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Liberal Hero of the Week #66: Brexit Prize-winning Iain Mansfield

April 11, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

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Iain Mansfield

Winner of the IEA’s Brexit Prize 2014 (and Director of Trade and Investment at the UK’s embassy in the Philippines)
Reason: for a serious analysis of how Britain can remain an outward, open, ambitious, entrepreneurial, democratic, trading nation state even if we leave the EU

I approached Iain Mansfield’s essay outlining a blueprint for ‘Britain after the EU’ with some trepidation. I half-expected a Ukip-style turn-the-clocks-back digression into right-wing isolationism. I was wrong.

Iain’s 20,000-word essay, A Blueprint for Britain: Openness not Isolation, sticks to the brief set by the Institute of Economic Affairs: to outline, in the event of a the British people voting to leave the European Union, the measures the Government of the day would need “to take in the following two years, domestically (within the UK), vis-a-vis the remaining EU and internationally, in order to promote a free and prosperous economy”.

Those last seven words are the key. Because what Iain’s essay focuses on is how Britain would continue to promote a free and prosperous economy from outside the EU. That, he makes clear, depends on securing free trade agreements between Britain and its European neighbours (probably through joining the European Free Trade Area, like Switzerland) and with as many other trading partners as possible.

I’ve tended to be suspicious of the Swiss option – all the benefits of the EU’s negotiating power and of free trade within the EU, few of the disbenefits – but Iain is more optimistic:

… the advantages of being unconstrained by the concerns of more protectionist EU Member States and of a streamlined negotiating process should more than outweigh the disadvantages of reduced bargaining power. The UK could therefore enjoy a more favourable position than it enjoys within the EU, which to date has FTAs with not one of the BRIC countries.

But that doesn’t mean there are no risks, not least in assuming that our European neighbours will happily agree the same terms we already enjoy:

… whilst it is in no-one’s rational economic interests to erect trade barriers, the EU could afford a trade war far better than the UK could. Some EU nations would see leaving as a betrayal of the European project and may wish to ensure that a sufficient example is made of the UK to deter others; others will not want to ‘reward’ leaving. … Throughout the negotiations it must be remembered that the UK is in the weaker position: in the case of no agreement, the UK would face the full trade barriers that any external nation does.

The only way that will be achieved is through an extensive commitment of time and energy: of British officials, but also of Government ministers and the Prime Minister. In effect, they would be able to do little else for the two years of re-negotiation. And they will need to make concessions along the way, such as tapering off budget contributions to the EU rather than immediately ending them, retaining some EU regulations to ensure continuing access to markets.

Iain Mansfield’s essay sets out three scenarios – best, most likely, and worst – for a British exit from the EU. Here’s the middle option:

Domestically, one would expect to see a nation of less and simpler regulation and a lower budget deficit, but that remained a beacon for foreign investment, albeit with rather more investors from North America and Asia and rather less from Western Europe. Its character, that of a global nation open to the world, would be unchanged. Overall, the UK would probably be neither significantly richer nor poorer: there is no recorded correlation between EU membership and GDP growth. The fundamental assets of the country, its population, global connections, infrastructure and knowledge base mean that the long-term growth, balance of trade and economic outlook should remain strong.

It all sounds like an awful lot of effort to achieve very little: “the UK would probably be neither significantly richer nor poorer”. This has been challenged by John McDermott in the Financial Times:

I am not a trade economist but I worry that by comparing an abstract future with a concrete present, Mansfield underestimates the strength of the ties between the EU and the UK – and therefore he underestimates the costs of exit. There is no magic number for the economic benefits to the EU but repeated studies show that the single market has brought net gains to the UK – and further service liberalisation within the EU could bring much more.

And indeed Iain Mansfield himself notes that economics are only one part of the decision-making process: “Ultimately, whether or not the UK exits from the EU is a political, not an economic decision.”

In that spirit, it’s worth noting that Lib Dem MP Jeremy Browne has also written about Britain’s membership of the EU in his book, Race Plan, published this week. The strongest chapter in it focuses on international relations, in which he vigorously defends the Government’s decision in 2004 to allow people from the new EU states in eastern Europe, including Poland, to work in Britain:

Britain held the line against the Soviet Union in the Cold War because we believed all people should benefit from liberal freedoms and be spared from communist oppression. That we were able to achieve that objective and share our success with people in countries like Poland is a genuine historical achievement. We did not tear down the Berlin Wall only to erect a new barrier between the people of Western and Eastern Europe.

