for a tax cut?

    And even if they do, all some politician has to do is to point out that tax cuts would involve cutting back on school programmes, welfare, healthcare etc, and suddenly nobody wants tax cuts again, or be branded as ‘cruel’, ‘heartless’ etc by the bleeding hearts.

    The Wobbly Guy

  • John Harrison

    Would Labour really have announced any plans to cut civil service numbers if the Tories had not been trailing Monday’s announcement over the weekend? I doubt it.
    So it has achieved something already.
    However Labour announced they would spend any savings on ‘frontline services’ while Oliver Letwin made it clear that this was earmarked to reduce the growth of Government spending.
    £20bn is quite a lot of cash in anyone’s book. It’s about 8p off income tax and it’s the best deal on the table right now. Letwin could always have plucked a larger amount out of the air but that would have made too many of the public nervous about ‘public services’. I’d rather have the Tories stand a chance of turning Labour out with a promise of £20bn of tax cuts/deficit reduction than watch Labour get another landslide and Gordon Brown, now invincible, tax to his heart’s content.

  • limberwulf

    Yea, the States has the exact same problem. The difference here is that we are taxing a different way. We get a tax cut – obviously a good thing, but then our “conservative party”, the Republicans, still spend like gangbusters, so the debt run up still hits us long term. All if that is financed through future work or through printed money, printed money deflates the value of the dollar, essentially a tax on the people because they have to work harder to make up for the decrease in value. So here we dont say there cant be a tax cut, we just hide the tax.

    Should we vote Republican anyway? I dont know, I dont think that even the marginal bettering is working anymore, its time to make the current two parties one party and start a new second one on the conservative side. Just me opinion tho, I dont yet know how to make that actually work.

  • Rob Read

    For Limberwolf

    “There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle.”
    Alexis de Tocqueville

  • toolkien

    I am poised to vote Libertarian in this year’s presidential election here in the States. I’ve had enough of both parties, and whatever had me voting Republican in the past has all but gone. I used to tolerate the religious faction of the right/Republicans when there was some illusion that the Republicans were serious about containing the Federal government and its tax bite. I then thought that, while not seriously cutting, at least they kept the dike from caving in. Now we’ve got Big Government Conservativism with Bush and a mind numbing amount of Federal spending increases. Who has to worry about putting a Democrat in office?

    Whatever elements of the Republican party I didn’t see eye to eye with I could stand while there was some semblane of fiscal conservatism. That’s gone now. I am convinced that anyone electable from either party is likely to be fairly similar. A Nader or Dean hasn’t got a chance, just like a Dole or Buchanan don’t. What you get is a Clinton or a Bush or a Gore and on and on…In the end all of them need Big Government and want Big Government and vast majority of the Center want someone like them. It makes me take note of Mr. de Havilland’s non-voting stance. What use is it? I may just vote Libertarian or not at all.

  • limberwulf

    Im with you Toolkien, do you have any idea who is actually running in the libertarian party? I have seen a lot of info and most of it doesnt agree with itself.

    Great quote Rob, I tend to agree, tho it seems the “many men of principle” are not the ones actually running for office. 🙁

  • I must admit I wasn’t too happy with Letwin’s proclamations, I would have liked something a little more dramatic. There is nothing inherently moral about high taxation, if anything the converse is true.

    It’s still better than Labour though. I cling to the hope that the weak wording is mainly to deflect the inevitable accusations of cruelty and the resurrection of the Nasty Party propaganda.

  • toolkien

    do you have any idea who is actually running in the libertarian party?

    Click here for the candidates for nomination.

    I have seen a lot of info and most of it doesnt agree with itself.

    And that differentiates from any political party how? I suppose that’s the illogic of a Libertarian Party. I Party presumes settling philosophical differences and supporting a unified, though flawed, platform. Libertarians in general want to be left alone as long as they aren’t harming someone else’s property, though they may have significant differences on particular issues. It goes along with my lack of faith that a unified force of individualism can ever take hold and that we will have nothing left for it than to dodge and weave through one form of domination or another.

  • limberwulf

    good point, its not a lot different in principle, just in organization. Im not sure if Im as pessimistic about unified freedom not catching on, but I can offer no evidence of why I should be optomistic.

    Thanks for the info, Ill see what I can dig up on these guys.

