Sunday, 31 August 2008
I'm not sure where Gordon's been for the last 11 years but in case he hadn't noticed, his Government has presided over the development of exactly the situation he is now promising to prevent. Where has he been? For years now the Government has been warned that the rapid decline in North Sea oil production would leave the UK dangerously exposed to the vagaries of the international energy market. The North Sea currently produces sufficient oil and gas to supply two-thirds of the UK's needs but this output will decline so rapidly that by only 2010 this proportion will have declined to roughly half.
Worse, UK energy supply is controlled ultimately by French and German-owned entities (E.on, Npower, EDF) whose resistance to liberalising their own markets is likely lead to them hoarding energy supplies to protect their own countries from the impact of a cold winter. You may recall that when this last happened, in 2005, energy prices spiked and the UK shivered.
France and Germany have been steadfast in their following of their own national interests when it comes to energy. The aforementioned energy companies control both the supply and distribution in their own countries, limiting competition and keeping prices ultimately higher than they need be.
Moreover, France and Germany have merrily undermined their EU partners by striking bilateral deals with Russia to try and secure their own energy supply. Too late they may have realised post-Georgia that by acceding to Russia's divide and conquer tactics they have decreased their long term prospects for energy security. Love or hate the EU, it can hardly be denied that the UK and its European partners stand a better chance of negotiating successfully with Russia (and other suppliers) if they stand together.
So Gordon Brown can shake his fist at Russia all he wants. He might serve the UK's interests a little better if he were to turn his ire on Sarkozy and Merkel. Our present situation also makes the Government's dragging of feet over the issue of new nuclear power stations all the more inexcusable. Its no good promising to prevent us sleepwalking into energy dependence...its already happened.
On the plus side, Palin's conservative credentials will go down well with Republican voters and go some way to shore up McCain's perceived lukewarm anti-abortion stance. Her plucky backstory of mother of five's meteoric rise to the top may attract some voters who otherwise would have gone for Hilary Clinton. On the downside, her inexperience and the tokenism of her selection may repel as many swing voters as it does attract.
The most amazing revelation to me though is that McCain has only met his running mate once, and that six months ago. Does it matter that he hardly knows her? I suppose his team will have briefed him but that cannot make up for getting to know a potential candidate personally. Palin's selection is truly a gamble but does at least keeps the Democrats guessing and hence on their toes.
Saturday, 30 August 2008
They are being a little disingenuous because, the technology still being limited, the user also has to carry a slightly larger GPS transmitter on their person. As a parent of young child myself, I have (with the Maddie Mcann case fresh in our minds) frequently wondered whether it would be ethical and/or sensible to use a microchip implant to try and prevent a calamity if the worse should happen.
Its all very well to sit and tut at the invasion of the child's privacy, the unwarranted worrying of the parents and the loss of trust in people that such a course of action implies. But I will bet that every single parent of a taken child would have turned back the clock and utilised one of these devices if they had the option. I think, on balance, were the technology discrete enough and suitably practicable, I would opt to use it.
Given this, maybe I shouldn't complain so much at the ever increasing surveillance and monitoring of our daily lives by the state, given a further boost today by the revelation that local councils have started to advertise for 'Environment Volunteers' to report on "waste, fly-tipping, graffiti, dog fouling and abandoned vehicles". Its OK when I'm the one doing the watching, I guess, rather than the one being watched.
Friday, 29 August 2008
1. Despite 11 years of Labour pumping money into the NHS, we now have the largest gap in life expectancy between rich and poor since Victorian times, comparing unfavourably with some parts of the developing world.
2. NICE are making allocation decisions about the finite pot of NHS money and, as a result, are not sanctioning the prescription of some new drugs on the grounds that they do not meet their cost effectiveness test for each additional 'quality adjusted life year' for patients.
3. The NHS is this year forecast to make a £1.75 billion surplus in the current financial year, i.e. it will not spend all the money allocated to it.
Common sense tells you that if we have such intractable public health issues and only a certain amount of money, we should not be left with vast unspent sums, equivalent this year to 2% of the total NHS budget. Why is David Flory, director general of NHS finance, performance and operations, saying:
"This is an excellent start to the year for the NHS. A strong financial position backed by good progress on delivery will continue to ensure high quality services for patients."
How it is "excellent" that money that should be spent on patient care is not being spent? Is it too much to ask that each Primary Care Trust be given its budget at the start of each year and instructed to spend it? There should be a system of checks and balances to ensure that they do not overspend and run out of money before the year is out and any underspend should be recycled to areas of the country where it is needed.