Why do I think Iain Mansfield deserves to be a Liberal Hero this week? Three reasons:

1) Too many of those who are anti-EU fail to acknowledge the complexity of a Brexit. It is not simply a case that Britain can simultaneously leave the EU but demand to retain all the things we like and discard all the things we don’t. That’s not a serious proposition. For a grounded, realistic assessment of the benefits and costs of exiting the EU Iain Mansfield deserves recognition.

2) The debate has become charged and polarised. This isn’t surprising. When you have Ukip pushing the isolationist anti-EU agenda, it’s small wonder that internationalist pro-Europeans like Nick Clegg take umbrage. But this leaves those of us who recognise there are both positives and negatives that come with EU membership with no natural home. Iain Mansfield’s rigorous analysis might just create space for a more nuanced debate.

3) Too many liberals seem to see Britain’s membership of the EU as an end in itself. It is not. It’s a means to an end: that Britain should be an outward, open, ambitious, entrepreneurial, democratic, trading nation state that can lead internationally by domestic example. Iain Mansfield’s contribution to the debate brings us back to the core principles of those outcomes.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

Adam Corlett: Sod the surplus

April 10, 2014

The political debate currently centres on the narratives of economic growth and the cost of living, but the issue of deficit reduction has not gone away. Ahead of the election, the coalition will trumpet its progress in reducing the budget deficit. All three parties are sure to have fiscal targets for the next parliament, with Labour keen to win back trust on managing the public finances, and the coalition parties keen to outdo them. The particular choice of target will have huge implications for public services, welfare and taxation.

There are several ways to measure the deficit, as I described last year. We can account for temporary weakness in the economy (in theory); long-term investment that can be paid for by future taxpayers; and interest on the national debt.

Breaking down the differences between these measures (all calculated by the Office for Budget Responsibility for Budget 2014), we can also show the composition of the overall deficit:

graph1The overall deficit is shown by the dark blue line, and is forecast to be 5.5% of GDP this year. The graph shows that 29% of the overall 2014-15 deficit is from investment (grey); 18% from a weak economy (blue); a whopping 47% from debt interest (orange); and 5% from the residual – a fundamental disparity between taxes and the current size of the state (yellow).

So for 2014-15, even if we exclude investment, debt interest, and the effects of an economy operating below potential, a (small) budget deficit remains. But from 2015-16, the choice of deficit measure becomes more important. The graph below presents the same data in a slightly different way to help demonstrate this. For an absolute surplus, the yellow column needs to exceed the entire stacked column; for a current budget surplus that accounts for the state of the economy (the coalition’s deficit goal), it only needs to exceed the orange part.

graph2Even with some slack remaining in the economy, if we excluded both investment and debt interest we would reach a surplus in 2015-16, though it’s rare to exclude both at once. In effect, the next few years will be about redirecting spending and/or raising taxes to fund debt interest. If it weren’t for the national debt (much of which comes from the financial crisis and recession), there would be no structural deficit next year.

By 2016-17, the primary budget – which includes all spending except debt interest – is in surplus.

And by 2017-18 taxes sufficiently exceed regular current spending to cover debt interest too (the yellow bar being larger than the orange one). The cyclically-adjusted current budget will be in surplus, and this is the fiscal target used by the coalition and preferred by both the Liberal Democrats and (with a slower timetable) Labour for the next parliament. In fact, a balanced budget by this measure would be overshot by £13.9 billion. Even assuming a surplus is desirable, and the need for a margin of error, this surplus seems unnecessarily large given that the coalition’s fiscal mandate and supplementary target of a falling debt:GDP ratio will both have been met.

Another form of surplus is reached in 2018-19, this time using the overall deficit – with taxes exceeding regular spending, debt interest and investment too, even without the small adjustment for the state of the economy. The Conservatives wish to see such an absolute surplus. The national debt will go down in absolute terms if this happens, but proponents of an absolute surplus need to explain both why this is the best way of reducing the debt:GDP ratio, and “why that speed of reduction in the debt:GDP ratio is the one you think we must have”. With low productivity, a pressing need for growth-boosting infrastructure investment and a cost of government borrowing expected to remain low, the case for such a surplus does not look strong.

