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Posts Tagged ‘cuts’

Less Tax, Less Spend

In Economy, Home Affairs on March 21, 2012 at 9:55 am

By polarii for The Daily Soapbox –@polar_ii

Today is Budget Day. All Westminster is on tenterhooks, looking forward to a relatively dry state from George Osborne about the state of the nation’s finances and his plans for the next few years. Anyone who’s been vaguely following the political news, whether in newspapers, in blogs or on TV will know the key issues in this Budget. Should Osborne cut the 50% upper rate of income tax (more specifically, can Osborne survive the political backlash by pointing to more revenues)? Should we introduce a new sort of wealth tax, either directly on wealth or on property? Should the income tax threshold be raised, and by how much?

I’m going to leave most of the economic arguments to one side and look at three political shifts since the last Budget.

1) The Liberal Democrats no longer have much influence at the Treasury

This year, the Liberal Democrats decided to make their positions on the Budget public. Essentially, they conducted Budget negotiations in full view. This has turned out to be a poor move. By tabling proposals for a mansion tax before anyone else had proposed anything, they had plenty of time to be savaged. The wisdom was once that the Lib Dems would not permit Osborne to remove the 50% tax rate without a huge concession like a mansion tax. Now, all it looks like Osborne will do is promise to close some tax loopholes on first homes (something he has promised to do before). Although Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander make up half the ‘Quad’ that negotiates the Budget, they have been comprehensively out-manoeuvred by Osborne and Cameron. The Conservatives are much closer to owning the idea of income tax threshold rises. They’ve avoided a mansion or property tax. The ‘Green Agenda’ has almost vanished from view. Unless Osborne surprises us today, there will be very little the Lib Dems can claim as their handiwork in the Budget.

2) VAT is off the table

Remember the heady days of 2010? The UK had its first Coalition government, Clegg and Cameron were making happy love in Downing Street’s Rose Garden, and George Osborne presented his emergency budget. In it, of course, he raised VAT to 20%, much to the consternation of the Labour party. Labour still want to reverse it, but only temporarily (at least, this is what they’re five-point plan says). Given that VAT is a regressive tax (the poor pay a greater share of their income in VAT than the rich) and it’s a tax on consumption (i.e. buying things), you would have thought that there would be widespread consensus against it becoming higher with a stagnant economy. However, someone has clearly won the argument for it – whether it’s the extra revenue it brings in for comparatively little impact on people’s pockets or the need to rebalance the economy away from consumption and towards production – and now Labour backs, in the long term, the 20% rate. It’s a U-turn they have managed with considerable deftness. But no-one is seriously suggesting cuts in VAT. Osborne’s won the major tax policy battle of the 2010 Budget with comparative ease. Perhaps this has emboldened him with the 50% tax rate?

3) No-one wants to talk about the cuts

As we know, this government is cutting. There are arguments about whether it is cutting too much or not enough, too fast or not fast enough, whether its cutting in the wrong place etc. George Osborne enjoyed a surplus of about £5bn since his last budget, meaning he has cash to throw around. And everyone seems to want him to throw it at tax cuts of one sort or another. Admittedly, in the grand scheme of things, £5bn is not a huge amount of money. It’s 1% of government expenditure, worth about somewhere between a half and a third of the international aid budget or maybe 1 in every 40 pounds spent on welfare. But there are certainly things Osborne could do with it. He could reverse the planned 20% cut to the non-means-tested disability benefit DLA (a cut which, incidentally, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest is desirable or sustainable) – this is planned to save just under £2.2bn. Admittedly, Osborne cannot do much with regard to reversing his cuts. But he could use the option to do something totemic but relatively inexpensive. Such as preserving the DLA budget as benefits for disabled people are reformed. But again, no-one is making the case for public spending cuts to be reversed over tax cuts. Maybe this is because people enjoy the idea of a tax cut more than they enjoy the idea of disabled people having enough money to live on, but this is perhaps too cynical a view. More likely is that everyone sees Osborne’s mandate is now so closely tied to the cuts set out in 2010’s Comprehensive Spending Review that going back on one element, no matter how good the arguments for going back, will fatally undermine his credibility.