Maybe I am being naive, I don't know. But whilst there is plenty of micropolicy coming from the politicians on the detail of healthcare, I cannot see anyone saying how they will deal with what seems to be such a fundamental flaw in the system.
Thursday, 28 August 2008
Broadly speaking, I am in favour of reducing red tape and government interference in individual's lives. New Labour has been far too quick to enact legislation to tackle perceived problems. Viewed individually, some or indeed many of these restrictions and obligations make sense but when taken together they add up to an intolerable burden on our daily existence. A lighter touch is required and it is hoped and expected that a Conservative government would provide it.
On the face of it then, we should welcome what the Tories are saying on tackling food and drink problems. However, a light touch does not always make sense. There are some problems that are so pressing that the 'right' course of action cannot be left to dawn gradually on individuals and the Government simply has to take action. Climate change is certainly one of these. I would also argue that the future problems of obesity and care for the elderly also fall into this category.
The Conservatives are telling us that the obesity issue is an area ripe for being solved by 'nudging' people in the right direction and that they don't want to nanny people by telling them what they should and shouldn't eat. But stopping food manufacturers putting addictive levels of salt or sugar into their foods or advertising unhealthy foods to children or exercising undue influence over government decisions has nothing to do with nannying individuals. It is about stopping corporations exploiting people by knowingly selling them addictive products that directly lead them to having poor health.
It is the poorest people in society who have the least choice about what they eat and they deserve greater protection from the predatory behaviour of food manufacturers now that we understand the link between unhealthy foods and poor health. We should start with heavily restricting advertising targeted at children and banning unhealthy food and drink from schools as once the food companies have their hooks into the kids, it is extremely hard for them to break free and get into healthier habits later on.
Nudging people towards taking better decisions about their lives has a place. This is just not one of them. It is very rare that I find myself agreeing with the Government but when Ann Keen, the health minister, said "The Tories are using individual responsibility as an excuse for their lack of effective policies in this area.", I think she is right.
Treading the line between state action and individual responsibility is a difficult balancing act. The Conservatives have been bending over backwards to persuade people they are serious about tackling social problems but they will fail if they persist with pushing the line that these things can be 'nudged' out of existence. People will simply start to perceive this as an excuse for leaving business free to do what they want and that the Tories remain their old lupine selves wrapped in sheep's clothing. They need to have a re-think.
Wednesday, 27 August 2008
Wrong. What we are dealing with here is a cartel. In any normal competitive market, a spiralling supply price should have lead to a price war between distributors, each of whom would have fought to stop passing on price rises to their customers to the point where their margins would be eroded to the bone. Some distributors would merge and some would go out of business, leaving the remainder with increased purchasing power to reduce the margins of the suppliers. What we have here is not a price war between distributors but, rather, record profit margins. This implies they have passed on all the supply price rises to the consumer and then some.
Why have they been able to do this? Because the suppliers and distributors are one and the same company. The European Commission has long argued that the two parts of the industry should be unbundled so that transparent pricing can be achieved but this has so far been resisted by the companies (obviously) and also by the French and German governments who - surprise surprise - play host to EdF and Eon, two of Europe's biggest power companies.
A windfall tax, then, is economically illiterate and will provide a short term fillip to those blighted by fuel poverty at the cost of a longer term solution to the supply/demand imbalance. It will also, incidentally, undermine the Government's green credentials by hampering the drive towards renewables through the artificial lowering of the cost of oil and gas. What campaigners should really be focusing their ire on is the lack of progress to energy unbundling and the naked self-interest shown by our European cousins when it suits them. If the energy companies are found to have colluded on pricing at the expense of consumers then they should face massive fines and the proceeds passed back to consumers. Just don't call it a windfall tax.
Tuesday, 26 August 2008
Sunday, 24 August 2008
Despite the almost universal unpopularity of road pricing in the UK, the government and local authorities seem determined to press ahead with it. This, apparently, is all down to the "success" of the London congestion charge, which has reduced the number of vehicles entering the London zone but not congestion, as Transport for London itself admits. The planners who implemented the charge could not stop themselves from further meddling and their accompanying traffic calming schemes and traffic light phasing has reversed the gains that the reduced vehicles should have brought.
