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Government doing the wrong things

Summary:
It says much about a government when the list of things it has done wrong far exceeds the list of things it has done right. It is a consolation, albeit a small one, that it could have done even more things wrong but did not. A government composed of the other parties would certainly have done more wrong things, given what they have urged, but “least bad” is by no means the equivalent of “good.”It has been particularly disappointing because in December 2019, when they were elected, this government came in with the high hopes of the nation that they would set things to rights after the zombie Parliament of 2017-19. It was particularly encouraging that the new Parliament was mostly devoid of the worthless contingent that had disfigured its predecessor. Those high hopes were soon dashed.By

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It says much about a government when the list of things it has done wrong far exceeds the list of things it has done right. It is a consolation, albeit a small one, that it could have done even more things wrong but did not. A government composed of the other parties would certainly have done more wrong things, given what they have urged, but “least bad” is by no means the equivalent of “good.”

It has been particularly disappointing because in December 2019, when they were elected, this government came in with the high hopes of the nation that they would set things to rights after the zombie Parliament of 2017-19. It was particularly encouraging that the new Parliament was mostly devoid of the worthless contingent that had disfigured its predecessor. Those high hopes were soon dashed.

By continuing with HS2 they were committing vast and unquantified resources to a white elephant project. For many travellers, time spent on trains is not time wasted because they can work, so the small saving in travel times that HS2 might achieve becomes even less worthwhile than it was, and in no way justifies the vast costs involved. For a small part of such sums, commuting into Northern towns could have been made faster and easier.

By proceeding with HMRC’s IR35, government supported the Treasury’s hostility to the self-employed, and its determination to push as many of them as possible into PAYE rather than self-employment. Yet self-employment offers the flexibility the future UK economy will need. IR35 is one reason why so many self-employed truck drivers left the profession and created a shortage.

The “Online Safety Bill” being driven forward is an attempt to censor the internet, and will open the gates to restrictions on the free expression of ideas. Social media companies will be forced to crowd out virtual public spaces, making a public discourse ever more woke and radical.

The continuation of the absurd energy price cap that fixed retail prices has led to the bankruptcy of many suppliers unable to cope with wholesale price rises. And the abandonment of fracking has combined with it to create a totally unnecessary energy shortage combined with higher energy costs for both householders and industry.

Elsewhere the government has kowtowed to the extremist Green Lobby with its “net zero carbon” target imposed instead of a more phased withdrawal from fossil fuels. It has failed to prioritize nuclear as a carbon friendly power source. The requirement to replace gas boilers with heat pumps will impose a costly and less effective new technology on households and bump up their bills yet more.

It is all indicative of a failure to perform cost-benefit analysis, and calculate the costs of doing what are promoted as desirable things. This is especially true of its climate policies. A sensible government would assess the trade-offs and only proceed with those whose benefits outweighed the associated costs. In raising taxes, including National Insurance, the government has lost sight of the Laffer Curve, and failed to appreciate how higher taxes will impact upon economic expansion and job creation.

The government’s commitment to a “high skilled, high wage” economy is partly behind its restriction of low-skilled immigration, leading to massive labour shortages in certain industries, and chaos in others. The phrase is an intellectual supposition rather than an observation of the real world. Such evidence as there is points the other way, and suggests that immigration can increase economic growth and raise productivity with it.

The commitment to have more homes built for young people in places where they want to live has foundered in the face of a lobby that is comfortably off and wants to keep things as they are. The planning reforms have been diluted to the point of abandonment, so the chronic housing shortage will not be solved. One day a bold government will repeal the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act that strangles our towns and cities, but it will not be this one.

Government does not have a clearly defined drug policy. Trafficking, especially involving children, is rife, yet the talk is of going after middle class users of recreational drugs. This is a wrong policy, putting more people into conflict with the law and the police, whereas a right policy would look at what Canada and several US states have done, and learn how to legalize recreational drugs under controlled conditions to deprive the drug gangs of a market and to assure quality and safety.

The vaccines were done well, but there have also been wrong policies aplenty in the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. There was the failure to protect care homes by discharging patients from hospitals too early. There was the PPE procurement scandal, the chaos of the GCSE and A-Level exams of 2020 and 2021, the uncertainty of the travel ‘red’ list that left some people stranded abroad, and innumerable pointless restrictions imposed without evidence that they would make any difference. No-one counted the costs to industry, to jobs, to mental health, or to delayed essential treatment. It gave the impression of a government held in thrall by ‘worst case scientists,’ and not giving consideration to the public good.

Finally one cannot help noticing the somewhat cavalier attitude to following rules about procurement and payments, and about government keeping to the restrictions it had imposed on others. This has been a government addicted to doing wrong things. There is still time for it to make good by doing right things and reversing the wrong ones, but not much time. And it might take another government.

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