Sticking with the cyclically-adjusted current budget measure – the preference of the current government, Liberal Democrats and Labour – the Budget proposes a surplus of £31.3 billion in 2018-19 (more than is raised from council tax, for comparison).

According to the IFS (pre-budget) the government’s plan is for £33 billion of departmental spending cuts between 2015-16 and 2018-19. Welfare cuts or tax rises have been suggested to take some of this strain. However, none of this appears necessary to achieve the coalition’s fiscal mandate, which does not require a £31 billion surplus. The outlook for public services and an ageing population would look much less negative if this surplus were closer to zero and public spending was therefore brought down to 40%, rather than 38%, of GDP. And even if the proposed departmental spending cuts go ahead, the money saved could go to doubling public capital investment, or be reinvested in quadrupling the science and adult skills budgets (as the SMF has argued), rather than delivering an absolute instead of current surplus.

Reportedly, ONS accounting changes are set to reduce the current budget deficit (in the short-term), and there is also the much desired possibility that the economy has more potential than is currently thought. Both of these might make it easier to reach a cyclically-adjusted current budget surplus. Offers to the public at the election, and the agenda of the next government, will depend on all these figures. All parties must carefully consider what fiscal target they adopt and what is needed – and what is not needed – to get there.

Adam Corlett is an economics researcher at CentreForum

Liberal Hero of the Week #65: Sir Samuel Brittan

April 4, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

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Sir Samuel Brittan

Political and economics commentator, Financial Times
Reason: for a lifetime’s contribution to serious liberal thinking.

After almost half a century’s continuous service at the Financial Times, Sir Samuel Brittan – indisputably the doyen of economic and political commentators – has finally announced he is retiring, aged 80.

There are plenty of commentators around. A few are thoughtful, but fewer as deeply. A few are well-read, but fewer as well. A few are liberal, but fewer as cogently. The combination, and certainly for how long it’s been sustained, is unique. Never satisfied with skimming a think-tank’s report to regurgitate its executive summary in order to appear clever (like most of his supposed peers – and maybe some bloggers, too), Sir Samuel ranged wide and drilled deep.

Enough with the encomia, though. Much better to fillet a few of his columns from the last decade to show why Sir Samuel Brittan is this week’s Liberal Hero…

The awful lure of the grassroots
25th May 2003

I do not know what to say about Liberal Democrats. The party is almost defined in terms of its grassroots. Indeed it started to recover its electoral prospects by embracing “pavement politics”, which were an extreme concentration on local issues which should have been the concern of municipal bodies. Yet it is the descendant of the 19th century Liberal Party, whose intellectual leaders, such as John Stuart Mill, were not only contemptuous of grassroots, but were very cautious about extending the franchise too rapidly to people who would not know how to use it. …

Let us examine a topical test case. What do you think would obtain a more considered result in a referendum on British euro membership? A franchise confined to party activists, a secret poll among the senior civil service, a free and secret vote of the House of Commons or the envisaged referendum?. Surely the real choice is only between the last two.

On J.S. Mill, liberty and choice
7th April, 2006

It is, in my view, presumptuous of legislators or social scientists to tell us how to promote our happiness. Their objective should be to promote conditions in which people have the maximum of options. What they make of these opportunities is their business; and whether they then fill in questionnaires saying that they are happier or not is interesting, but not the final criterion.

It is necessary to go even further. The bedrock value on which classical liberals ought to rest is freedom. Someone who attaches importance to freedom is committed to attaching importance to choice, but it does not necessarily work the other way round. You can have a lot of choice but be fundamentally unfree. What matters is freedom of action and speech among consenting adults. A society is unfree if your income has increased but you can be put in jail for expressing beliefs contrary to the prevailing political or religious ideology. It is also unfree if you are prevented from travelling abroad either by edict or by an exiguous official travel allowance. Choice among hospitals, or even among varieties of cereals, may not have the same importance, but it is still part of a free society.