What we can see then is this: Osborne’s Budget 2010 has shaped today’s political landscape. The direction he took in that Budget meant that any discussion about any other Budget before the 2015 election would be about tax and not spending. The Conservatives, as a low-tax party, will always enjoy the advantage over Labour and the Liberal Democrats when it comes to cutting taxes; just as Labour, a high-spend party, will always have the advantage when talking about spending. Perhaps this is why Miliband and Balls feel so out-of-place this year, with the Shadow Treasury Team reportedly having no comeback to Osborne despite practically knowing  his Budget in advance: Osborne has simply moved the debate onto territory with which they are completely unfamiliar and profoundly uncomfortable, and they cannot wrest the narrative away from tax cuts to spending cuts. 

In the long term, of course, Osborne’s reputation is tied to whether Budget 2010 works in the long term. But there are so many factors beyond his control in that consideration that there will be plenty of wiggle room if it doesn’t work. The strategic victory Osborne has brought about is actually to move the debate away from where New Labour had it (i.e. on what do we spend more money) and towards where the Conservatives want it (i.e. what taxes do we cut). If the tax cuts in Budget 2012 are well-chosen, Osborne can entrench this attitude. And that entrenched attitude will be the greatest asset for the Conservative party come election time in 2015.


The Big Society, the market, and society: why deficit reduction might actually be a good thing

In Economy, Events, Ideology on July 28, 2011 at 2:07 pm

David Weber

I must admit that I originally intended this to be a full response to James Bartholomeusz’s recent article on working class politics and welfare reform. However, while reflecting on his various arguments, my response to his comment underneath the article quickly became feature length, and an article in its own right:

The problem is, [the Big Society] dovetails a little too nicely with the market fundamentalism that got us into this mess, and the tough deficit reduction plan which has ostensibly been forced upon the government against its will. [emphasis added] Read the rest of this entry »

Ed, show us the alternative

In BBC Question Time, Government Spotlight, Home Affairs, Ideology, Party politics on April 6, 2011 at 7:21 pm

By James Bartholomeusz

Audience responses on the BBC’s Question Time usually range from the mildly interesting to the banal, providing little more than an identification of which panel member the viewer most aligns with. However, once in a while, someone says something so original and yet so obvious that it merits serious consideration. Such a thing was said on last Thursday’s episode: a woman, chosen by David Dimbleby to speak, asked why Labour, if it’s so committed to the alternative, doesn’t pen a Shadow Budget to lay out their alternative deficit reduction plan.

The panelists response to this was painfully predictable. Diane Abbott, as the Labour representative, spluttered something about it being nonsensical four years before an election, whilst Mark Serwotka, the head of the PCS union, repeated his tenuous claim that there is no necessity for any spending cuts whatsoever. And yet this idea of a Shadow Budget, levelled by someone so lowly as to not be a professional economist or politician, is one that, I think, should be adopted by the Labour Party without hesitation.

The current debate on the economy, both national and global, has lined up between the two foremost schools of economic thought: neo-classicalism and Keynesianism. The neo-classicalists, inspired primarily by the 19th Century economist David Ricardo, see budget deficits as dangerous and immoral: according the Ricardian equivalency, any national deficit between income and spending (the UK’s being approximately 10% of GDP) is just taxation deferred for future generations. By radically cutting public spending to balance the deficit (‘expansionary fiscal contraction’, or, in Cameron’s terminology, ”rolling back the boundaries of the state”) neo-classicalists believe that the private sector will be freed from taxation and competition with the public sector to drive the economy back to prosperity. Keynesian thought, meanwhile, led the original response to the financial crisis, bailing out the banks and implementing fiscal stimuli to drive the economy quickly out of the recession. Now out of the immediate danger zone, Keynesians, such as Robert Skidelsky and Joseph Stiglitz, do not dispute the need for eventual deficit reduction, but are concerned that a premature fiscal contraction underestimates how much the private sector relies on the public sector, and so will drop the UK economy back into recession. Instead, Keynesians argue for fiscal policy based on growth and investment to stably harbour the economy, whilst slowly but steadily cutting the deficit.

This is the debate which, since the initial crisis response, has been mapped on to British party politics. Last May, both the Labour manifesto was based on the Keynesian response, whilst the Conservative one was neo-classicalist, and the Lib Dems in between but Keynesian-leaning. At least partially on these grounds, the majority of commentators predicted, before the election, a Lib-Lab coalition in the event of a hung parliament. And a hung parliament we had, except that the Lib Dem high command, vested with the choice of how to form the next British government, elevated David Cameron’s Tories over Gordon Brown’s Labour. Now in government, Clegg and his allies have apparently been won over to the neo-classicalist, and by extension George Osborne’s, fiscal plan: to entirely eliminate the deficit by the end of the parliament through a 73:27 ratio of spending cuts to tax rises.

