Opinion from Lord Digby Jones

Come on!

Published Monday 16 April, 2012

As the Country returns to work (and School ... er ... Parliament) this morning after Easter, there are a few issues that need to be sorted, and quickly. All are capable of speedy resolution; all would enable us to feel the smack of firm government; all would just give the impression the Country knows what it's doing.

Do we want Elected Mayors? Welcome to the Politicisation of the Police!

I know it will come as a huge shock to the Metropolitan Elite of London, chewing over on a seemingly daily basis the ramifications of candidational tax-avoidance, but several other large centres of the Nation's population are also gripped (well, perhaps that's a tad of an exaggeration!) in the to's and fro's of whether to have Elected Mayors. The merits of that major question are for debate on another occasion; what is of greater importance is the role of Party Politics in the local arena.

Take Birmingham (and I declare an interest by birth); should be a shoe-in for Labour (poor Leadership by the Tory incumbent Leader, an unpopular National Coalition Government, an almost total labour presence in parliamentary constituencies in the City) so suddenly Harriet Harman is taking an interest.  She of the campaign for all-women shortlists for parliamentary candidates (until her husband wants to become an MP and then it's OK for a chap to be adopted for the safe Labour seat of Erdington). Basically, whomever the Labour Selection Committee choose as the Mayoral Candidate will be Birmingham's first Elected Mayor.  And they call that democracy?  I don't think so!  A few activists will choose the Mayor!  What was the point of all this?  If greater connection with the local people was the point, if dealing with the specific issues of the UK's Second City regardless of the swings and favours of Westminster is what it's all about, if (dare I utter the word) devolution is the apparent need, why is Birmingham going to be saddled with a Party hack, suitable to and approved by the Westminster machine, who will follow the Party Line?  It'll be "Party First, Birmingham Second"; whether it's Tory, Liberal or Labour, that domination of the local scene by the National Party Dictat is precisely what the City does not need.

Take Manchester, or "BBC HQ" as it is now known.  The good people of that important City will be faced with just the same issue as London dictating the pace as to "who"; if ever there was a case for Local politics being removed from the Party Political Agenda and allowing Independence to have its day, this is it. Decisions would be taken, policies would be pursued, that suit the City and its people, not some Party Suit (or Skirt) in Party HQ.  We haven't even addressed the upcoming Election of Police Commissioners!  That the old tribal Party warhorse, John Prescott, won't politicise the running of Hull's Police Force is asking the impossible; don't blame him for that, blame the system that allows him to do it. Our Police have always operated on a Party-neutral basis.  All that is about to change; why?  What is the question to which "Elected Police Commissioners" is the answer?

UK Government Destroys Charitable Giving!

Just what does George Osborne think he's doing?  Of course there are some dodgy Charities, set up purely to avoid tax or with societally-damaging hidden purposes, but that's why there's a Charity Commission. Staff them properly, both in number and ability, and set them to work weeding out the wrong 'uns.  But don't throw the wonderfully generous, hugely beneficial baby with the small amount of dirty bathwater!

There are three boxes of spending in the UK.  One box is the preserve of the taxpayer whose money is spent in accordance with judgements made by those who are elected and entrusted to do so.  The recipients of such an exercise are state education, the NHS, our Armed Forces, the Police Force and so on.  The third box is everything we do with our money on a private basis, from private health care to fast cars, from following football to going on holiday.  It is the second box that is the focus of attention.  There is an unwritten "deal" between the taxpayer and HMG where various valuable, indeed essential, services are provided by Charities (hospices, drug rehabilitation, child protection, additional care for injured soldiers, research into cancer to name but a few areas) and generous people pay half the cost and HMG pays the other half by providing tax relief on the donation.  Its removal will not lead to the individual giving more; whatever was the net amount given by the individual after tax relief will in all likelihood still be given; the result will be that it's the other half that the Charity won't receive.  The donor's position won't alter, the government will pick up a few more bob on what the donor's left with, but the Charity has its income cut in half!  How crass is that!  So who will then pay for the second box and all the vital work done there?  The taxpayer?  I don't think so.  The vulnerable, the needy, the poor will suffer: where is your Big Society then Mr Cameron?

Japan, Indonesia, Myanmar. More!

How refreshing to find the PM on the road with several businesswomen and men in tow, banging the drum for UK Trade again!  There should be a compulsory part of the Ministerial job-description that EVERY Minister should have to make a UK-promotional overseas visit once a month.  Virtually every Department has an aspect where wealth creation, job creation, tax generation can be promoted by a visit to an overseas market.  The media should get behind the visits, more small businesses should be helped (both with funds and encouragement) to go along ... and next time they should use an aircraft made in the UK not Seattle, operated by a British, flag-bearing airline not a charter company from Texas using an Angolan-registered plane!  That is not how to get behind the manufacturers of the Nation at a time when they need all the help they can get.

All this is fixable; none of it is rocket science. Over to you at Westminster and Whitehall ... hope you had a good Easter break!