If the London scheme, then, has established the logic of hitting all drivers in the pocket to influence their decision to travel, how does the Government possibly follow that logic to conclude that introducing a single toll lane on a motorway will do the same job? If you want to cut congestion on a motorway through road pricing, then surely you have to make all prospective drivers pay the same charge? Adding an extra lane that is toll only will do nothing to change the situation and hence behaviour of drivers who do not use it. They will be faced with exactly the same number of lanes as before and no reduction in their incentive to drive from A to B. In fact, they may have more incentive to drive as they will perceive that some cars may opt to pay to use the toll lane, hence reducing traffic in the 'free' lanes and speeding up their journey.
So where is the logic? How will this reduce congestion? All this will do is antagonise already cash strapped motorists who cannot afford the daily charge on their commute and have to sit there and watch as others who can afford it drive past them, probably with a smug smile on their face. The Government is worried that schemes such as this will just be viewed as another attempt to tax the motorist and with such ill thought through proposals as this, their worries are well founded.
Saturday, 23 August 2008
"better placed than other economies to withstand the slowdown in the global economy".
If ever there was a sport whose participants displayed the complete opposite of what the (admittedly tarnished) Olympic ideal is supposed to be all about, it has to be football. Overpaid, strutting, petulant and puffed up on their own self-importance...no, not the IOC, the footballers. I guess when the powerful lobby force that represents football decided it couldn't miss out on the global coverage the Olympics brings, its inclusion was inevitable.
Ditto tennis. A good test for inclusion could be whether or not the Olympics would represent the absolute pinnacle, the crowning glory, of every participating athlete's sporting career. For tennis players, they care far more about the annual US Open starting immediately the Olympics nds than the once every four years event. I dare say Andy Murray wasn't that upset that his early and undignified exit from the Olympics gave him some extra preparation time for Flushing Meadow.
Seeing as professional athletes are allowed in pretty much every sporting discipline in the Olympics, why aren't they allowed in boxing? We would get the deciphering of the alphabet soup of champions from different sanctioning bodies, no more contenders ducking each other for a big money pay day down the line...just the best against the best in a 2 week winner takes all contest for nothing more valuable than a gold medal (OK... maybe a bit of sponsorship afterwards). That would be worth watching.
Friday, 22 August 2008
“When the GCSE results are released today there will be the usual “dumbing down” claims about the number gaining A and A* grades and taking vocational subjects. It is of a piece with those criticising Team GB's “inadequate” Olympic success because state schools should be providing more Olympians.”
No, the two criticisms are unrelated. The former are concerned with the slipping of standards generally. The latter are concerned at the relative failure of the public sector to produce high standards.
“But a different sort of elitism lurks behind much of this carping. It is the class-based elitism that instinctively wants to ration success and cap the aspirations of the less advantaged. The underlying premise is that there is a fixed pool of talent in society.”
There is a fixed pool! Logic dictates that there are only so many pupils capable of achieving the highest standards, be they from the public or private sector. Not all pupils are born with equal intelligence. One part of the challenge is to remove the hurdles preventing the bright pupils born into poorer households from achieving the high standards they are capable of. A second and separate part is how to raise the standards of those children and schools at the bottom of the performance pile. The failure to distinguish between these two issues is the root cause of the failure of New Labour's education policy.
“So every August we are told that increased success rates demonstrate declining standards in state schools (increased success in private schools, by contrast, is usually put down to hard work and good teaching).”
The Adonis formula, as per his article? Recruit better teachers through better pay. Make it easier and faster for suitably qualified graduates to enter teaching. Improve the standards of leadership by giving suitable training to head teachers. Increase the numbers of trust schools and academies to raise standards. All obvious points that are uncontroversial (although teachers might disagree with Adonis’s point that their pay is now at the right level to achieve the recruitment goal).
It is Adonis’s last suggestion that is most telling, however:
“Thirdly, we need a modern curriculum that provides high-quality vocational qualifications beyond 14. For too long the curriculum beyond the age of 14 has been restricted to academic subjects; and too many students with different aptitudes and interests have left - usually at 16 - with few, if any, qualifications. This has to change, so we are introducing a wider range of vocational diplomas and from 2015 raising the education and training participation age to 18.”
Adonis is implicitly saying here (and explicitly elsewhere) that vocational courses are of equal worth to the individual and society (further education, employers etc.) as academic qualifications. He has gone as far elsewhere as to level snide accusations of “intellectual snobbery” at those that disagree. Academic learning is about attaining a set of skills (e.g. the ability to digest information, communicate it, make analytical decisions, perform under pressure etc) that are crucial to making a success of life.
