Talking ‘Bout A Revolution

With Britain’s general election taking place on Thursday, the heat and noise of campaigning is now crowding out most other news stories in the media. (Which is probably just as well, as the so-called ‘news’ story of the royal birth has consequently got little more than the prominence it deserves!) But at this stage in the election, all the speeches, accusations and adverts become less important. I believe that voters aren’t listening. How could they? The sound of our politicians arguing would deafen the most earnest listener.

In the hours before polling day, the true fight moves from the national stage to the grassroots. Save for a final rallying cry or a major gaffe, the party leaders have diminishing influence on the success of their campaign. That’s my theory.

It will not surprise you to read that I am endorsing the Labour Party.

The past five years have been wearying. Injustice deeply offends me, and the Coalition Government has ensured it is in plentiful supply. Reading a newspaper has on occasion felt about as fun as a tooth extraction, as I have watched the welfare state undermined by cuts, workfare and privatisation. We’ve seen local government devastated, public assets sold off, workers’ rights threatened, legal aid slashed and our country isolated in the European Union.

Which is not to say the Coalition has not done some good for the country. Particularly in its early years, it introduced some praiseworthy measures like the electoral reform referendum and an (admittedly half-hearted) attempt to restore our eroded civil liberties. Today, nobody would argue with the ‘pupil premium’ that has shielded poorer students from the freeze on the schools budget, and universal free school meals for 4-7 year-olds.

I even have some warm words for the Prime Minister. Although I do not agree with his values, and think he is something of a bully, he is also prepared do do what he thinks is right even when it damages him to do so. For example, he made constitutional history by consulting Parliament before intervening in the Syria conflict. True, he didn’t know Ed Miliband would withdraw his support and defeat the Government, but I respect Cameron for taking the risk giving the people’s representatives a say.

Nevertheless, some constitutional tweaking here and a little education funding there is of little comfort to the thousands of homeless, the million people dependent on foodbanks and the excluded poor that shame the Coalition.

But in the age of multiparty politics, the Opposition has to work to earn its support: it can’t wait for a tide of anger with the government of the day to carry it to power. And yes, I think Labour deserves support.

Labour’s offer contains many attractive and some unappealing elements. They cannot protect the country from further austerity measures, although their failure to challenge the Conservatives’ story on the economy early enough has left Miliband unable to be upfront about his plans. His perfectly sensible plan to eliminate the structural budget deficit whilst allowing room for £30 billion annual borrowing for investment is the most prudent of those put forward. It also allows for spending cuts to be limited to £6 billion this year and just £1 billion next year, provided Labour’s plans for tax rises of the same size are implemented. Compare this with the Conservatives’ £50-70 billion worth of cuts and we see this is the difference between cutting with a butter knife and an axe.

And the difference is greater than just the scale of cuts: what happens after them is just as important. If it is a Conservative government that balances the books, do you think they are going to priorities tax cuts or regenerating collapsing public services? Austerity is not going to magically end the moment the deficit is cleared: we need a government that will choose not to make it permanent. Look at the US if you want to see what happens when a society doesn’t invest in services.

The case for Labour rests on so much more than limiting spending cuts. It’s also about values. Labour has talked a lot about the importance on being ‘on your side’ and addressing the sense that politicians don’t work for ordinary people. It could well be an empty slogan, but I think it is something deeper that Miliband has identified. New Labour, in its eagerness to look competent and please the Establishment, did nothing to stop vested interests exploiting the people of Britain. It wouldn’t have been difficult to keep house prices under control, to provide a little economic security to workers or break up the oligopolies that rip off consumers in energy, transport, banking, and so many other industries. But the Conservatives didn’t care and Labour chose not to help. I think Miliband is determined that it should never let the country down like that again.

For all the talk about Ed Miliband being weak and incompetent, he would make a better Prime Minister than any of the party leaders. Yes, he’s a nerd, but does it hurt to have an intellectual running the country? Does it hurt to have a leader with integrity and passion, like him? As we’ve seen, he is exceptionally strong when the occasion demands. Incidentally, his critics need to decide if he is the ruthless schemer who stabbed his brother in the back (because David Miliband clearly had a God-given right to the leadership) or the bumbling fool who shouldn’t be left in charge of a lemonade stall.

