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I agree that George Osborne wants to cut taxes and you're right to warn that voters suspect we want to cut taxes for our rich pals. The response to that suspicion, however, is to give the lion's share of tax cuts to poorer people and as tax relief to deprived communities.
Tax cuts have to focus on simplifying the system - complicated income based taxes frequently hit people who have little money because of the problems of dealing with tax collectors without having your own accountant.

VAT is actually fairer simply because most people don't have to sort it out, sure a poor pensioner may have to pay it, but it's all sorted out for them mostly by the trader as part of the actual cost and so especially if someone is poor and/or confused and/or of low intelligence then it simplifies things for them hugely. Stress people on low incomes with complicated systems and they are more likely to drink more, smoke more, take to gambling and have more family problems and maybe even end up spending more extra money than any actual savings they get through the system yield. In fact VAT would be fairer if a lot of the exemptions were abolished, like the exemption on children's shoes for example - I had and still have large feet, I was into adult sizes before I had left Primary School so VAT was charged on it and I was from a poor family, someone with small feet who might be from a wealthy family and might be able to go on taking children's shoes even into adulthood and so not pay the VAT. It's also fair in that it is a percentage - the desirability of flat rate Income Tax is often talked of, well VAT is mostly at a flat rate and people who have more money and buy more chargeable for VAT will tend to end up paying proportionately more.

Is it too early to be already sick of this Blair's decade business?

And the BBC's coverage has been so biased it is unbelieveable. At the end of the Blair spot on the News at Ten last night, I was expecting "VOTE LABOUR" to appear on the screen. Given the bias, it would have been in context.

I think the general public is pretty much divided into two groups on tax cut promises:

(1) People who don't believe they would actually happen

(2) People who believe they would happen and would hit front line services.

Personally I'm in group (1).

The only way tax cuts would be credible would be to say "We are spending X on doing Y and we've decided this is a waste of money so we're not going to do Y any more". My top candidate for that would be the national firearms database, still not implemented after ten years of work and totally worthless from any public safety point of view even if it were.

Otherwise all you can do is promise to keep things more or less the same and then produce genuine savings once in office, demonstrating by example.

Tim - I agree with much of what you say but you miss a vital link. Peace in NI has a lot to do with tax cuts. Not ours but that of Southern Ireland's.

Having grown up in NI I believe that much of the "troubles" was due to the huge economic differential between the North and South which added fuel to historic hatred between Catholics and Protestants.

John Major and many other Conservatives worked with local people to build the first steps on the path to peace. A change from 18 years of Conservative government gave Tony a ticket to help people put history in the past. It has taken sooooo looooong to cash in that ticket.

However economically there has been a huge change on the island of Ireland. The "poor" South through policies of great education and low taxes has lived an economic boom whilst the UK economy has complacently lagged behind. The fact that the South is now the wealthier nation removed the fuel from the fire.

'I believe that we could have got to this point without the constant appeasement of Sinn Fein at the expense of the SDLP'

The peace process had to bring together the two extremes ie DUP and SF, otherwise it would not have worked. Political moderates in N.Ireland like myself would have found an assembly with the Ulster Unionists and SDLP sharing power more palatable. But although this worked for a short time during the previous assembly, the election earlier this year showed that public opinion was more polarized. The majority of the people of N Ireland would not have bought into the new assembly without SF and DUP central to it. It might be seen as 'appeasement', but it was pragmatic, and probably necessary for the process to succeed.
It remains to be seen how things will go but Tony Blair deserves credit for the significant progress we've seen so far.
Btw Tim, hope you enjoy your stay in NI.

Having grown up in NI I believe that much of the "troubles" was due to the huge economic differential between the North and South which added fuel to historic hatred between Catholics and Protestants.
Splits in Ireland changed though - the United Irishmen were for example formed by Ulster Presbyterians and Presbyterian Evangelicals along with Roman Catholics were frequently Irish Nationalist whereas mainly Anglicans were Unionist - the Anglican element always tended to be the most priviledged being favoured by the Crown. As recently as the 19th century. With Roman Catholics permitted to practise there was the beginnings of Unionism among Roman Catholics. Of course there were people of other religion or no religion who took different sides.