Some children will naturally do better at this than others. Some other children might have achieved success but have been denied the tools to achieve those qualifications. For some children, who do not stand a realistic chance of academic achievement, it is right to substitute the academic qualifications for vocational ones. But please do not pretend that they are of equivalent value because they just aren’t. If they are easier to learn and pass, they are of lesser value. Not of no value, just lesser.
To claim otherwise is a betrayal of the children who undertake vocational qualifications and wilful self-delusion by defenders of the Government policy such as Lord Adonis. The ultimate goal is laudable, to raise up the educational standards of those pupils and schools at the bottom of the pile nearer to those of the top. Unfortunately, like most things the dead hand of the state gets involved with, all they achieve through their top down, one size fits all approach is to ensure those at the bottom stay there and condemn those who could better themselves to a life of potential unfulfilled.
p.s. see the comment from the Construction Industry Training Board at the bottom of this Anastasia De Waal article in today’s Guardian for a succint summation of the value of vocational qualifications.
McCain and his team have succeeded, so far, in making the election less of a poll on the state of the USA and more of a referendum on his opponent. If the Republicans are able to maintain that line of attack, they stand a chance of sneaking back in come November. For the Democrats, they have to try and move the focus of the fight back onto the economy whilst simultaneously reassuring undecided voters that Obama will not try and turn the US into a socialist utopia or lean over backwards to appease the likes of Russia and Iran.
The race, according to the polls, has never been anything other than tight and, as I wrote the other day, will be decided on the outcomes in a small number of swing states, as usual. Obama's success in persuading the classic 'Clinton' blue-collar Democrat supporter to vote for him will be important. The key, however, will be the turnout: the ability of each side to mobilise their core vote on the day.
Here, the Democrats have an advantage as Obama has done an incredible job of enthusing a vast swathe of people, especially young people. There is a questionmark over John McCain's ability similarly to enthuse the Republican base of evangelical Christians who were so influential in getting George Bush to the White House.
The Democrats seem to have now woken up and realised they are in a scrap, releasing a series of targeted attack ads in crucial states. With the announcement of Vice-Presidential running mates imminent and the conventions just around the corner, things are hotting up.
Wednesday, 20 August 2008
Tuesday, 19 August 2008
There is a world of difference in the effectiveness of chucking money at a problem when the state sector gets involved (as Guido Fawkes has pointed out) but Steve Richards has also missed the crucial fact that our Olympic success has come not just from lavishing money on sports in general but from controversially targeting the increased funding only at those sports that have been successful. So cycling, rowing and sailing (all successful areas in the past) have all seen big dollops of money lavished on them in recent years. Unsuccessful sports like athletics and judo have seen and will see their grants cut.
Could this approach be successfully translated to the arena of public services? I am not suggesting that a failing school, for example, is dealt with just by cutting its budget but the use of financial incentives for individuals can be highly effective. Rewarding success and penalising failure offers an incentive for people who want to achieve better and a route out of mediocrity. Poor standards should not be tolerated and we must have the ability to replace underperforming staff, wherever they are found.
This does present something of a ‘chicken and the egg’ conundrum for the less successful (be they a school, hospital or a sport) that can only look on enviously at the level of spending elsewhere. How you deal with a poorly performing area that wants to improve but cannot is tricky. I would suggest that poor performers be taken over by the better performers in order to spread proven best practice. In reality this means good schools taking over bad schools and successful sports taking under their umbrella the running of less successful ones.
Politically difficult this may be but it must stand a better chance of success in raising standards than the blunderbuss approach that New Labour have taken to improving public services over the last decade. Perhaps the politicians can take away a valuable lesson from Team GB’s Beijing success after all.
Monday, 18 August 2008
One school of thought suggests that the departure of Musharraf from front line politics will be a good thing for Pakistan, as it will remove what has proved a massive distraction for the political elite. Pakistan is a country riven with problems, from its rebellious provinces to its stuttering economy and entrenched poverty. PPP’s Asif Zardari and the PML (N)’s Nawaz Sharif can now stop playing power politics and get on with solving some of these issues.
On the other hand, it could be argued that the removal of President Musharraf from the scene could present Pakistan with another, perhaps unexpected, problem. The country's politicians focusing on Musharraf has given them an issue upon which they are very much agreed. It has given them a point around which their flaky coalition can coalesce and solidify. The danger is that without this issue to unite them, their differences will once again emerge and their coalition break apart. The old adage of being careful what you wish for may prove true for the long suffering people of Pakistan.