But why should a socialist like me vote Labour and not for left-wing challenger with a more exciting manifesto? The wasted vote argument is important but well-worn, and doesn’t apply to Scotland where there is talk of the Scottish Nationalists ‘massacring’ Labour; parts of Wales where the Welsh nationalists have a fighting chance  and Brighton Pavilion where the Greens defending their single seat.

As far as the Greens are concerned, I am worried that their leadership seems more concerned with attacking Labour for not being ‘pure’ enough than defeating the Conservatives. I found the above clip from the BBC opposition leaders’ debate most telling, with the Green leader bellowing at Ed Miliband whilst he was attempting to expose UKIP’s desire to break up the NHS. My experience of my local Green Party is not positive either; their candidate’s opportunism and hypocrisy would make the Lib Dems blush!

It is easy for smaller parties like the Greens to be critical of the main opposition. When they have never been in power, it is fine to dodge the realities and hard truths that constrain major parties. That is not to say that the establish parties do not need challenging: the Greens have a vital role to play in demonstrating that public anger with the old politics is not exclusively of the toxic UKIP variety.

The SNP is not quite as radical is it likes to make out, as its cosy relationship with Rupert Murdoch demonstrates. However SNP gains at the expense of the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives enhance the prospect of a left-wing government. Also, while I am more confident as to the red-blooded socialism of Plaid Cymru than the SNP, it doesn’t make sense to vote against the hardworking and decent Labour MPs that represent many Welsh and Scottish constituencies.

Nobody will win this election. There is no prospect of the Tories improving on their 2010 seat total, and they are certain to lose seats to some extent. Labour will make respectable gains in England, but their net gains will be limited by the probable SNP landslide in Scotland. I believe the result will be close to this forecast produced by associates of Nate Silver.

If the prediction is correct, the Tories will fall about 45 seats short of the 323 needed to form a government. Labour will be about 10 seats behind the Tories. The SNP will multiply from 7 to 50 MPs, while the Lib Dems slump from 57 to around 25. The forecast is consistent with reports from campaigners that neither the Greens or UKIP will translate their increased support into more than one seat each.

If the Tories managed to unite all their potential supporters behind them, that is to say they could secure backing from the Lib Dems, UKIP and the right-wing Northern Ireland Unionists behind them, they would still have just around 315 MPs. A Tory government is highly unlikely unless they win no fewer than 290 seats on Thursday- just 13 losses. I wouldn’t bet on that.

It is clear Labour’s preference is for a coalition with the Liberal Democrats- it has ruled out so much as an informal deal with the SNP. Yet if, as looks likely, Labour falls short of 290 seats, only co-operation with the SNP provides a majority. At 275 seats or fewer, Labour would have to call on the SNP and other parties.

Miliband has said he would rather remain in Opposition than co-operate with the SNP. Yet if there is an anti-Conservative majority in the House of Commons, he won’t actually have a choice. Well, technically he could form a Grand Coalition with the Conservatives, but it’s more likely that UKIP will win the election!

I reckon the next election could arrive a lot sooner than 2020.

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Conservatives Condemn Themselves to Opposition

Press stories are circulating this morning about David Cameron’s determination to avoid a second-term coalition with the Liberal Democrats. It is said that Cameron wants a firm commitment in the Conservatives’ 2015 manifesto to rule out a power-sharing coalition in the event of another hung parliament. In the event of the Conservative Party failing to secure a majority, it would seek to form a single-party minority government. It’s fully understandable that Cameron feels the need to placate his party after it has spent the past 4 years having several of its favourite policies vetoed by the Lib Dems (or the “yellow peril” as one Conservative backbencher described them). Yet in doing so, Cameron has almost entirely eliminated the prospect of a second Conservative-led government.

There are several assumptions which lead to this conclusion. They are assumptions, but they are valid ones. Firstly, the Conservatives’ popularity peaked in 2010. After half a decade of gruelling austerity and generalised incompetence on the Conservatives’ watch, there is little chance that they could improve on their electoral position in 2010, when they did not have such political baggage. In any case, Government advisors now estimate that the Conservatives will need 40% of the vote to command a majority, compared to 36% gained last time. Therefore, the Conservatives can only lose seats, not gain them. Accordingly, Cameron will have to rely on smaller political parties to form a government.