  • Andrew

    Look at the hissing and spitting, as you said. It isn’t an electable strategy to say that they will cut taxes to the bone, and sell off public assets, as much as we’d like them to. A plurality of British people won’t vote for that, because it’s so easily smeared – ‘please, won’t you think of the children…’ and all that guff. The only hope is to vote Tory and then change the system. Not voting only encourages them to spend more on advertising to remove voter apathy, or god forbid, making voting mandatory.


  • Andy Duncan


    First, I don’t want much. I am a man of simple requirements. I am not an ideologue living in a cave of many splendoured wealth.

    I don’t want Hoppeian perfection, tomorrow. I don’t even think we’ll get that for a hundred years. Maybe never. Though I do think it ever more likely that as the democratic system gives us ‘parties of the right’ ever more unwilling to actually face down the socialist hegemony, whether you like it or not, it’s some sort of Hoppe world we’re heading to, as the grasping someone-else-pays rule of the mob breaks down and democracy is seen for the busted flush it is.

    However, I may be wrong. I usually am. But if those ‘parties of the right’ want to prove me wrong, let them do it. Right here. Right now.

    Just. Give. Me. A. Tax. Cut.

    One will do.

    One pence off a litre of petrol, without any adjustment anywhere else to recoup it, or borrowing to pay for the government program cut because of the loss of this one pence.

    If Letwin can’t even manage to promise even that, then just like most other ‘public servants’ he is simply wasting our time and should get back to Rothschilds and hand us back his tax-paid salary.

    There’s a hundred grand of his 35 billion, straightaway.

  • John Harrison

    Just answer this. You are appointed Shadow Chancellor. How much do you reckon you could promise to cut tax and still win an election to be able to put your promises into practice?

  • Guy Herbert

    There’s a hundred grand of his 35 billion, straightaway.

    You see it’s easy: Only 349,999 more Tory MPs need refuse to take their salaries.


    I think that their strategy may not be all that bad in bad circumstances. The important thing is to give the government nothing to attack, nothing to steal. Meanwhile Maurice Saatchi hints at more tax cuts by mutterings off about the absurdity of taxing people who are below the poverty line.

    The only more agressive approach that might work is to attack things that Labour can’t disavow because they matter so much to its pols and core supporters, and less to everyone else. A quango hunt, for example. Trouble is, that doesn’t really deliver much saving, and there’s a shadow ratchet effect: if they’ll do this to X, Labour will say, what won’t they cut from Y.

  • Guy,

    I think a quango hunt and, indeed, the taking of an axe to the entire Guardian Society employment scam is absolutely essential for Tory strategy. Not a single PC health or local authority worker should be left in place. This might not release billions for tax cuts. But it would have a totemic value that, in the absence of spending differentials between the parties, would chime with every voter beyond New Labour’s patronage.

    Andy, I’d be perfectly content with Hoppe. But I don’t expect to live for ever. So I would settle for a sort of socio-political Thatcherism in which the cultural maxist state is killed off for once and all. After all, Bush baby went back to Iraq to erase Daddy’s flunk. The Tories must erase their great failing during the Thatcher years when over-concentration on union power and the Soviet military threat utterly blinded them to the real enemy within.

  • Guy Herbert

    Not a single PC health or local authority worker should be left in place.

    I assume you aren’t proposing some sort of inverted political test for people to keep their jobs, merely an end to the gravy train of meta-government. It’s a worthwhile object but not straightforward to characterise, sell, or implement.

    This is a little dispiriting, though Newsnight has smartly avoided asking too many questions.

  • Andy Duncan

    Hi John,

    Assuming for a moment I can stop dreaming about Hoppe world, which states that it is democracy which is the problem, not the solution, and re-enter the ‘real’ world (whatever the heck that is), of democratic British party politics, let’s imagine I was Shadow Chancellor, and I was trying to win an election, tommorrow, what taxes would I cut? Ok, I’m going to lose anyway if I play on Tony Blair’s turf, as Mr Letwin is, so let’s go for broke.

    This is just pretending, BTW! 🙂

    The only figure breakdowns I have to hand, are here:


    First off I’d scrap the tax credits system. Nobody understands it, the forms are endless, and the money would be much better given out as tax cuts. Saving about £14 billion a year.

    All housing benefit goes, £4 billion. Social Security costs us £120 billion. Now my name’s Gunga Din if I couldn’t sweat £20 billion out of the malingerers, workshy drug dealers, car-stealing pimps, frauds, and sicknotes, who steal off everyone else in Britain every time they sign on before going down the pub.