All the evidence suggests that Osborne’s economic management so far has ranged from lacklustre to abysmal. The Office of Budget Responsibility, set up by the current government, has downgraded its growth forecasts from 3-3.5% to 2.6%. Unemployment is still rising, now at a 17-year high, with one-fifth of all young people unable to find a job. Inflation is at 4%, the highest in 20 years. The Consumer Confidence Index was last measured at -29, the biggest drop since 1994. Even the mainstream centre-Right newspapers, which had previously praised the Chancellor’s conviction, have now turned their attention more to the human costs of deficit reduction than the stability it will ostensibly bring. Osborne’s attempt to blame poor economic performance on heavy snowfall over December fooled no one: the US, German, French and even Spanish economies grew by over 0.5% in the last quarter of 2010, whilst ours shrunk by more than 0.5%. The problem is, what is the alternative?

Ed Miliband’s Labour, having dithered in the autumn months, has now settled on maintaining Alastair Darling’s plan of halving the deficit in a single parliament. With Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor, this position has now been confirmed. Labour has since busied itself with rebuking the Tory-led government on its choices for deficit reduction: the VAT rise to 20% (predicted to cost families with children £450 extra in 2011), the rise in higher education fees, and front-line cuts to public services have been particular targets of the Shadow Cabinet. But Labour has yet to commit to what it would cut, or which taxes it would rise, were it currently in government. Although exactly how much would have to be cut under Labour’s plan is unclear, Miliband and his colleagues have so far sidestepped the sticky issue of what their ‘alternative’ would actually entail. It is this, more than any other factor, which will cost them electoral support.

I marched, carrying a Labour Party banner, alongside up to half-a-million others in London two weeks ago. And yet, will Labour’s reticence to commit to a specific deficit reduction plan, I am losing faith that there is a credible alternative to the government’s plan, however badly executed. A YouGov poll conducted on the same day found that the majority of the population, 52%, now supports the campaign against public sector spending cuts. But Labour should not fool itself that, just because it happens to be in opposition to an unpopular government, it will automatically gain the support of the electorate. This was the mistake made, in the last two decades, by both Kinnock and Cameron; 1992 resulting in a narrow Tory victory, and 2010 in a hung parliament. Labour should pen a Shadow Budget, laying out exactly which cuts and tax rises it would make. Ed Miliband has rightly sounded the death knell of New Labour and embarked on a holistic policy review, refusing to make manifesto commitments before the cuts have really started to affect the nation. But reconstructing its economic credibility needs to be the party’s top priority, and Miliband cannot afford to be haunted by the ghost of Gordon Brown any longer.

And that is the Sum of the News

In Events, Uncategorized on December 27, 2010 at 7:01 pm

By polarii for The Daily Soapbox

A review of the bigger events of the year, versified to the metre of Noel Coward’s ‘That is the End of the News’, after Tom Lehrer:

We are told very loudly and often to lift up our hearts.
We are told that good humour will soften fate’s cruelest darts.
So however bad our politic troubles may be,
we just look from our island, and shake with glee…

Hey-ho! Haiti’s collapsed again;
emergency aid has once more relapsed again.
The one result of Obama’s legislation
has been Tea Party rallies of least provocation.

We’re so glad, dear little Gordon
has just been ejected for being a moron,
and Tony got wealthy
– his book looks quite healthy –
but still holds his bellicose views.

We’re delighted ’cause the Tories were beat
and now young Nick Clegg has some fame.
We’re excited – they’ve agreed at the least
not to mention that Thatcher by name.

Three cheers! BP’s screwed up again,
everything’s smoky since Iceland blew up again.
Now they’re all cutting,
Ed Miliband’s tutting;
and that is the sum of the news.

We’re so glad for Chilean miners
but Frenchmen with pensions have all become strikers,
and that old footballing
cup thing
was so galling
and students have burnt London’s mews.

They’ve debated about Ireland’s indebture
and couldn’t put Greece out of mind.
They’ve created for the Eurozone’s future
an amazing incredible bind.

Hey-ho! and heigh-diddle-diddle!
Apparently Silvio’s been on the fiddle.
Koreas got lairy,
and it was too scary;
and that is the sum of the news.

Postscript: I am deeply distressed and disappointed that the song was not sufficiently long enough to allow for a verse about the singularly enrapturing elections in Belgium this year. In accordance with a prediction I made on this blog some months ago, Belgium has blithely continued without a government.