This brings us to assumption number two: smaller parties will not be able to co-operate with the Conservatives without some form of formal agreement. But all agreements have been ruled out. Yet that issue probably won’t arise because no party other than the Lib Dems will have enough MPs to guarantee the minority government’s survival. For example, if the Conservatives held 300 seats (about the number they have now), they would need support from 26 MPs from outside the party: the overall figure for the small parties hovers around 30. And that includes vehemently anti-Tory groups like Plaid Cymru and the SDLP. Scratch that, then.

In short, the Conservatives would need Lib Dem support for a second term, as their only opportunity to form a government arises if the Lib Dems hold the balance of power.

Imagine you are Nick Clegg. The results have just come in from the 2015 general election, and your 35 remaining MPs (your actions in coalition with the Conservatives were very unpopular) can form a majority with the Conservatives or Labour. A second alliance with the former would end your party as an independent political force, and in any case, they have refused to grant your party any role in the new government. The latter will enter a full coalition, and co-operating with them will re-establish your party as the vanguard of the centre ground of British politics. Which would you choose?

As a Labour member, I detest the idea of having my party work with the Lib Dems. But if there is no prospect of them playing kingmaker in a hung parliament, then some quite tight preconditions can be imposed on any Lab-Lib pact. For a start, anybody Lib Dem who has collaberated with the Conservative-led government and their toxic policies from within the current Cabinet should be excluded from the frontbench of a centre-left government. The likes of Vince Cable and Danny Alexander must be confined to the backbenches while Labour ministers undo the horrednous damage that they have inflicted on the country. It’s still hardly ideal.

The best policy of all is to ensure that as many geniunely left-wing MPs are elected as possible.

We’re Entitled to EU Aid… So Why Not Take It?

For a Government that is fixated on reducing the budget deficit, it seems very eager to throw away money.

As a member of the European Union, Britain is just as entitled to aid in the event of a problem.as any other member: EU spending does not exclusively support poorer countries. Even Germany, which is praised as Europe’s economic powerhouse, was happy to claim EU support when the Rhine flooded in 2013. There is no stigma attached to claiming back some of our multibillion payment towards the European government. So why have British ministers refused tens of millions of EU funds that became available following the explosion in demand for foodbanks. And why are some  Conservatives resisting moves to draw on the EU solidarity fund to boost support for victims of the English floods?

It could be pride. Conservative ministers might not want to “take” money from an institution they are suspicious of at best, and loathe at worst. But it is unjust for ministers to condemn foodbank and flood support claimants to a limited service merely because of their anti-European convictions. It’s like a parent refusing to claim Child Benefit whilst their children go without shoes. Any rationalist will tell you that, in an emergency, the greatest concern should be resolving it, not avoiding whatever emotional complex one might have.

Alternatively, the Coalition might be worried about accepting EU help because it would constitute a confession that these problems do exist, and they have not been solved by the UK government. Undoubtedly, that is a political risk. However, the risk of the government seeming apathetic to the plight of large numbers of voters is, I would argue, much greater. And it’s harder to be more apathetic than to refuse free money. When the country is supposedly bankrupt. That doesn’t look concerned at all.

Essay: Is Parliament irrelevant?

Although the UK Parliament faces increasing external competition in fulfilling its various roles and functions, recent constitutional reforms and political events have, in fact, enhanced its powers and importance. But to answer the question, we must also ask: what is Parliament relevant (or irrelevant) to? Parliament is the body responsible for creating and revising legislation; representing the British people; overseeing and scrutinising the Government; and in effect lending to the executives a source of ministers and a “right to govern” (Heywood, 2011). In several of those roles, it is argued, other bodies have become more effective than Parliament. For example, over the past century the role of the media in scrutinising Government ministers has become greater, and some say that this comes at the expense of the importance Parliamentary questions and debates.

I will consider each function of Parliament and assess its relevance in each area.

For over a century, Parliament has been reactive rather than pro-active legislative votes. This means that the vast majority of legislation is introduced by the Government; Private Members’ Bills, the means by which legislation can be introduced by backbenchers, are seldom passed without Government support. However, this does not mean that Parliament’s powers are weak, as amendments can radically alter the nature of a Bill, whilst it is increasingly common for Government proposals to be defeated altogether. In the past 8 years, the Government has lost votes in the House of Commons, the dominant house in Parliament, 11 times. This compares with no such defeats in the previous 8 years. (Election Demon, 2012).