Summon the ghost of Lloyd George
20th July, 2007

… carefully designed fiscal redistribution remains a better response to globalisation than the protectionist threats with which the US Congress, for example, so loves to play. If you are looking for a tax to provide the wherewithal that has little or no disincentive effect you need look no further than that old favourite, a tax on land not on development but on pure space. The case for it was eloquently expounded before the first world war by those two great non-socialists, Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George. Plans were well advanced for introducing it when the war came about and diverted these two statesmen to supposedly higher things. We need to summon up their ghosts.

A fresh look at liberalism
8th January, 2010

… here are three examples that starkly expose anti-liberal ways of thinking. Some people advocate compulsory national service, not necessarily military, as a way of improving the character of young people. The late James Tobin – he of the Tobin tax – favoured the US draft as an egalitarian ideal and even suggested setting soldiers’ pay well below what they could earn elsewhere so as to rule out a volunteer army. Whatever his other qualities, he was an arch anti-liberal.

Consider, too, the rigid exchange restrictions that have at times been imposed on foreign travel to conserve official holdings of foreign currency. When these were imposed by Harold Wilson’s UK Labour government for three years there was hardly a word of protest from Labour’s supposedly enlightened intellectual camp followers.

A final example is the smoking ban in public places – and I speak as lifelong non-smoker. So long as there are designated areas to ensure non-smokers are protected from smoke pollution, what is the harm in providing a room where people can smoke at their own risk? Why is this worse than making smokers stand outside in the cold?

However difficult it is to define a liberal, it is not hard to spot anti-liberals.

Capitalism still has no rivals
13th January, 2012
There is no need to pretend that market rewards reflect personal merit. As Lord Melbourne said in another context “There is no damn’d merit about it”. Redistribution is best carried out by a (preferably unified) tax and social security system and not by interfering with prices and wages. How far should redistribution go? Up to the point where it ceases to benefit both the poor and the mass of the population. Jealousy and envy of the better off may be part of human nature. But it is no part of the business of either moral philosophy or political economy to pander to them. Nor should any defender of capitalism rely on the shabby argument that excessive redistribution will lead to an emigration of talent. This surrenders the moral high ground and depends on the division of the world by frontiers and the difficulties of international cooperation.

Left vs Right – still a bogus dilemma
13th April, 2012

I once wrote a book entitled Left or Right, the Bogus Dilemma, which was quite widely discussed but not much read. … The left-right classification did not really take root in Britain until after World War One. In the 1923 General Election, which brought the first Labour government to office, the main issue was the defence of Free Trade on which Labour sided with the Liberals. And the old associations did not die completely. The association of the left with personal and political freedom, anti-militarism, religious tolerance and general civilised values helps explain why as late as the 1940′s and 50′s there were merchant bankers in London and Paris who preferred not to regard themselves as on the right. …

A Libertarian political philosopher, JC Lester, has suggested supplementing the left-right spectrum with two axes based on attitudes to “personal choice” and “property choice”, together with a questionnaire to determine one’s position. I came out well on the libertarian side on personal choice, but highly interventionist on “property choice”. This might surprise many of many of my colleagues who regard me as well on the free market side of most non-financial issues. This is because I hesitate to advocate the end of all taxation, the abolition of the state’s monopoly of law, leaving environmental problems entirely to the market or the abolition of all state welfare.

Nevertheless I become infuriated when those who take a more laissez faire attitude to these questions are described as “to the right of Genghis Khan”, a Mongol emperor whose campaigns are said to have resulted in the deaths of 40 million people. And my main grouse against the US “Republican right” is that they give competitive capitalism a bad name by associating it with religious intolerance, a chauvinistic foreign policy and a generally punitive attitude. And to come back to the UK: I am not going to abate my opposition to the so-called independent nuclear weapon for fear of being thought on the left any more than abate my support for markets and prices for fear of being thought on the right.

The Lib Dems need to be more liberal
14th September, 2012

All libertarians believe that human beings have basic rights to live their life in their own way and to engage in economic activity. Right libertarians stop there. They might be thought of as conservative except that they have no necessary belief in nationalism, tradition and authority displayed by many rightwing parties.

Left libertarians accept these basic rights, but go on to assert that individuals have another right to an equal share in natural resources, defined very broadly to include land, mineral rights and even the atmosphere. They differ from socialists in not caring much about income equality so long as equal rights to natural resources can be established. I am not fond of the word equality, but ownership of natural resources is now so heavily concentrated that we need not argue about how far corrections should go.

