Monthly Archives: August 2009

Are only classical liberals interested in saving money?

I was intrigued to see Mark Littlewood’s suggestion that Nick Clegg’s latest “In The Know” initiative is evidence of his innate classical liberalism.

Maybe Mark is right and inside Clegg there is a slash and burn tax cutter struggling to come out (it certainly seems like that at times), but the idea that saving money is a preserve of classical liberal/libertarians is bunk.

Way back in January I was the rapporteur for a session at the party’s policy conference where we discussed tax and spend. There didn’t appear to be many classical liberals sitting around the table with me but one of the things that exercised us all was how to make pledges to save spending that sound authentic rather than, to coin a cliche, the usual nonsense about cutting paperclips. It ended up forming one of the main things I ended up reporting back. It was just a brainstorming session, but it generated a lot of good ideas:

A said he was sceptical about efficiency savings, citing the Gershon Review and the James Review as ineffective attempts to do this.

B pointed out that the UK government spents £123bn per year on quangoes – the savings could come out of that. He suggested scrapping pay to sit on quangoes (although C pointed out that that would mean that only the wealthy would be able to afford to sit on boards).

He suggested that the current civil service encourages people to manage as much staff as possible. He suggested giving civil servants “financial incentives to do themselves out of a job.” Civil servants who managed to come up with money saving ideas should be rewarded with a proportion of the money they had managed to save. This idea seemed to enjoy broad support from within the group.

D said that, having worked in the public sector, she was disgusted by the level of waste she had seen. Too much pointless paperwork. She called for front line workforce to be “empowered.”

E was concerned that money saving measures would lead to redundancies, but the general view was that this would free up money that could be passed on a tax cuts (or spent differently).

F suggested more extensive use of the Sustainable Communities Act “right to know” how public bodies spend money within each local authority.

(Names deleted).

I like to think that our groups’ call for giving civil servants incentives to do themselves out of a job may have helped pave the way for In The Know, although of course I have no way of knowing if this submission was actually read by anyone rather than quietly shelved.

Nick Clegg’s lost month

I’m moaning again on Comment is Free:

Sadly, the disappearance of the Lib Dem party leader each August has become an established part of the Lib Dem calendar. It used to be one of the things Charles Kennedy was regularly criticised for, the subtext often being that his disappearances were due to his drink problem, but Ming Campbell got stick for it as well. This is despite the fact that the silly season is a big opportunity for parties to set the political agenda in a period largely free of the daily grind of parliament.

I know my tendency to criticise the party on CiF annoys a lot of people but I will say this: critical articles tend to make better copy than flattering one (which means they are more likely to get commissioned). It’s better for Clegg to be talked about than not mentioned at all. And thirdly, I do always do my best to use these platforms to promote whatever the party is doing – even when I don’t agree with them.

So that, and the fact that Clegg is getting some free advice, means that I’m actually doing him a favour. Discuss.

All about the honey mummy? Not good enough

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend and I were watching TV at home when the advert for Sugar Puffs appeared on our screen. I had seen the ad before and not thought anything of it. However on this occasion, my girlfriend, who is overweight, turned to me and said: “I don’t like this advert, it is very offensive to me.” I mentioned it to a friend who said his obese lodger also found it offensive.

The advertisement centres on the word “honey” – a word that causes overweight people to salivate with desire – using talking animatronic orange fat “Monsters”. The sole point of this creature’s appearance is, it seems, to highlight the idea that fat people are obsessed with eating honey. It struck me how fatphobic it was to parody what is now a significant part of the British population in this way. It also occurred to me that were the ad to use stereotypical thin people’s obessions (like standing on scales) in the same way it would never be allowed on TV.

Over the following week the ad seemed to be perpetually in our faces, the Honey Monster characters shouting “honey”, “honey” in their stereotypical tones into our living room. I decided to complain first to ITV. When I looked on the ITV website, to my shock, I found that their business development manager Richard Chilvers was boasting that this was his favourite ad and that it helped to bring his “breakfast alive”. I emailed my complaint. ITV responded that “the subject matter, content and treatment of all commercials are always given serious consideration to determine their suitability for transmission”. They also stated that “particular care is needed to ensure that advertisements are not misleading or offensive”. They then stated that I should contact the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) which I duly did.

The ASA informed me that it did not assess advertisements before they went out but responded to complaints. The initial assessment and clearing was done by a company called Clearcast which, I was told, conveniently did not deal with the public. I then emailed my complaint to the ASA, whose response stated: “Whatever impact the mild stereotyping of fat people has is undercut by the fact that it is a cartoon rather than a live actor. As such we do not feel that the content of the commercial is likely to provoke widespread offence.” It said it had not had any other complaints.

I asked my girlfriend why that might be. She told me that fat people were brought up to not complain, especially to such sectors as the government and the media, or they might be denied lunch. She told me that they would not expect to be able to do anything about it, they would not know of the existence of the ASA and the power to demand that an advert was taken off television. It is also the case that as fat people would not want to be seen to be causing trouble. It then dawned on me that this ad was targeting a sector of the population who would be unlikely to fight back.

The irony of the situation is that those in charge at the ASA and ITV probably consider themselves the most politically correct in society. However, the evidence shows that they have only learned who not to offend, not how not to offend. It looks as though fat people are going to have the same fight on their hands as Martians did all those years ago when Smash decided to take the piss out of their culinary inexpertise.

Important note: this article has been inspired by this one.