I hope that this has been a somewhat lighter end to the year. Whatever you’re doing, have a merry Christmas, and come back next year for more views and analysis at the Daily Soapbox!

A Strategically Defensible Review

In America, Europe, Events, Foreign Affairs, Party politics on October 22, 2010 at 3:42 pm

By Polarii for The Daily Soapbox

George Osborne has delivered with surprising gravitas his Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). It was indeed comprehensive, incorporating almost every government department in the cost cutting measures. Whether such cuts are good or bad or necessary, and whether they fall in the right place or not, and what they will mean is a tangential theme to this article. Instead, we shall consider the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDR). It was delivered by the Prime Minister to the Commons on the Tuesday, and almost – but only almost – snuck under the news radar. It is, in many ways, more important than the CSR, and so demands closer scrutiny. It is also more radical, believe it or not, and it should not go unmarked amidst the various cries of uproar that the CSR has triggered.

The SDR was a long-overdue document. Labour conducted the last defence review in 1998, and, for some incomprehensible reason, they did not think to have another after the world-changing event that was the 9/11 attacks. This changed the nature of warfare: previously, it had been thought that Britain would be the major contributor against legions of Soviet tanks rolling across the plains of Europe. By 2001, that threat had gone. In its place has arisen a guerilla effort in some of the most hostile environments known to man. And in this age of unipolarity (which will only last for another 20 years or so), other powers have turned to financing or supporting these guerilla groups, or, more intriguingly, using technology to undermine key computing services – case in point, the Estonian Cyberwar of 2007, widely alleged to have occurred with the blessing of the Kremlin. Piracy on the high seas has also been on the rise. All these threats would have been anticipated in a review in, say, 2002 or 2004.

Yet, we had to wait for a new government, and a time of cuts, to work out our defensive priorities. This left any new government in an awkward position: to cut defence under 1998 priorities would clearly be stupid; but to run a review alongside a programme of cuts would look vindictive. The Coalition wisely went for the latter. Though the SDR occurred in the context of cuts, it ensured the cuts were better directed at things that are no longer useful: accordingly, some 100 pieces of heavy equipment are to be discontinued (tanks, artillery, so forth) and there will be increased investment in more mobile units (helicopters, Humvees, etc). Anyone who knows anything about Afghanistan will tell you that this – at least for the medium term – is a sensible move.

However, the SDR makes a broad change of focus for Britain’s long-term strategic objectives. A military presence in Germany is to be discontinued. This is because two strategic threats – the Soviets, and the possibility of a re-emergent fascism in Europe – are now so distant as to be unthinkable. Plus, a number of former Soviet countries (Czech Republic, Estonia) are much more westward looking, and have joined NATO. There is now no longer a need for Britain to hold Europe on behalf of the Europeans. This has led to cuts of 7000 in the army. For the first time since WW2, Britain’s army will be smaller than Germany’s. Given the relative land held by each country, and the length of their borders, it seems that normality has been restored. Army forces can now concentrate on crisis points: Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, and wherever else may arise.

Now for the Navy. Britain’s strongest defence has historically been the Navy. That is entirely unsurprising for an island nation. It is an area in which Britain has traditionally excelled. But the Navy’s role has changed – it is now suffering cuts to its fleet of destroyers and frigates. It may well have suffered cuts to its aircraft carriers too, but the Labour government were stupid enough (or wise enough) to ensure that the contracts cost more to cancel than continue. This is a sound move: the countries that will most likely present a problem for Britain over the next 20 years are: Somalia, Iran, North Korea, Argentina (this last is tenuous). Against all these nations, having seaborne air power would be an eminently sensible move. Two carriers also keep Britain in the major leagues of military power: only the USA has more aircraft carriers. Furthermore, by fitting catapults for aircraft onto the aircraft, the Harrier jump-jet can be retired and French and US planes can use our carriers.

While it may not seem that UK-France relations are at their strongest ever, it is a sensible alliance to be forming. Up until WW1, Britain and France adopted a concerted naval policy, with France protecting the Mediterranean, and Britain the Atlantic – protecting both countries’ trade. A similar policy of naval co-operation seems to be forming between Cameron and Sarkozy, and not within an EU directorate. This will help retain the military influence of both countries within the world (though not to the level of the Imperial Age). It may also draw France away from the idea of an EU-Russia Defence force, which, as it is currently envisaged, is dangerously anti-Atlanticist; possibly leading to Europe becoming a plaything of Russia. We just have to hope that this sensible alliance outlives the two pragmatic politicians currently in office.

