Parliamentary privilege ain’t what it used to be

A cornerstone of parliamentary democracy is the concept of privilege – to protect MPs from external influence by ensuring that their actions can be challenged only in parliament (or at the ballot). If you think that the principle is old-fashioned, ask yourself how Russia’s legislature gets on.

While privilege has never been universal in its scope – in the UK or in its legislative outgrowths – a recent twist raises the eyebrow.

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Boris’s budget tests limits to destruction

Gosh, politics is a rum game.  Britain’s PM, Boris Johnson, took some big risks and triumphantly shattered Britain’s political status quo during the Brexit turmoil.  But last week’s budget statement set the country’s economic parameters in anything but a Thatcherite way.

The difficulty is less in the government’s post-Covid financial tidying up, and more in its approach to long-term problems.  And these look like they might become more urgent – and sooner.

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Boris the shape shifter – yeh that sounds right – but is there substance to the shape?

It takes a lot to grind down the hard-working ideologues at the Guardian but Boris Johnson will stop at nothing.  There was a whiff of admiration amidst the self-loathing in the opinion columns “The Tories have become the party of optimists” and “Shapeshifting Tories have mastered playing to the crowd”

You might have thought the burdens of the premiership and near-death during Covid would dampen his natural ebullience.  But at this week’s Conservative party conference his autodidactic illumination of classical reference, historical allusion and ribaldry was undimmed.  Who else, a fortnight after – again – Guardian headlines “Boris admits he has six children”, would say that Britain has only 0.8% of the world’s population, despite our best efforts.

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Boris keeps on gambling

Boris Johnson has done a great service for politicians everywhere by testing the political waters for tax increases.  He and his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, are ratcheting up Britain’s taxes to pay for care homes.  And Covid of course.  Pretty much everything it seems.

The new tax is not really that new: a levy on labour incomes (i.e., salaries, wages and self-employment) of 2.5 percentage points, with an increase in dividend taxes of half that. Boris – with flagrant disregard for Econ 101 – claims that business will share this burden. Sorry Boris and Rishi – labour taxes fall on labour.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times gloomily opines that the move will raise the UK’s tax burden to the highest level since 1950 – about the time when Boris’s hero, Winston Churchill, was heading for a second term as PM.

Boris has a reputation for being better on the strategic than the tactical decisions.  So, will the tax increase work?

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Climate change just got cheaper – or maybe not …

Britain’s fiscal watchdog – the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) – has some good news.  It thinks the cost for the UK of getting to zero carbon could be much less than anticipated:  

While unmitigated climate change would spell disaster, the net fiscal costs of moving to net zero emissions by 2050 could be comparatively modest.”

Under its ‘early action scenario’ government net debt would rise by a mere 20% of GDP in the years to 2050 from the current 105%.  That almost seems encouraging when compared with the near-30% of GDP increase responding to the Covid pandemic , and the roughly 50% surge which followed the global financial crisis.

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NZ public service reform for the UK?

It’s not unusual for governments to decide the solution to their frustrations is to tweak the machinery of government.  Nor for senior public servants to channel those ambitions to safety.

But things look more serious in the UK.  A sequence of reports from high-powered ‘independent’ commissions and well-connected think tanks are floating proposals which bear more than a resemblance to the state sector reforms implemented in New Zealand at the end of last century.

For one of the key players, the seeds of change were planted back in 2010. Back then, Michael Gove (now the Minister for the Cabinet Office) was put in charge of education.  He coined the term ‘the Blob’ to describe the coalition of resistant civil servants and external ideologists who opposed his proposals to change the school system.  And helping him on the Blob job was Dominic Cummings – PM Boris Johnson’s erstwhile chief strategist.

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Has ‘Johnsonism’ arrived?

Britain’s new health minister, Sajid Javid, says he will keep wearing a mask after formal restrictions are removed in the next fortnight.  It’s a more political than public health gesture.  Unless perhaps he’s meeting unvaccinated ministerial visitors from Australia or New Zealand.

Britain’s Covid debate is morphing faster than the virus.  Thanks to the fast spreading Delta variant and a super-charged vaccination programme it’s plausible that pretty much everyone bar Scottish lighthouse keepers will have had Covid antibodies delivered to them by the end of the year via neighbours or needle. 

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Let’s wish O’Connor well, as he dines with UK Minister in quest to secure a free trade deal – but Aussies are higher in the queue

Trade minister Damien O’Connor dines with his UK counterpart Liz Truss tomorrow  to begin the heavy-lifting on a NZ-UK free trade agreement.

The early signs are ominous.  Ozzie PM Scott Morrison managed to attend part of the G7 meeting in Cornwell where Australia’s FTA agreement was raised with the UK’s Boris Johnson.

Morrison says he’s waiting for ‘the right deal’ before the UK-Australia free trade agreement (FTA) is finalised, and the UK is eager to launch its post-Brexit economy by securing free trade agreements covering 80% of its trade within the next three years.

The UK Department for International Trade believes a trade deal could secure an additional £900 million ($1.6 billion) in exports to Australia.

In 2019-20, two-way goods and services trade was valued at $36.7 billion, making the UK Australia’s fifth-largest trading partner, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Morrison hopes to finalise the FTA tomorrow if certain issues can be dealt with.

But elements of the Australian FTA have created alarm within the UK. The National Farmers’ Union publicly begged for tariffs to remain on Australian beef and sheep.

NFU president Minette Batters says a tariff-free trade deal with Australia will jeopardise UK farming and could cause the demise of many, many beef and sheep farms throughout the UK.

There are several challenges for NZ.  It’s just as well, therefore, that O’Connor is accompanied by NZ trade supremo Vangelis Vitaly, a recognised world authority on trade policy.  Continue reading “Let’s wish O’Connor well, as he dines with UK Minister in quest to secure a free trade deal – but Aussies are higher in the queue”

G7 – the view from the top is fine, if a bit fuzzy

The omens were good for the G7 summit at Carbis Bay in Cornwall.  Untypical blazing sunshine and a victory for England’s footballers in the Euro Championships put the hosts in fine fettle (qualified only slightly by the NZ cricketers’ series win).  

The first and most important objective was achieved: the world leaders managed to agree not to disagree. Even better, no one called the host, Britain’s PM Boris Johnson, “weak and dishonest”, no matter how much they might have been tempted.

But despite the 25 page summit communique, direction and leadership was a little harder to find.

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G7 – not so good in the margins

Some say it wouldn’t be a proper G7 summit without a row between the UK and France.  In this case, Boris Johnson taking the opportunity to ask France’s President Emmanuel Macron how he would feel if Toulousain could not sell their sausages in Paris.

The context for his remark is the negotiation between the UK and the EU over the application of the Brexit treaty to Northern Ireland.

Readers might recall our suggestion at the beginning of the year that the trade arrangements might prove a “charter for squabbling”. Perhaps that was too optimistic.

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