    The common agricultural policy costs Britain £3 billion a year. I would inform our European ‘partners’ that we would be withdrawing from this scheme unilaterally. The NHS costs £70 billion a year, or approximately £1,100 pounds per person. I would offer an annual bounty of £800 pounds to anyone volunteering to leave NHS cover. I would expect the takeup of this to be 25% of the population, giving us approximately £5 billion.

    The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister costs £5 billion. This gets cut immediately, every penny, including the Admiralty Arch town house. Education costs £25 billion, with each pupil costing approx. £5,000 pounds a year. I would offer a bounty of £3000 pounds for everyone taking their child out of state education. I would expect the takeup for this to be 50%, therefore another £5 billion saved.

    Local Government costs £45 billion. Now judging by the jobs pages in the Guardian there’s bound to be a tiny amount of fat there. I’d cut £15 billion off the budget, and live with the screams.

    International Development £4 billion. Gone! Where will African dictators get their gun money, now? Trade and Industry, £5 billion, most of it paid out to useless companies with directors with friends in government, who couldn’t get the money off a bank. Gone!

    Culture, Media, and Sport. £2 billion. Gone!Cabinet Office, £2 billion. They must do something I suppose, but they’re going to do it now on £ 1 billion, saving me another £1 billion. How’m I doing so far? Department for Constitutional affairs? Used to be £3 billion. Now it’s £1 billion! $-)

    Chancellor’s Departments, £5 billion, probably mostly Inland Revenue worms. Sack half of them, on principle: £2.5 billion saved.

    Transport £7 billion. Not any more. London commuters can pay their full train fares, for once. Down to £3 billion. I’m also unsure as to why Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland need approximately £40 billion between them. Let’s make it £20 billion, and see who complains the loudest.

    So, keeping my green credentials by leaving Environment alone, and leaving the Home Office tinpot Hitlers, the pensioners, and our boys in defence alone, the back of my fag packet says:

    Approx: £110 billion in tax cuts, which remarkably, is just about what the government raises in income tax and capital gains tax. So I’d scrap both!

    And that’s all out of a total of around £490 billion, from the Treasury’s latest figures, so if we add 50% on, to take account of the £690 billion figures Mr Letwin is talking about, that gives me £165 billion.

    Of course, scrapping income tax and capital gains tax means I need even less Inland Revenue staff, so let’s sack another tranche and save another £1 billion. It’s just like magic! $-)

    Plus I’d sell off the Post Office, the BBC, BAA, and any other useless goverment monopoly I could get my hands on. And here’s the best bit. With all those useless parasites out on the streets, which these cuts would create, they’d all have to start doing something useful and productive. And with the most capitalist-friendly country in the world to do business in, with NO income or capital gains tax, the economy would absolutely sky-rocket. Unless of course you believe in the European social democratic model of development?

    So within a couple of years, I’d have more tax income than I started with, from VAT and the like, and I’d be able to start cutting it once again, in a virtuous circle of tax-cutting.

    Now how does no TV licence, no income tax, no capital gains tax, no John Prescott, and a future of ever-decreasing tax-rates, grab you?

    No, I know it’ll never fly in this rotten political world of rent-seekers and socialist pimps. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone dared try it! 🙂

  • limberwulf

    You pull it off Andy, and Ill be first in the immigration line coming from the US…

  • Andrew


    I agree with you 100%, and I’d almost certainly go further. However, those useless parasites you talk about are all voters, and once you publish your manifesto, they’re all Labour voters, so I hope your tax cuts go far enough to swing the rest of the population back on side. How do you get around that?

    I tend to believe in small steps here. A tax cut here, a benefit slash there. Every year you destroy one tax, or cut back on one useless government department, and watch people realise that this actually improves their lives. I think that changing the British state is like steering an oil tanker. As much as I’d love to just slam on the brakes and spin it round, I don’t think she’d take it.


  • Rob Read

    Just try and get one tax RINGFENCED i.e. road tax + petrol duty goes to transport. After people see how much money this raises, you will see them asking to cut the tax on it.

    This will be the wedge for other things to come.

    How about only paying housing benefit at the rate of the cheapest place in the country and offering to pay relocation costs?

    Why not let people have a yearly referenda on their council tax budget?

    It’s things like this that will drive down state coercion, you just have to be more clever about it.

  • Andy Duncan

    Andrew writes:

    they’re all Labour voters, so I hope your tax cuts go far enough to swing the rest of the population back on side. How do you get around that?