The magnitude, not just the frequency of these defeats is changing too. A good example is the case of a motion, not a Bill In 2013, constitution-changing precedent was set when Prime Minister David Cameron sought Parliament’s permission, in the form of a motion (that is, a non-binding vote) to order British military forces to attack Syria. Observers were agreed that David Cameron did not technically need Parliament’s support, but he felt that he needed the backing of the people’s representatives. The House of Commons voted against intervention, and the Prime Minister was forced to abandon his policy. For the first time, it was Parliament, not the Prime Minister, which was dictating Britain’s military policy. This point alone proves that Parliament is relevant: there are few bigger decisions made by a nation than on whether to engage in war, and it was Parliament, not the executive, that had the decisive say on the matter.

Parliament does not have a monopoly on legislation: the European Union, and associated treaties, act as supreme law across all EU member states. In that sense, Parliament is no longer a sovereign body. Yet Parliament retains the ability to withdraw from the EU, and can also work with other parliaments in the EU to overturn European legislation that it opposes. Therefore, Parliament has gained as much power as it has lost: influence over European affairs in exchange for some European influence over British affairs hitherto the preserve of Westminster.

However, decision-making is not the only role of Parliament. Some have argued that it has surrendered its role on scrutinising ministers and the Government to the press and, more recently, news channels and social media. Observers point to the energies and resources political parties now spend on media management and “wooing” owners of media outlets compared to the marginalisation of backbench MPs. And it is true that ministerial questions worry the Government of the day to a much lesser extent than the headline in tomorrow’s edition of the Daily Mail. However, that overlooks the increasing role that both Houses play in demanding high standards of ministers and the policies they pursue, through increasingly high-profile and influential Select Committees, and through a House of Lords that often amends legislation that is seen as flawed. Both institutions within Parliament may lack “hard” power, but as they can heavily influence Parliamentary and even public opinion, their views are generally respected. Indeed, the Public Accounts Committee is an example of a group of backbenchers who can set the political and media agenda by raising issues such as corporate tax avoidance and inefficiencies in spending by the Royal Household.

Another perceived weakness of Parliament is its supposedly declining ability to represent the British people. While declining turnout in general elections is a problem, few accept that it diminishes the right of their local MP to represent them. Furthermore, the case of the aforementioned Syria vote shows that Parliament can represent the people: dozens of MPs changed their minds about the vote due to the sheer volume of messages they received from constituents opposing the Government. It also shows that the Prime Minister considered Parliament to only body with the right to approve war, suggesting that it has a larger responsibility to represent than ever.

However, the House of Lords cannot be representative given that it is wholly unelected. This should not be an issue provided that the elected House of Commons remains the dominant component of Parliament, though it still undermines Parliament’s relevance as a national forum.

There is one more function of Parliament which has yet to be discussed: the provision of ministers. Given that all ministers are appointed are members of either the House of Commons or the House of Lords, and have been for some time, there is little to suggest that Parliament has become less relevant in this area. Though MPs in all three main parties have had their powers to select the leaders of their parties, and therefore future Prime Ministers, diminished, it remains the case that a Government cannot exist without the support of its backbenchers.

To conclude, there is little that is irrelevant about Parliament, an institution that has become more, not less, powerful as it makes more decisions of national importance and implements the powers and structures it has long needed to hold the Government to account. Institutions that rival it in its functions, such as regional and international assemblies and the media work to complement it, not diminish it. I would also add that talk of “Presidential-style” government led by recent Prime Ministers applies more to concentration of powers within the executive, and in fact Parliament has found new relevance by acting as a balance against this phenomenon.

Attempt To Repeal Bedroom Tax Narrowly Fails

The Bedroom Tax is the most hated of the Coalition’s welfare cuts- perhaps the only one with a solid majority (about 2 to 1) of the public opposed to the policy. It’s not that the principle is unacceptable: it sounds reasonable to ask those on Housing Benefit to live in a correctly sized home or pay some of the cost of the ‘luxury’ of a spare bedroom. Indeed, in times of a housing crisis, underoccupancy should be discouraged regardless of whether you own, rent independently, or rent with Housing Benefit. However, there are so many problems with the practicalities of almost any such policy that it could not be done without genuine cruelty.

