Brian Monteith: What Butler saw is the remedy for all our ills
THE election has now moved away from the sparring of last week – where the Conservatives scored most of the points with their neat jabs about the threat to economic recovery posed by a hike in National Insurance costs – and on to a war of attrition where the protagonists slug it out.
The Conservatives were right to press home on the tax on jobs – and should keep jabbing away. Labour has, over the years, increased the costs of employment through National Insurance hikes for two reasons, firstly because most people don't see it as a tax and, secondly, because the employers pay an additional amount on behalf of us that nobody but the bosses feel the pain of – that's why it's a tax on jobs.
Now, with the manifestos being revealed this week, the focus will move on to what the parties are offering, if it makes sense and if it financially adds up. Expect some vicious left and right hooks as the truth becomes a casualty.
In the last ten years, the parties have been converging to the point that you could not put a cigarette paper between them – but with the election so tight they are now trying to sound different, but are they?
They all agree they have to make significant cuts in public spending, although the Tories and Lib Dems are more honest about the need for it now than Labour. They all say they will protect the NHS, although Labour's National Insurance hike will cost the NHS 400 million. They all say they will put Britain's interests first, although they continue to hand over money and sovereignty to the European Soviet that resides in Brussels.
I could go on another ten rounds with this argument. The truth is that the main party manifestos have more in common than they have differences – so it all boils down to who you trust will do what they say.
Then there's the undeniable fact that since devolution arrived so much of what is in these manifestos is now completely irrelevant to what happens in Scotland.
If you like a Tory policy, say, on creating new free state schools, you will have to hope they first get into power, second deliver the policy, thirdly make it work and fourthly it turns out so good that it convinces MSPs in Holyrood to copy it.
That's a lot of hoping and waiting – it might just happen in time for your children's children.
If you really want to read a manifesto for change, one you might raise your glass to while wiping that smile off any bureaucrat's face, then you should go into your bookshop and order Eamonn Butler's The Alternative Manifesto.
Two years ago Dr Butler, the man who helped put Adam Smith's statue on the Royal Mile, wrote a coruscating critique of Blair and Brown's record, called The Rotten State of Britain. If I have a criticism of that blood-curdling account it is that there were so many examples of what's wrong with our country that it numbed your senses to any more of Brown's outrageous antics.
To show that Dr Butler is not an articulate whinger but has ideas about how to put things right, he has now returned with his own manifesto that is an entertaining read. Butler delivers a twelve-step treatise that covers the main government departments with prescriptions for all of them.
And it's not as if he is suggesting wild-eyed radical overhauls of beloved institutions (such as the NHS) – no, all he's advocating is a government that lives within its means and is honest about what it can deliver and leaves us to decide the rest for ourselves.
Butler's expos of how the national debt is worse than we think it is (the PFI debt is never included despite repeated concerns raised by the Comptroller General) would knock out the toughest fighter and the visit to Edinburgh next Tuesday by the TaxPayers' Alliance debt clock backs up his point. When the artic lorry-sized clock left Westminster last week to travel round Britain, the country's national debt was 781,512,328,767 – by the time it returns at the end of the election campaign the interest alone will have added another 6,698,630,137.
Butler calls for restraint in government – it's the sort of manifesto David Cameron would probably have liked to have published were he not so scared of upsetting readers of quality newspapers or people whose livelihoods depend on the public sector purse.
Following Butler's medicine would do us all a favour, whatever our reliance on public or private salaries or welfare payments, we cannot get by if government gets out of control.
Instead of wasting so many billions instructing us and regulating on how to live our lives (and not actually changing our habits, as we are a very stubborn bunch) Butler says we have to take responsibility for our weight, sobriety and the minority pursuit of inhaling tobacco.
If there's anything that's drunk (on power), overweight (with debt) and out of breath (from hectoring us) it's our government.
Butler and his remedies would get my vote. What a pity he's not standing.
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