    Well, as Mr De Havilland keeps saying, you can’t get around that, at least not easily. Because ‘socialism’, or ‘collectivism’, call it what you will, is the dominant ideology, and has been now since at least WWII. And democracy is a rotten rule of the mob, in which 51% of failures will always seek to tyrannise 49% of successful people, in whichever sphere you choose.

    The bitter twisted jealous self-pitying whining anti-capitalistic mentality is alive and well in a publicly funded institution near you.

    But the overwhelming power of their ideology is beginning to crumble. First the hard-core socialists in eastern europe crumbled, giving the soft-core ones in the west 10 to 20 years of breathing space. But they’re rapidly running out of that breathing space too, as 35% inputs into the NHS give us 5% returns.

    They’re coming up against the hard buffers of truth, and their ideology is beginning to wear thin. I hate to be historicist about it, where in truth anything is possible, but one day it’s going to go pop, and slowly but surely our ideology, which has had all the hypocrisy beaten out of it, until it’s the least false thing around, will come to dominate within those who work in the business of ideas, and then 20th century soft-core welfare state socialists will start to find the ground disappearing under their feet.

    Well, I hope it will, anyway! 😉

    What you cannot do is try to take them on, on their own turf. They will win every time, with pictures of babies and old ladies being slashed with razor blades.

    I tend to believe in small steps here. A tax cut here, a benefit slash there. Every year you destroy one tax, or cut back on one useless government department, and watch people realise that this actually improves their lives.

    Well, yes, this is an attractive viewpoint. But unfortunately, you can keep the sacred cows away from the waterhole for so long, but eventually unless you slaughter them all, they keep coming back. Look at Margaret Thatcher, the greatest UK politician of the late 20th century.

    She worked for over ten years to keep slashing back the state, fighting to get rid of civil servants, and useless state monopolies. And what did it get her? The same, or as near as damn it the same, take of the GDP from the state, as it had taken before she started.

    And that’s Margaret Thatcher. What lily-livered Letwin is promising us is 7 years of no tax cuts (the screams of pain will be too much for him to bear, if he ever gets near doing one), and no difference in the GDP take of the state. After 7 years!

    He’s got fat chance. It’ll be 50% before he’s through, assuming the unlikely possibility that he ever gets elected with such a wet flannel of a plan.

    Can those human cloners get hold of a Maggie Thatcher cell, d’ya reckon?

    Anyway, gotta stop, otherwise I’ll get a spanking from God.

  • John Harrison

    Well Andy, some good suggestions for starters but I’m glad you are keeping the Army at full strength because you’ll need them to keep the rioters under control!
    I seriously don’t think this would win enough votes to get it implemented but one can only dream. . .

    In practice I would push the idea of tax reductions as a moral good and economic benefit while keeping off the specifics because one can never predict the size of the debt to be inherited from Labour. When Maggie Thatcher took on the miners’ union, she played it cool until she knew she could win against a strike. We need someone to do the same with the entire Guardianista class and I think I know how to do it.

  • Henry Kaye

    It seems to me that all discussion about politics is a waste of time. Labour and Conservatives are concerned with only one thing – getting elected and enjoying the power. We’re saddled with consensus politics which views only what will win votes. Oh for some conviction politics! How about withdrawing from the EU to save £6-8 BILLION p.a. with, it seems to me, no detrimental effect and plenty of advantages.

    I thought we were way past the point of wondering about the honesty of politicians. I have yet to get a straight answer out of my constituency MP as he carefully toes the party line and obeys the whips.

    It would need a careful audit of the nations accounts to identify any realistic reductions in expenditure. Everyone knows about the annual budget but nobody knows what the actual expenditure is. The information is there but you would need a few months of careful investigation to unravel it all.

    It won’t come right until I’m in charge!!!

  • Andrew


    Again, I agree. I just think that your way is really painful – i.e. the socialist edifice slowly crumbling. It’s going to get much worse before it gets better, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets much more unpleasant as last ditch grasps for power are made. I’d rather believe it’s possible to short-cut the pain, but I get accused of being an idealist when I’m not being a cynic.


  • Andy Duncan

    John writes:

    We need someone to do the same with the entire Guardianista class and I think I know how to do it.

    You can’t leave me hanging on like that, John. You think you know how to do it? And then you stop? That’s like saying you know the question to the answer of life, the universe, and everything, and then being blown up by he Vogons before you can tell anyone.

    Let us have it! 🙂