As for the airforce, the Harrier is being retired; the Tornado remains. Bases in Scotland could well close – not especially alarming, given the threat posed by military giants such as Norway and Iceland – retaining bases towards the South. Cuts of 5000 jobs are not unreasonable, and they will probably be regained once fiscal retrenchment has occurred. The RAF has managed to avoid being merged into the other branches, and it will proudly retain its identity of service and professionalism.

As for Trident, its renewal has (again) been deferred, to save money. This seems to have been driven by several factors: the nuclear threat to the UK is not terribly high for the next ten years (by which time, Iran will have nukes); it is cheaper to do it later and paying for it would mean cutting something else; the old system is not top-notch, but it still retains a good retaliatory capability; the Lib Dems don’t really want it. A combination of these views result in the decision, and I am too far removed from the decision-makers to analyse which combination. More pleasingly, budgets to GCHQ, SAS, MI5 and SIS will be increased – which is incredibly sensible given that the main threats over the next 10-20 years are terrorism and cyberwar; these are also areas in which Britain has traditionally excelled, even above major superpowers.

In short, I am loath to see cuts to defence spending, seeing as defense is the primary duty of the government. To paraphrase Lenin, without adequate defence spending, there will be no schools or hospitals. It also pleasing to see that the aid budget is now being diverted to genuinely poor areas, which are generally those areas where conflict may arise. Investment in backwater areas is the solution to extremism, rather than war. Further requirements for Afghanistan will be taken from the reserve, which prevents the troops suffering needlessly. The cuts prioritise certain areas – that is the Navy, Intelligence, and International co-operation, which are the areas Britain has most historical experience to bring to the table. It is, given the circumstances, given the potentially deep divisions in the Coalition about defence, a surprisingly elegant solution. It was right of Dr Fox to fight for the defence budget, and right of David Cameron to intervene to protect it from an extra 2% of cuts. It is a difficult pill to swallow, but it looks like life-saving medicine.

The Defence of the Ignorant Teenager

In Events, Home Affairs, Party politics on September 11, 2010 at 12:30 am


A message from the Co-founder

by Jack Blankley

First things first, may I say hello to all the readers of The Daily Soapbox out there, as a co-founder of this blog I am utterly disgusted that this is actually the first time I am actually writing for it. I suppose my excuse is I actually didn’t know how difficult it is to write one of these things, and also downright laziness.

If you’re reading this expecting a teenager (or twenteen in my case) to defend myself against all the prejudices which there are against the younger generation then I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you. I am actually going to defend New Labour, which as of the 8th September 2010, was 16 years and 2 months old, and which like many of us at that age is going through a very sickly and worrying patch.

The importance of New Labour cannot be understated. Without it I would worry this country would not have a credible opposition to the coalition, at a time when cuts are going to devastate huge regions where the public sector is the main employer. With an Old Labour, 80’s opposition, the country would not trust Labour; now I know the critics would argue that they lost faith in New Labour at the last election, but even though there was the worst economic disaster in 70 years, an unpopular war, an even more unpopular leader, and the infamous “bigot” quote; the country still didn’t give the Tory party a majority in parliament, at 36% of the vote, nowhere near as much New Labour won in 1997 when it was still a toddler.

The biggest ideological difference New Labour has over Old Labour is actually a very Tory idea, that is that you will make much more of a difference in government then outside of it, and the way you do that is by appealing to everyone, not just the left (and this is coming from a nutty lefty at Sussex University).

Remember the minimum wage, devolution, improvements in waiting times in hospitals, the complete regeneration of some inner cities which were horribly ignored by the last Tory government. Remember the Good Friday agreement, equal rights for homosexuals, remember the rebuilding of relations with Europe, remember that New Labour politicians made unprecedented actions on the banks to stop this country from having a depression. These changes were mostly opposed by the Tories and can only be done inside government.

I know New Labour isn’t the finished article – it had cash for honours, the Iraq war and foundation hospitals, it gave too much power to the banks – but who is at 16? And going through that traumatic break up of its parents Brown and Blair has always limited its growth. But it’s now looking for a new parent, to take it through the next stage of its life; and I fear if it gets the wrong guidance and leadership, it could turn from a promising, still relatively new ideology into a forgotten about, no hoper who has never really been given the opportunities to fulfil its own potential, nipped in the bud at only 16.

