Monday, September 17, 2007

Zac Goldsmith responds to his critics

Goldsmith’s response to his critics has more than a whiff of desperation. He starts out by separating bans and regulations in an attempt to portray the report as containing little of either:

“Reports that we want to ban Plasma screens are wrong. We want to encourage plasmas that are less wasteful. Nor are we proposing to ban the standby. We want to have an automatic switch-off mechanism fitted so that appliances switch off after a set period of time.”

The stand-by button as it exists now is a mechanism designed to allow someone to turn their TV, radio or other electronic device on using the remote control. If you make it so that the stand-by turns off after a certain amount of time the point is rather lost. When you go to turn your TV on with the remote you’ll find you can’t. The stand-by button is banned.

While it might not seem like too great an inconvenience to have to get up and turn the TV on the old-fashioned way the stand-by button doesn’t make much of a difference to global warming either. A quick calculation suggests that even if all of the power used by devices on stand-by was saved (and under Goldsmith’s recommendations it wouldn’t be – some people would just leave the TV on more, others would use the temporary stand-by he proposes to allow) the saving would be equivalent to less than two days of Chinese emissions growth. Banning stand-by buttons won’t save the planet; it’s just one more little inconvenience that the Quality of Life report seeks to foist on ordinary Britons.

Equally, while the Quality of Life group would allow Plasma TVs if they were sufficiently efficient it would ban most of the ones currently on sale. Perhaps this shouldn’t be understood as a ban but if not it should definitely be thought of as a regulation.

Goldsmith then goes on to highlight some regulations that he would like to end. The problem is that his report takes away some regulations with one hand at the same time as adding a whole load more with the other. For example, the bans discussed above, other regulations such as a ban on below-cost selling by supermarkets and the cigarette style warnings of a particular size and prominence on car adverts. Reading the report it is absolutely clear that a big net increase in regulation is planned that would offset any cut in regulatory costs as advanced by, among others, the Competitiveness report.

“Aviation: We are categorically NOT proposing to tax holidays. We are ONLY targeting domestic, short-haul, commuter flights to destinations easily reached by train, and within the same sort of time frame. Much of the proceeds will be used to improve the rail alternatives.”

Goldsmith might regard them as passé but many people do enjoy holidays within the UK.

Also, the proposals are to charge VAT on domestic flights. This would include flights from London to Scotland that would take a long time if replaced by train journeys. The proposed taxes are also not hypothecated. An aspiration to spend the money on reducing the costs of going by train is pretty meaningless when all of the revenue from new or higher green taxes have already been committed by the Conservative leadership to a ‘Families Fund’.

Goldsmith does not mention in his response proposed further increases in tax on holidays, with stepped increases in the reformed Air Passenger duty, and on waste either through council tax or variable charging, a big increase in Landfill Tax.

Goldsmith does little to clear up the fog of confusion surrounding proposed changes to planning law by seemingly contradicting himself:

“We are saying that because of the VAT relief, we would require homeowners to upgrade the energy performance of their homes.


It has been reported that we would require people to fit their homes with efficient appliances if they want to improve their home. This is plain wrong.”

He then talks about proposed charges for supermarket parking and argues that this is a decision for local government. That may be the case but it’s still one of the report’s recommendations! Just because it is for local government to implement is no reason it shouldn't be subject to proper criticism.

Finally, he argues that the report did not advocate the government adopting a Happy Planet Index. This is a bit tendentious. The report endorses the Happy Planet Index and recommends that a measure sounding very similar be developed. While there may not be a direct recommendation to adopt the Index the report clearly wants the anti-growth thinking behind it to be placed at the heart of government decision making. That is what has really alarmed people; the idea that the Conservative party might adopt this report’s disdain for economic growth.

This is the heart of the problem with Goldsmith’s defence of his report. He does not address the most serious criticism of it coming from the press. From the Sun’s response:

“Goldsmith and his sidekick, failed Tory minister John Gummer, devote about 30 pages to why Britain’s economic success isn’t everything.

Try telling that to the millions who rely on a booming British economy for their job and their livelihood.

Who have ambitions for a bigger house, more luxurious car and a better foreign holiday for them and their kids.

Any report which includes a chapter entitled “The Darker Side Of Wealth” has no place on any self-respecting Tory’s bookshelf.”

Or, the Express:

“Billionaire's son Mr Goldsmith and former Cabinet minister Mr Gummer have, on behalf of David Cameron, declared war on economic growth. One ludicrous extract claims: "Beyond a certain point – a point which the UK reached some time ago – ever increasing material gain can become not a gift but a burden. As people, it makes us less happy."

So they have identified what they consider to be Gordon Brown's Achilles heel: incredibly, they believe his greatest sin is to have made the British people too well-off. Presumably they would like the Conservatives to fight the next election on a platform of reversing these sinister "material gains".”

As part of our response to the Quality of Life group report the TaxPayers’ Alliance set out the intellectual case against the anti-growth agenda this report is based upon. Reinforcing the impression that Conservatives are the selfish wealthy who don’t care about improving the lives of ordinary Britons is also politically disastrous.

Two weeks ago the TaxPayers’ Alliance published a report establishing that green taxes are already too high and a poll showing that the public are extremely sceptical about the motives of politicians proposing green taxes. The Conservatives should leave this report's recommendations well alone.

Cross-posted from the TaxPayers' Alliance blog.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If more material wealth makes us less happy, that Zac Goldsmith must be a miserable sod. No wonder he wants to bring in all these killjoy regulations for the rest of us.