It was fun.
Kate Green led, and made some pretty strong points, emphasising that her audience didn’t need to be reminded of the problems that poverty caused – effectively the argument that the long term costs made short-term investment worthwhile, whatever the the state of the cycle.
I was the colourless, numbers man. Reminded everyone that all the pledges add up to MONEY. And that we don’t have any. I was going to give the standard spiel about the top 10% only earning 250bn, there’s a 100bn gap to pay, they already pay 85bn in tax . . . but there seemed to be little reason. My major theme was: work is the only thing that has worked, probably the only sustainable solution, the only one remotely immune to political fashion in the future. Labour achieved more in terms of child-poverty reduction in the first term despite being less redistributive (see IFS docs); this was because it was in the first term that employment rates rose (again, IFS disaggregates the numbers).
I cautiously supported the idea that work needs to pay more. As the long argument about the minimum wage suggests, I don’t think that a higher MW necessarily cuts labour numbers, and it seems that the ESRC has found corroborating evidence. This is clearly the view of the CPAG as well. But Stephen Brien, the author of the report, warned that (on p287) they had found against this: because of high withdrawal rates, employers are effectively paying a quid and only 20p is reaching the staff. Fair point: though dealing with those withdrawal rates/marginal levels seems imperative.
The excellent Tim Horton added information about carers benefits, queried my poverty figures (I had the IFS figures to help me) and was as usual polished. Tim Montgomerie did some relaxed chairmanship.
Then Theodore Dalrymple started. I had chatted with him before – it was perfectly pleasant, but I could tell our world views did not chime. His is: everything is sh1t. The administration of this country is incurably corrupt. The cities are foul. No-one ever picks up litter. We waste 80k on each child’s education and they don’t learn anything. Most children now never know their fathers, or switch fathers all the time. So if you want to avoid poverty – leave the country (incidentally, he didn’t blame this all on Labour: a lot was started by Thatcher, who is a Marxist economic determinist apparently).
After a couple of questions from the audience, Kate Green let him have it – ‘anyone who fails to realise that our lives are so much better than our grandparents is mad’ or words to that effect. The audience cheered. A conservative audience! They don’t like the miserabilism either. He later wound up some women at the front by implying something about women who’ve been abused by their husbands being in some way to blame . . . I don’t know what he really meant.
So no-one faced any fiscal impossibilities this time either, but I have learned not to expect that at every event. I don’t think I saw Kate and Theodore chatting amiably afterwards. But a good event, impressed by the CSJ in particular. Not sure I’m going to read all those 387 pages though.