I could rant about the absurdity of forcing tenants out of homes because they have a ‘spare bedroom’ of about 60 square feet- basically a windowed cupboard that you could cram a single bed into. Or how nasty it is to punish people for not moving into 1 and 2 bedroom social houses when they’re simply not available to move into. Or even demanding that the elderly vacate a family home of several decades, and find £1,000 in moving costs to do so. But it is well-worn ground, and I have one point that should cause thought even in the Bedroom Tax’s proponents: it will cost the state money to implement. A wave of new red tape, discretionary assistance payments and the incentive the Bedroom Tax provides to move into smaller, more expensive private rentals means that it is costing us money to penalise these people.

Such were the arguments put forward by the Parliamentary Labour Party yesterday when it forced a debate on repealing the Bedroom Tax. With the Liberal Democrats undergoing their familiar routine of sounding compassionate but doing exactly as the Tories (at least the Conservatives are honest!). Labour wanted to show the nation that the Liberal Democrats had an opportunity to put their money where their mouths are. And of 57 Lib Dem MPs, 2 voted against their whip. Overall, a slender majority of just over 20 defeated Labour, meaning that just a dozen Lib Dem rebels could have swung the vote: something that we should never let the electorate forget.

The voices of Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Rachael Reeves and the rebel President of the Liberal Democrats will be heard for many years as their warnings of ghettoisation and decline are realised.

The House Of Shuffles

Yesterday, the Coalition and the Labour Party both reshuffled their frontbench teams. To date, the Prime Minister has adopted the wise strategy of avoiding frequent reshuffles, but that policy appears to have slipped: we already know that Tory Cabinet ministers will be subjected to a bigger reshuffle come the spring: yesterday’s movement of junior ministers was a means of preparing some select loyalists for ‘High Office’. By contrast, Labour’s shadow cabinet has a markedly different complexion compared to 24 hours ago.

There are approximately 25 Cabinet posts and a further 75 junior ministers. This means that approximately one third of the governing party(ies)’ MPs in Parliament are awarded a ministerial post (and one quarter of the Opposition will shadow them). In that case, how can it be that the Prime Minister feels that there are too few women and northern MPs (both groups woefully underrepresented in the Government) on his party’s frontbench to promote to his Cabinet? The leadership is almost openly saying that it wants to look less universally white, ageing, male and southern, and yet it has so few junior ministers of counterbalancing groups that it can’t even appoint a few token women Cabinet ministers in one go! That’s a telling sign of the state of the parliamentary Conservative party.

Not that the Opposition is perfect either: women make up 40% of the shadow cabinet and continue to be a minority in the Parliamentary Labour Party. Anything short of a true gender balance (and that does cut both ways: I’d disapprove of men being underrepresented too) is imperfect.

That said, I do broadly approve of the changes Miliband has made to his shadow cabinet. Liam Byrne (former post: welfare), Stephen Twigg (education) and Jim Murphy (defence) have all been moved to less influential positions, which has led to media squealing about a “purge of the Blairites”. Though the changes do mark a shift to the left within Labour, I wouldn’t run away with the idea that this was Miliband’s only objective. For example, the installation of the relatively unknown Vernon Coaker in Defence is a means by which Labour can change its policy on the Trident nuclear weapons system without the pro-Trident Jim Murphy causing trouble (nobody knows what the change will be, but I gather it’s important). Similarly, a new Transport spokesperson will facilitate a U-turn on the High Speed Two rail project.

But the most important change is the appointment of Rachael Reeves to Work and Pensions. She will make a good opponent to Iain Duncan Smith: at last, Labour has a spokesperson who will apply real Labour values to the issues facing the welfare state and the employment market, rather than shaping policy on what the Daily Mail will accept. In summary, Miliband has shown a bit of leftwing steel just at the right time, and should benefit from a united frontbench centred on the soft left ideology he has come to symbolise.

Let us briefly return to the Conservatives. We can expect a much larger and more exciting reshuffle in the Spring, in a clear departure from Cameron’s good policy of not unrooting ministers every year or so. That is unfortunate, because government benefits when its day-to-day leaders are in posts for long enough to implement a coherent programme which they are responsible for and able to follow through on. That Cameron feels unable to do this is simply a cost of his government’s lack of windowdressing diversity. Not to worry, though. The Party will eventually modernise. In thirty or forty years.

Osborne’s Interesting Attempt At Populism

The British Chancellor has a fixation with adopting left-wing styles as if he were on the side of the millions he hurts with nearly every decision he makes. Last year, he ended a speech with the final rallying cry of the Communist Manifesto (compulsory reading for any self-respecting intellectual): “Workers of the world unite!”. He has also been known to send memoranda to fellow Conservative MPs addressing them as “comrades”, a word I seldom hear outside Labour Party meetings. With yesterday’s Budget, he attempted to translate this into a series of measures that the Conservatives can point to in the 2015 campaign.