The Labour leadership contest will decide this. I hope people give it a second chance or I fear the Tories will be able to put through their own policies for the long term.

Simple Shuffling Suggestions

In Constitutional Spotlight, Home Affairs, Judicial Spotlight on August 28, 2010 at 4:11 pm

By polarii for The Daily Soapbox

Frankly, Labour left many things in a mess. Some of these, like the country’s finances, are of the first importance. Some, like the regulations concerning listed buildings, are at worst a minor irritant. Others are of themselves unimportant, but may the fact that they are broken may lead to problems and waste down the line. Prominent among this last category, to my mind, is the organisation of some government departments. These administrative divisions can be quite technical, but if they are done well, they save a lot of effort and paperwork. Done poorly, they can lead to a perpetual increase in the amount of paperwork and confused policy, and ultimately, ineffective government.

As any reader of Private Eye will know, the most ridiculous of these administrative hiccups are the UK’s two audit agencies. The National Audit Office (NAO) reports to the Chancellor (at HMT), and audits national things, like defence. The Audit Commission (AC) reports to the Communities and Local Government Minister (at DeCLoG), and audits local things, like Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and Local Education Authorities (LEAs). Both employ directors with high salaries and high expenses, and a significant number of auditors, who criss-cross the country auditing things to make sure our money isn’t wasted. A genuine waste-saving measure would be to merge all the auditing responsibilities together into one organisation (perhaps called the NAOC, to preserve all the initials), and have it report either to the Chancellor, or the Deputy Prime Minister (at a re-established ODPM). This would save several executive salaries, as well as much travelling on the part of auditors; if the new body wanted to audit the accounts of a Scottish LEA and a Scottish submarine base, they could send one auditor up for three days work (one for travel, one for each task) rather than two auditors up for two days work each. This may mean redundancies, especially at the executive level, but the purpose of auditing is to ensure that money is efficiently spent, and at the moment, UK auditing confutes itself.

On the off-chance someone unfamiliar with UK government wanders in on this article, yes, it really is the case that our beancounters exist in two separate organisations, and yes, we do use this many acronyms. This is why government could do with a bit of reform, in my opinion.

Another easy sliding could be to dismantle the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), which was essentially the bits of government Jack Straw liked, and give the constitutional bits to ODPM, the Prisons bit back to the Home Office, and the judicial functions to the Attorney General’s Office. This has the happy effect of lumping all constitutional reform responsibilities under ODPM, all the things to do with policing under the Home Office, and all the things to do with legal work – civil, criminal, jurisprudential – under the Attorney General. It also stops the unfortunate situation where the minister for ensuring justice is impartially served is responsible for ensuring the prisons don’t overflow; an obvious conflict of interest to my mind, as it may mean that the minister begins to oppose deserved prison sentences. This reform removes a whole ministry, and while it would not mean many cuts in the civil service, as much of what the MoJ does is important, it will at least save a cabinet minister, and a few buildings here and there.

Another cumbersome ministry is the Department for Women and Equality (DfWE). Most of the work it does is largely unimportant; it was created more to inflate Harriet Harman’s ego than sort out equality. As evidence for this assertion, the Minister for Disability – disabled people being one of the most disempowered and unequal groups in society – reports to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) as opposed to DfWE. There is no Minister with responsibility for racial equality, the nearest thing being the Minister for Immigration, who reports to the Home Office. DfWE does discharge some important legal functions as regards equal rights protection, but these can easily be assumed, again by the Attorney General’s Office. We can now abolish another ministry, another cabinet post – although we should now promote the Attorney General to a permanent cabinet post, something that should probably be done anyway – and smile blithely as we have not reduced the functionality of government in any way, but have saved a fair bit of money and paper, and (huzzah!) there are now fewer ministries to consult when someone has an idea, streamlining the decision-making process before putting a policy before the house. And the Deputy Prime Minister actually has something to do now other than look pretty, make foolish statements in the Commons, and agonise over his favourite type of biscuit.

As one can plainly see, these changes will be an administrative headache for only a short while. They do not destroy any function of government, making the process more logical and clear. It’s tidying up round the edges, it’s not urgent, but it’s comparatively easy to do; Labour had a fair number of shuffles of this nature. It gets rid of a couple of the ministries that were cherry-picked by certain members of the previous government. Undoubtedly, more interesting, drastic and more effective reform could be achieved. But this is actually an almost painless cut that actually improves the running of government. Perhaps simple housekeeping is not merely the preserve of simple housewives.