[Professor Hillel Steiner of Manchester] helpfully lists four broad policy tendencies that characterise left libertarianism. He identifies first, extensive privatisation and deregulation in the economy and social rules; second, an increasing proportion of state revenue derived from land tax and inheritance tax; third, a shift from conditional welfare benefits towards unconditional basic income or basic capital state entitlement; and fourth, free trade, free immigration and (hopefully) international pooling of land tax revenues.

Mr Steiner doubts if any contemporary political figure would endorse all these lines of thought, but his best guess is Vince Cable. Clearly I would not expect the UK business secretary, or any other practical politician, to sign up to any complete academic scheme. But if the Lib Dems want to move beyond pavement politics and opportunist gestures, left libertarianism seems to me the right way to go. It is better than acting like a Labour colony in a Conservative administration.

A liberal case for scepticism of the EU
28th September, 2012

Since anything that can be mis­understood will be misunderstood, I must start with some disclaimers. I am not urging the EU should end. Like the Holy Roman Empire, it may spend many years in gentle decline doing little good and little harm. Nor am I urging that the UK or any other member state should leave the EU. What I am saying is that the EU no longer deserves the devotion of practical idealists. When voices in Paris or Berlin say the answer to any problem is “more Europe”, by which they mean more centralised power to EU institutions, we should turn a deaf ear. And when some leaders say that “without the euro there is no Europe” we should shrug our shoulders and look at an atlas to reassure ourselves.

Liberal Hero of the Week #64: Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013

March 31, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

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Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013

An Act of the Parliament legalising same-sex marriage in England and Wales.
Reason: for ending the state’s discrimination against same-sex couples

Can an Act of Parliament be heroic? I’m not sure. But there are too many campaigners who deserve praise for same-sex marriage being recognised in law to single out any individual†, or any one group. They span all parties and none, united by a common cause: to enable two people of the same sex who love each other to have the same rights in law as a man and a woman who choose to marry.

A nation awoke on Saturday morning to photos of beaming gay couples as the first same-sex marriages were celebrated. Die-hard opponents like Ukip’s Nigel Farage and the Conservatives’ Philip Hammond are retreating for fear of looking churlish in the face of such evident happiness.

Three is, in fact, a liberal argument against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. It was made, rather splendidly, by CentreForum’s own Tom Papworth, writing to a constituent who’d asked his view on the legislation.

Tom’s point was simple: that there is no reason why the state should be involved at all in marriage, either its legal or ceremonial functions. After all, we manage to make our own wills without the state needing to officiate; and who wants the government to organise their party? Tom concluded:

The government seeks to create a fair system for everybody who wishes to get married, while at the same time retaining the monopoly on defining and licensing marriage. I believe that it is the government’s ongoing wish to be the final arbiter of what is, what is not, and who can engage in, marriage that is the source of the conflict over this issue today. I hope that we can one day move to a system whereby individuals are free to define their union, celebrate it and – where appropriate – have it blessed in whatever manner they chose. In the meantime, I welcome the current proposals as a small step forward in creating a free and fair system.

He’s right. For as long as marriage is legislated for by the state it should not discriminate against couples wishing to have their relationship recognised by it. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 has removed a source of discrimination. That’s heroic in my book.

† Though I stand by my decision to recognise David Cameron’s support for same-sex marriage by making him my 24th Liberal Hero. He had lots to lose, little to gain, but bravely never flinched.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

Liberal Hero of the Week #63: Andrew Bridgen

March 22, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

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Andrew Bridgen

Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire
Reason: for campaigning successfully to decriminalise non-payment of the BBC licence fee.

In 2012, 181,880 people were prosecuted for not paying the BBC licence fee. They accounted for more than one in 10 criminal prosecutions.

Some 120,000 of them were women because they are more likely to be at home when inspectors visit.

Those caught face a £1,000 fine. Those unable to pay that fine face prison.

Put simply: the BBC licence fee is the single most effective way of criminalising poor women.

Step forward Andrew Bridgen, who tabled an amendment to the Deregulation Bill that would decriminalise non-payment of the television licence, making it instead a civil offence. His proposal attracted the support of 150 MPs from across the Commons.

