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The problem of western democracies such as Britain and the US is that the institutions of a two-party system in which alternating governments compete to attract votes in the centre do not work well when politics is no longer arranged on a one-dimensional spectrum from left to right. Recent political upheavals are only the start of the resulting instability.
Does it lift your heart to hear that “Britain is uniquely placed to lead the world in a smart power revolution”? Do you share the ambition of George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer, to discover “what the government needs to do to become a world leader in 5G infrastructure”? Here's why my heart sank when reading these words in the plans of the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission.
Explaining your possibly complex financial affairs to unsympathetic journalists adds to the already too long list of reasons why able people might not want to go into politics. And such scrutiny draws attention away from genuinely serious and widespread tax evasion, corruption and money laundering, practices.
George Osborne has, it is reported, abandoned plans for root-and-branch reform of the taxation of pension saving and will content himself with tinkering with rates of relief. However, what's really needed in our tax system — as in so many other areas of political life — is purposive change: reforms may well be implemented in piecemeal fashion but should be motivated by a sense of strategic direction.
Britain has a trade surplus in almost every service sector except tourism. As a result, world trade negotiations have not played to British strengths because advanced economies tend to trade freely in manufactures but retain home-country bias in their purchases of services. This should frame any debate on trade in the EU referendum.
Uber's superior service threatens London's black-cab drivers, just as (my namesake) John Kay's flying shuttle eventually led to rebellion by out-of-work Luddites in the 19th century. The losers from such innovations should in some circumstances be compensated. But restricting competition is against the public interest.
The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, which reported in 2013, recognised the central significance of executive responsibility for systemic failure in the sector. It proposed a senior managers regime which would hold executives liable for wrongdoing in activities for which they had responsibility even if they had no specific knowledge of the improper conduct. Having accepted this recommendation, the UK government is now backtracking.
The Airports Commission reported in July, with a clear recommendation to build a new runway and terminal at Heathrow. It relied heavily on an elaborate modelling exercise that calculated costs and benefits for the next 50 years. Little weight should be attached to these calculations. And more consideration should be given to the Gatwick proposal.
If the capital costs of Heathrow expansion could be substantially reduced and its actual financing costs were also trimmed, that project would merit further consideration. Otherwise, a second runway at Gatwick appears simpler, cheaper, less risky and less politically unpalatable.
Retailers have recently complained about the level of business rates. However, were this property tax is reduced their joy will be short lived. Business rates are both a tax on land and a tax on structures, and in the longer term all we would see is higher property values and rents, especially in prime locations.