Then things started to change and especially after the formation of the Irish Free State when in Ulster more Fenian elements strengthened and moderate Nationalists went into decline, the Irish Free State became virtually a Popish theocracy, at that point Unionism inevitably became more distinctly Protestant especially among more Evangelical elements, Protestant Nationalists tending to be Liberal theologically.

With the North being richer and the South being under the grip of the Vatican, many Roman Catholics and Athiests were also unhappy.

The Roman Catholic Church doesn't have quite the control it used to in the south, indeed Ulster faces choosing between two increasingly secular and godless states, there is even something of a move towards Charismatic Protestant Evangelicalism in parts of Ireland including Pentecostalism and of course there were already many from the Presbyterian Church of Ireland in the South - who knows? One day Eire could reunite with Ulster as part of the UK again in some kind of Federal Structure!

I just wish to pick up on one point - I don't agree that Michael Howard was a bad leader. I thought the last election campaign was misjudged, unless, as is possible, it was part of a long term strategy by Mr Howard. Nevertheless, of current Tory MPs he'd be my ideal choice as the next Tory PM - only a pity that he's retiring. He was a good minister and a good shadow chancellor, he put a stop to some of the problems under IDS and he would've made a better PM than Hague or IDS in my opinion.

Surely there can be no doubt that Howard was a good leader who carried out major restructuring after the disaster of the IDS period? He gave the party back its professionalism after serious incompetence under IDS and prepared the way for DC.

The major disappoiment is that he didn't admit the Iraq war was wrong and that the Tories had failed to hold the government to account. But even there he was hampered by the unquestioning support IDS gave to the war.

Michael Howard was not a good leader. He looked opportunistic on the Iraq war and ditched IDS' compassionate agenda; now fortunately being revived by DC.

The major disappoiment is that he didn't admit the Iraq war was wrong
Because he thought it was right, his view as expressed at the time of the war was identical to IDS - it was a perfectly reasonable position, however whereas IDS took a principled approach to it, Michael Howard sought to exploit what was an unfortunate tipping of the balance among the British public against military action in Iraq.

People talking about IDS's record as Conservative leader frequently gloss over the fact that the Conservative Party were well down in the 2004 Euro Elections on only 28% of the popular vote, and in the General Election in 2005 only edged forward. IDS took over at a point in which the total Conservative vote had slumped to a new low and only increased as a percentage because of reduced turnout, at the time of the 2003 Local Elections - Labour had still not been hit by the issue of the War in Iraq, Michael Howard dropped the results of a variety of principle based policy reviews and replaced them with slogans and the new immigration and spending policies he came out with were poorly thought out and attempts to be all things to all people. In the Local Elections in 2004 the Conservatives got 37% of the vote compared to 35% of the vote the previous year in far more difficult circumstances.

The 2005 General Election was wide open for the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats between them to reduce Labour's majority down to almost nothing, but both parties floundered.

I agree that IDS's leadership is attacked more than it deserves; the compassionate conservative thing felt too American, which would have got no votes, and in any case would have felt unconvincing from Howard; Howard got it wrong on Iraq and he wasn't an exceptional party or opposition leader; yet I retain my view that he would have made a better Prime Minister than Hague or IDS.

They don't need to learn anymore. David Cameron is Nu-Labours legacy......

As soon as I realised that Cameron was more Blair than Blair, that he had learned everything there was to learn, I resigned from the party after 24 years, more than half my life.

I don't have anything novel or useful to say on the Irish problem, being just an ordinary oik who wishes that the whole problem could be someone else's rather than England's.

However, could I just comment that the analysis by Yet Another Anon, May 11, 2007 22:45,is the most interesting & enlightening precis of the background history that I've ever read, as it took me beyond the usual superficial exasperation at the vicious antics of the customary antagonists on both sides of the divide.

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