Yesterday, the Government half-accepted his proposal, backing a revised amendment giving them power to make the change in the future after consultation. That will include investigating ways of cutting off licence fee defaulters from being able to watch the BBC’s free-to-air channels – which seems fair enough.

This is a welcome step for two reasons. First, it ends the scandal of mass criminalisation of poor people for not paying a state-enforced poll tax on TV ownership.

Secondly, it moves us closer to a subscription-funded BBC (and ideally a mutualised one at that, as proposed by Tessa Jowell). As David Elstein has argued:

… the point of subscription funding is not just to end the persecution of the poorest, let alone to introduce some market mechanism just for the sake of it. The essential objective is to stimulate creativity and excellence, to appeal strongly to audiences rather than weakly, to motivate writers and performers and producers to aim high, and supplying the necessary budgets to achieve their objectives.

That’s the kind of BBC I and many millions of others would be very willing to pay for.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

Liberal Hero of the Week #62: Institute of Directors. My Liberal Villain is the Stop the War Coalition

March 7, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

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Institute of Directors

The professional body “supporting businesses and the people who run them since 1903″
Reason: for reminding politicians that the UK is an “open, trading country that benefits from the skills and ideas of migrants”.

Another week, another immigration row. This time it’s courtesy (if that’s the word) of the new Conservative immigration minister, James Brokenshire. A month into the job he has spoken out:

“For too long, the benefits of immigration went to employers who wanted an easy supply of cheap labour, or to the wealthy metropolitan elite who wanted cheap tradesmen and services – but not to the ordinary, hard-working people of this country.”

I think this speech is what would have been called “courageous” in Yes, Minister speak; “bloody stupid” to the rest of us, if you’ll pardon my French Anglo-Saxon.

It’s worth remembering that Mr Brokenshire has his job because his predecessor, Mark Harper, had to quit after discovering he employed a cleaner who turned out to be a migrant without legal permission to be in the UK.

It’s also worth remembering that the man who appointed Mr Brokenshire to his job, David Cameron, has employed nannies who come from Nepal and Australia.

Presumably, then, Mr Brokenshire was accusing both his predecessor and his boss of being members of this “wealthy metropolitan elite”?

Presumably, too, he was thinking of the NHS, a major employer of migrant labour, as one of the employers “wanting an easy supply of cheap labour”? If so, I look forward to him arguing for an increase in the NHS budget to fund its higher wage costs.

At some point, those on the Conservative right-wing who argue against immigration are going to have to work out if they believe in free markets or not. At the moment they seem to be transfixed by the ‘lump of labour fallacy’, the mistaken belief that the amount of work available is fixed.

In reality, immigration expands the economy, generating more wealth for all citizens. Immigrants contributed a net £25 billion to the UK between 2001 and 2011. And if net immigration were cut to zero tomorrow, the “scale of the public austerity facing Britain would need to be three times larger, at £46bn,” according to the Office of Budget Responsibility.

And that’s not to mention the 1-in-7 UK companies founded by migrants which have, says the Centre for Entrepreneurs, created 14% of all jobs within small- and medium-sized companies.

Small wonder then that the Institute of Directors, tiring of the incessant attacks by politicians against immigration, yesterday launched a withering attack. Here’s the IoD’s Director General:

“It is feeble and pathetic to hear yet more divisive language from politicians on immigration. The UK is an open, trading country that benefits from the skills and ideas of migrants. We will not become more prosperous by closing our borders to talented individuals and entrepreneurs from across the world. This speech seems to be more about political positioning and less about what is good for the country.”


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‘Stop The War’ Coalition

Group established in September 2001 to campaign against what it believes are unjust wars.
Reason: for opposing any attempt by Western governments to help defend Ukraine’s self-determination.

Just over 11 years ago, I joined hundreds of thousands of others on the streets of London to protest against the Iraq war, alongside many from the ‘Stop the War Coalition’.

I wanted to register my opposition against going to war on what seemed to me then (and even more so now) a flimsy pretext; and I wanted to register my support for allowing the UN weapons inspection process to conclude.

But the ‘Stop The War Coalition’ has, perhaps inevitably, been entirely captured by a hard-left caste which see faults in the actions of all Western governments all the time, while happily turning a blind eye to the faults of autocratic regimes like Putin’s Russia.

