Azara Blog: More political campaigning

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Date published: 2005/04/21

Only two more weeks to go. All the political parties are trying to claim they are the friend of the house buyer, by raising the bottom stamp duty threshold. Labour raised it from 60k to 120k in the budget. The LibDems want it at 150k. The Tories promised today to raise it to 250k, so the same as the second threshold. Why are political parties so economically illiterate? Raising the threshold helps sellers much more than it helps buyers, because the housing market has a fairly rigid supply, so removing a tax will just increase the cost of houses almost exactly to compensate. Politicians are just handing government money over to house sellers, who have already done handsomely out of the large increase in house prices the last ten years. The real problem with stamp duty is that the tax rate is absolute, not relative, so at each of the thresholds the tax suddenly jumps a large amount. And the Tories new threshold is making this jump even larger at 250k. Currently the tax jumps from 2.5k to 7.5k at 250k, with the Tory proposal it would jump from 0 to 7.5k. If the politicians want to do anything with stamp duty, they ought to make it rational and make the tax rate relative, not absolute. But that is obviously asking too much of the morons who run the country.

Meanwhile the LibDems have enclosed an eight page propaganda sheet with the free local weekly newspaper. Not for the first time they are trying to pretend it is independent, with the only real indication it is LibDem material being the disclaimer in small print at the bottom of page eight. Of course anybody with half a brain can see that it is LibDem propaganda, but what does it say about a political party that it tries to do this kind of thing. The LibDem headlines here are "Bush costs Blair votes" (true, but hardly any) and "LibDems set to gain seats" (possibly true). But no mention of council tax or some other LibDem favourite topics.

The LibDems dropped off another leaflet last week. That does mention the council tax: "Scrap this very unfair tax". Well it is not any more fair or unfair than any other tax. As always, tax you have to pay is unfair and tax someone else has to pay is fair. There is nothing inherently any more or less fair about the council tax (which is a property tax, so a crude wealth tax) compared with income tax. But don't let that get in the way of a good headline.

They also, as usual, claim "Only the Lib Dems take real action on the environment", because of plans for door-to-door plastic recycling about to start in Cambridge. As with all recycling matters it is not clear whether or not this is a net benefit to the environment, given the huge energy costs to implement this, both in terms of direct (e.g. transport) and indirect (e.g. labour) energy costs. Of course like most politicians and members of the chattering class, they would rather pose than argue their case.

They also say they would "force airlines to pay the real environmental cost of air travel" but there is no mention of forcing train and bus companies to do the same. Indeed there is a cute picture of a train with the slogan "Greener Transport" plastered over it. Why is train transport greener? Sure, if you just calculate the direct energy costs of energy consumed per mile to make the train get from A to B, then train transport looks "green". But if you include all the indirect energy costs (e.g. labour) then it is not so "green". The rough rule of thumb is "money equals energy" so the more something costs, the more energy it must be using (when the sums are done properly). (Of course it is not quite so simple because of tax and because of passing costs on externally.)

Meanwhile Labour has sent some more stuff in the post. Remarkably one of the leaflets is the first one to mention the local election, also taking place on 5 May. Ian Kidman is running for re-election as county councillor for Arbury. He doesn't live in Arbury (he lives in Highworth Avenue, just over the border in posher Chesterton), but for some reason not many Labour politicians do live in Arbury. He paints a bleak picture of life here: "anti-social behaviour, drug-dealing and prostitution". Well no doubt that all goes on in Arbury as everywhere else on the planet, but you have to wonder if this is really the most important issue here.

In one leaflet Anne Campbell shows a newspaper headline on one side "Plan for 500 new jobs at Marshall's is 'great news'" and on the other she says "[Campbell] has secured a pledge to tax aircraft emissions". Well one might have thought the two stories were linked (given that Marshall's is in the aircraft maintenance business). Mind you, regional airports should be encouraged, although Cambridge Airport is more likely to be closed down than opening up for more business. And as it happens, aircraft emissions are already taxed via the crude airport tax, but the level is probably too low and more importantly it is not currently related to fuel consumed, which it should be.

And (in bold) she "opposed the war". Were it not for Blair's stupid war in Iraq, Campbell would be a shoe-in, but as it is the LibDems ought to be in with a real chance in Cambridge.

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