Initially, one might be puzzled by the Chancellor announcing a series of expensive measures (which I shall discuss below) with an election two whole years away. But look at the revised independent GDP and public borrowing forecasts and you see the answer. Keen that the public should not dwell too much on the fact that growth in 2013 will be no higher than 0.6% (and if you ask me, we’re headed for a third recession), and that the budget deficit will remain at £120 billion in 2013 and 2014, George Osborne tried to create a buzz around the tax cuts he’s instituted (and he buried another three years of public sector pay freezes and 1% in spending cuts). To judge from the media reaction, he has succeeded.

Not a load of substance is to be found in these tax and duty plans:

a cut of 1p in beer duty

Corporation Tax to fall to 20% one year earlier than planned

Freezing fuel duty for another year

The Personal Allowance to be increased to £10,000 in 2014, rather than 2015.

But the most eye-catching of all is the massive state intervention in the housing market. No, this doesn’t mean that the government will actually buy or build housing, or regulate costs. As usual, it is an unsatisfactory solution which doesn’t address the root of the problem (the story of housing policy in Britain since the 1970s). Under the “Help To Buy” scheme, anybody wishing to buy a new-build property and has a 5% deposit can get a mortgage for 75% loan-to-value, and the government will loan them the remaining 20%. Only when the house is sold is the loan repayable, and no interest is accrued in the first five years. The scheme has already proved popular with twentysomethings who have as yet been unable to save the massive deposits currently demanded by savers.

Secondly, the Government will underwrite £130 billion of individual mortgages for anybody buying a home with too small a deposit to secure a mortgage.

It is undeniable that, in the short term, this will help many people buy their own home. But it merely encourages risky lending by banks (remember 2007?!) and make debt more accessible. It does nothing to encourage construction, nothing to return house prices to a sensible level, and nothing at all to help the growing number of renters. On top of this, the public balance sheet will be exposed to yet more potentially bad debt.

How much are the cuts in Corporation Tax and the abolition of the 50p top tax rates going to cost us? The massive National Debt is not going to fall as a result of cutting at our most lucrative tax base. And as for beer duty, is the benefit of a 1p reduction in the cost of a point going to be passed on to the consumer, or the pub landlords?

In light of Mr Osborne’s brilliant job in writing this Budget, I shall write my own.

No Discrimination Against Singles, Please

The Conservative Party have had a particularly controversial pet policy for about a decade now. The policy, which was in place for several decades until well into the 1970s, is based on the simple idea that married couples should have to pay lower tax contributions than unmarried coupes and single people. There is a lack of reasoning to explain how this is fair or indeed justifiable.

The idea gets worse when you look at how the Coalition intends to implement it, as it has committed to do by 2015. The lower earner will be able to transfer £750 of their tax-free allowance to the higher earner. To a basic rate earner, this is worth £150- but this rises with the income of the higher earner. Therefore this policy will not benefit couples with incomes in the same tax band, with three regressive effects:

The first is that it transfers money from the hands of the lower earner to the higher earner. With the gender pay gap being all too prevalent, this is much more likely to be the husband.

Secondly, only the well-off can afford to have a non-employed spouse. Most people on real world incomes (that is, a Tory Cabinet minister’s income divided by 100) will say that living costs are such that, even if their spouse wanted to be, to use the outmoded ’50s term, “homemakers”, they would not be able to balance the books on one income.

Thirdly, the tax break is worth more to a married couple with a very high earner than one with an average earner. Indeed, the tax break is worth £300 to somebody on the 40p tax band and £337.50 to those on the top rate.

And what is the real purpose of this? To pressurise couples into marrying. By reducing individual choice as to how to live their lives, the Conservatives, or at least their rabid right wing, are displaying their usual combination of social authoritarianism and economic liberalism, an attitude which is sometimes puzzling to say the least.

And what of those who simply never cohabit? Do they deserve to be penalised by the tax system? Whatever the Tories may think, they depend on the Liberal Democrats, a party which has the establishment of a fairer tax system written into its constitution, to abstain in order to pass the legislation. Nick Clegg and his associates must be held responsible for collaborating with this, if indeed they choose to do so.