Their statement this week on Ukraine – placing all the blame the EU and Nato for creating “tensions which are really fuelling the new cold war” – was typically myopic.

It was brilliantly ‘fisked’ by Jeremy Cliffe at The Economist, who concluded that the ‘Stop The War Coalition’:

delights in listing Western flaws (real and imagined) while unquestioningly accepting anti-Western dogma. For one who leads an organisation committed to “stopping the war”, it is a fatal error.

It’s not unreasonable to oppose any military intervention. And it’s right to hold Western governments to account and be suspicious of pro-war rhetoric.

But ‘Stop The War Coalition’ go beyond that, seemingly opposing the EU’s association agreement with Ukraine, attempts at ‘backroom’ diplomacy, and any Western statement about other nations. Their statement suggests the UK is so far in the wrong that we can do no good and should have no foreign policy.

As my CentreForum colleague Adam Corlett put it when nominating them as Liberal Villains:

“They confuse not going to war with awful regimes with George Galloway-style denial of their faults. One suspects the millions of people who marched against the Iraq War do not agree with them.”

This one certainly doesn’t.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

Liberal Hero of the Week #61: Ross Kemp

March 1, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

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Ross Kemp

Actor, broadcaster and former husband of ex-Sun editor Rebekah Brooks
Reason: for ensuring The Sun recognised its coverage of Frank Bruno’s mental illness was brutal and wrong.

Newspapers are rarely out of the news these days.

If you’re a Labour sympathiser, you may well have spent the week railing against the Daily Mail for “smearing” the party’s deputy leader Harriet Harman by highlighting her role at the National Council for Civil Liberties in the 1970s, when it was associated with the Paedophile Information Exchange and its campaign for lowering the age of consent to 10.

Of course the paper’s decision to splash this on its front page so often was politically motivated – though just as much motivated by the Mail’s everyday sensationalism which has brought it such commercial success.

But the story itself was legitimate as shown by the apology eventually offered by former Labour cabinet minister Patricia Hewitt, who headed up the NCCL at the time. Harriet Harman continues to say no apology is due from her – though she might want to ask herself what she would be demanding of a Conservative politician who found herself in the same position.

This hoo-ha has eclipsed the phone-hacking trial, where newspaper standards are unofficially on trial, with former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks defending herself against criminal charges.

bruno sun front pageMs Brooks was asked this week about her role in one of The Sun’s (many) infamous front pages – the September 2003 edition which taunted former boxer, Frank Bruno, when he was sectioned after suffering from depression, with a front page headline that read: ‘Bonkers Bruno Locked Up’.

Here’s the Daily Express’s account:

The 45 year-old said she approved the tabloid’s front page story featuring the headline “Bonkers Bruno Locked Up” about the sports star’s health problems in 2003.

She told the hacking trial at the Old Bailey she only realised her “blind spot” when she returned home and was told by her then-husband Ross Kemp that the story was too hard on the boxer.

Brooks said: “I personally made lots of mistakes during my 10-12 years as a newspaper editor. Some of which I felt were big mistakes I have tried to address.

“The Sun had a good relationship with Frank Bruno. We did lots of interviews. He was a great character, very friendly to the media. This day I was involved in many, many meetings. I hadn’t really got on top of what happened to Frank Bruno.”

Brooks, of Churchill, Oxfordshire, said she was shown a proof version of the Sun’s front page covering the story and gave her approval. She went on: “I got home, put the proof down and Ross said: ‘What is that? What are you doing?’.

“Looking again, it was a complete blind spot. Ross had seen the front page and questioned how brutal it was. It was a terrible mistake I made.”

Ross Kemp’s words had some effect at any rate. The Sun changed its headline for the rest of the print run to the marginally less offensive ‘Sad Bruno in mental home’.

There is increasing understanding among both politicians and the public of how inter-linked are mental and physical health. Indeed Paul Burstow and my CentreForum colleagues have helped make the simple point ‘There can be no health without mental health’ through their Commission, which aims to “set out liberal values, principles and approach to mental health care”.

Newspapers too have their part to play, as Ross Kemp realised immediately and Rebekah Brooks realised belatedly.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.


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