Friday, 15 August 2008
1. This bus driver in Darlington, who ordered a 13 year old girl off a bus (forcing her to walk 2 miles home in the dark on her own) because her pass expired at 9pm. The time? 9.01. Nice work, bus driver!
2. These nameless officials at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency who have carpeted lifeguards in Hope Cove, South Devon, for using a boat, recently repaired but awaiting a seaworthiness certificate, to rescue a drowning 13 year old girl. The lifeguards (volunteers) have all been threatened with disciplinary action and the boat has been locked up. Nice work, Maritime and Coastguard Agency!
I'd like to blame New Labour somehow for this but I think there is just a streak of moron that runs through all petty officials in the UK that surfaces from time to time.
Thursday, 14 August 2008
Wednesday, 13 August 2008
Of course I console myself with the thought that I am at least reading the news or writing this blog whilst I am watching but...come on...who am I kidding? Anyone for beach volleyball?
Liberal interventionism (an oxymoron if ever there was one) has been shown to be a sham, a figleaf that strangely is only called upon when large and powerful countries in the West want to assert their interests over smaller and weaker countries. The winning of the Cold War removed the counterweight to the US and has led to it foolishly believing its own rhetoric. If you are going to talk the talk, you’ve got to be able to walk the walk and the West has had its bluff called and been too selective in its interventions, too many times.
Georgia, in over reaching itself in South Ossetia, has foolishly tweaked the tail of the Russian tiger and has paid the price. But the West has been tweaking the Russian tail with its meddling in the Caucuses, its bullheaded insistence on its missile defence system in Eastern Europe and its lecturing on democracy and human rights. Russia has been itching to slap down its southern neighbour and remind the world that it will not be pushed around.
There has been much angst about who fired the first shot but, in truth, the answer to that question does not matter a jot. Bleating about right and wrong will not change the situation on the ground. We can fulminate at the bullying belligerence of Russia, throw it out of the G8 and cancel joint military manouevres but in the end we have no choice but to find a way to get along with Russia. We are today intertwined in a global system of finance and commerce, not to mention facing the shared threat of climate change, which means we have no other choice. We may have to hold our noses but realpolitik is the only policy that gets results.
Tuesday, 12 August 2008
The above is not true. Yet. However, this is the headline that you can soon expect to see if this all controlling, interfering government gets its way. Not content with sticking their noses into the practice of parents lending a hand in driving the school minibus or even taking their own kid to school, the Government has now decided that any firm wishing to offer kids some work experience must get all their staff vetted by the Criminal Records Bureau.
This is getting beyond a joke. Taking kids on work experience is always a bit of a chore for companies but they do it because (a) they are probably doing a favour for a friend or relative and (b) they know how helpful it can be for children to get some exposure to the world of work early on (I know it was invaluable for me). If, as a business owner, you had to get all your staff checked by the CRB in order to take work placement kids that you were reluctant to take in the first place, tell me, would you bother?
Look, nobody wants paedophiles driving their kids to football practice but we have to draw get a sense of proportion. This relentless drive to check people, even in innocuous situations, is fostering an atmosphere of mistrust and is deterring honest, law abiding citizens from doing volunteer work with children, making the children's lives worse off as a result.
Read this article in today's Independent for a good discussion of the subject.
Friday, 8 August 2008
Thursday, 7 August 2008
Linda Buchanan, a 48 year old commuter, was lucky not be killed yesterday when a couple of yobs pushed her onto a railway line, just because she asked them to stop smoking. I wonder if she had been listening to the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, who last week exhorted citizens to intervene if they observed anti-social behaviour?
"I would never say 'Don't get involved'. .....I hope that we don't live – and I don't believe incidentally that we do live – in a country where people aren't willing to stand up for others."
If you try and intervene, you risk getting spat on, punched, knifed or thrown onto a live railway line. The odds are not in your favour because if someone is committing a crime or otherwise being anti-social, then they are more likely to be the type of person that won't think twice about doing you over.
If New Labour hadn't set about skewing the criminal justice system in favour of understanding and rehabilitation of criminals instead of deterrent, then perhaps society wouldn't be in a position where we fear even to stand up for ourselves.
