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Blame the Message, Not the Man

Friday 14th November: As Labour MPs turn against their leader, Sheila Lawlor explains that the problem is not Ed Miliband, but voters distaste for traditional labour policy.
 
Ed Miliband, Labour’s leader, has been ‘fighting back’, mainly to prove to his own party that he can win the general election next May. His personal rating trails that of Nick Clegg. But worse, that of his party has now fallen according to one recent poll. While one new poll  shows Labour still leads at 34 percent (Conservatives 30 per cent, UKIP 19 per cent, Lib Dems 8 per cent) another suggests that only  29 per cent of people would vote Labour. On the Labour benches MPs and shadow ministers alike have the knives out. They fear Mr Miliband may lose their party the next election - and many of them their seats. One, Simon Danczuk, explains that what the public wants is ‘less’ not ’more’ Ed.
 
This focus on Mr Miliband, not least by himself, is however misplaced. True, he is not and never has been a popular figure, except for some trade unionists for whose brand of state run socialism he stands. But then, Westminster leaders have hardly been flavour of the year: they have trouble, or so it seems, connecting with the voters.  

Religious Persecution - One Cost of Populism? asks Dr Sheila Lawlor

Friday 7th November: Prince Charles has highlighted the plight of Christians in the Middle East, driven out of their homes, persecuted and sometimes murdered in the war zones which stretch from Iraq and Syria to Egypt and Libya. At best they escape with their lives from the lands, in which, as he rightly  pointed out, Christians have lived for 2,000 years, cohabiting peaceably with the Muslims who spread across the region in 700 AD.

Prince Charles was launching the report Religious Freedom in the World, http://religion-freedom-report.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/executive_summary.pdf, published by the charity, Aid to the Church in Need. Analysing developments in almost two hundred countries worldwide over the 2012-14 period, the report  identifies  81 countries (c 41 per cent) where religious freedom is impaired (classified as “high” or “medium”). Of the 20 countries with the greatest intolerance of religious freedom, in 14 religious persecution is linked to extremist Islam. These include Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, troubled states in chaos or civil war. They also include Iran, Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, some African countries (eg Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Somalia and Sudan) and Asian countries such as China and North Korea where religious persecution is linked to authoritarian regimes. 

Tax vs Spending: What's more moral for the global economy?

31st OctoberThis week the prime minister said the government had a ‘moral duty’ to cut taxes.  Dr Gerard Lyons explains that low taxes do matter but the moral case should be less about tax rates and more about the social contract.

Government should have a number of economic aims. One should be to keep taxes as low as possible. It is in this context that the Prime Minister's comments this week about the moral case for lower taxes make interesting reading. Since the party conferences, clear blue water has emerged between the policies of the major parties. A commitment to cut taxes would add to that divergence. 

The moral case for lower taxes appears to rest on the idea that people are better at spending their own money than governments. Yet, at the same time, it should be stressed, there clearly is a moral case for the government to spend in areas where it needs to, whether it be in terms of providing necessary infrastructure, or in terms of a workable social safety net. Perhaps, when considered this way, the moral case should be less about tax rates and as much about the right social contract. 

Tax v Spending: what’s more moral for a global economy?

This week the prime minister said the government had a ‘moral duty’ to cut taxes.  Dr Gerry Lyons explains that low taxes do matter but the moral case should be less about tax rates and more about the social contract. 

Government should have a number of economic aims. One should be to keep taxes as low as possible. It is in this context that the Prime Minister's comments this week about the moral case for lower taxes make interesting reading. Since the party conferences, clear blue water has emerged between the policies of the major parties. A commitment to cut taxes would add to that divergence. 

The moral case for lower taxes appears to rest on the idea that people are better at spending their own money than governments. Yet, at the same time, it should be stressed, there clearly is a moral case for the government to spend in areas where it needs to, whether it be in terms of providing necessary infrastructure, or in terms of a workable social safety net. Perhaps, when considered this way, the moral case should be less about tax rates and as much about the right social contract. 

Since the war, the fundamental question has not only been to get the right balance between spending and taxation but about positioning the UK economy in the changing world economy.

I prefer to look at this in economic terms.  There are clear economic differences on this topic, but in a globalised world economy there is a need to compete. This does not mean a race to the bottom. We can compete on price or on quality although in reality we need to do both. This requires innovation, investment, infrastructure spending and the right incentives. Creating an enabling environment where people, especially young people, can get jobs and where they are regarded for work is essential to any successful economy.  In this global economic context, low taxes make economic sense.

An End to Consensus! What the NHS needs is a focus on outcomes

Friday 24th October:  This week Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of NHS England, has called for an extra 8 billion public spending for the NHS. He also proposes ways in which savings can be made including curbing hospital admissions. Westminster’s three main parties have embraced the proposals but not that for extra spending. But, as Dr Tony Hockley explains, what is needed is to shift the focus to outcomes. As Dr Hockley writes, consensus won’t change the NHS.

Consensus won’t change the NHS

The publication of NHS England’s “Five Year Forward View” on Thursday morning received a warm welcome all round. It was interpreted by all sides in the health arena as a ringing endorsement of their own positions and interests.

The truce, however, was shattered before lunchtime. The Labour Party demanded a Commons statement on the independent review, and as soon as the Health Secretary uttered the words that he was “hoping for a more measured debate” the shouting started afresh. Once again the British obsession with structures and ownership rather than outcomes quickly poisoned the debate. Herein lies the core problem that the NHS must face.

The NHS funding boom of the Blair Government demonstrated that more funding is neither the solution to the problems behind the comparatively poor achievements of the NHS, nor to its cultural struggle to become patient-focused. It is an irony that a tax-funded service that is largely free to users fails in the domains that intuition would suggest should be its strengths.

Health inequalities are severe and increasing. Britain is now set to overtake the US in the incidence of TB, for example, and has a shameful record on other preventable diseases associated with poverty. Geographic variations in life expectancy remain huge.

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