Wednesday, 6 August 2008
This is bad news for Obamafans, used to double digit poll leads. National polls, however, are irrelevant as the election will be decided on a small number of swing states. It should be remembered that only 3 states, all small, switched sides between 2000 and 2004 (Iowa, New Hampshire and New Mexico). When the latest polling in the 10 most important swing states is analysed, you can see that Obama supporters have no room for complacency, with only Ohio, Virginia and Colorado predicted to switch sides this time:
California (55 electoral votes): 15.3% lead for Obama
Florida (27): 1.6% for McCain
Pennsylvania (21): 7.4% for Obama
Ohio (20): 0.5% for Obama
Michigan (17): 4.3% for Obama
N Carolina (15): 3.7% for McCain
Virginia (13): 1.0% for Obama
Missouri (11): 2.0% for McCain
Minnesota (10): 5.3% for Obama
Colorado (9): 1.7% for Obama
There is good news and bad news for Obama in this. The good: California looks in the bag (it probably always was but Hispanic voters coming out for Obama has sealed it). The gap has narrowed in Florida to the point where this vital state could go either way (again). Pennsylvania, an absolute must hold, looks solid. Ohio, Republican last time (just) is up for grabs.
"Moreover, since Brown is currently being attacked primarily by the far right of our Party he will become rather more dependent upon the centre-left and the Trade Unions, and the repulsing of such an attack means that social democracy has some hope of being back upon the political agenda (strengthened by a crisis of capitalism) for the first time in perhaps thirty years."
I have made the point elsewhere that the crisis that has engulfed global finance will inevitably lead to a prolonged period of tighter regulation and stricter capital requirements by governments and regulators. There is near universal agreement that there should be no repeat of the lax oversight of credit provision and its accompanying exploitation that has led us into the current mess.
This systemic failure has provided New Labour with a window of opportunity to reassert their social democratic credentials. Any move to limit the market's ability to repeat its excesses would find favour, at least temporarily, with an electorate that is currently disgusted and disappointed in the failure of global finance to keep its house in order.
Having been in thrall to the markets for all these years thanks to the Blair/Brown Faustian bargain struck in 1997, New Labour finally has a chance to reconnect with its roots and do something to back up its claim to be the party of social justice and fairness it so desperately wants to be. Instead, it has succumbed to finger pointing and infighting as they argue about who gets to captain the sinking ship.
The debate is not about big vs small government or even libertarianism vs authoritarianism. Increased regulation of finance and banking is coming and will be here in double quick time if the Democrats retain or increase their hold on Congress and Obama takes the Presidency. The only question for the UK is whether it will be New Labour or the Conservatives that get to implement it. It is ironic that its implosion means New Labour will miss its once in a generation opportunity. Unless it can pull its head out of the sand, it probably won't even realise.
Tuesday, 5 August 2008
1. Floating the idea ahead of implementation will be counter-productive. If you are contemplating a house purchase in the next few months, would you a. go ahead anyway and pay the extra tax to the government or b. defer the purchase until the temporary suspension kicks in?
2. The temporary nature of the suspension will lead to a reversal of the above situation as the end of the suspension approaches. This will lead to a rush of buyers seeking to complete ahead the deadline, creating a further market distortion.
3. The goal of a suspension would be to make houses affordable for those who, were it not for the extra tax, would otherwise be able to do so. However, this would only serve to counteract what is already going on in the housing market, which will keep falling until it finds its point of equilibrium, i.e. the point where buyers and sellers naturally want (and are able) to transact again. The suspension of stamp duty will put an artificial floor under house prices by temporarily boosting the buying power of purchasers, instead of letting house prices continue to fall until the purchasers can afford them without such help. The effect will be to put taxpayers' money - the tax the government would have received - into the pockets of sellers.
The proposal would do nothing to deal with the real issue - the gumming up of the mortgage market. If it cannot be ungummed then house prices will just need to keep falling to the point where first time buyers can meet the lenders' new, stricter criteria.
Now, if the Chancellor proposed permanently scrapping stamp duty, that would be a welcome fillip and worthy of support. But as the tax brings in £6.5 billion a year for the Treasury and the Government is not exactly flush with cash, that doesn't seem likely. If, as has also been suggested, purchasers will simply be allowed to defer the payment of stamp duty for a period rather than avoid it altogether, then, as this would have zero effect on the market, it should be ignored as a serious proposition. Either way, Labour should think twice before trailing ill thought out proposals that, by their very trailing, might distort the market.