Goodbye and good riddance to the Dalai Lama

Here’s hoping, anyway...

News that the Dalai Lama may retire in the next year is to be welcomed by all those sick of the cant, flattery and new age-type nonsense that have long surrounded this former guest editor of French Vogue magazine - however much his followers, such as the distinguished thespians Steven Seagal and Richard Gere, or his friends in the CIA might vouch for him.

It's not that the cause of Tibet does not deserve international sympathy and attention. But it would be served far better by a purely political leadership, not one whose "mystical" aura allows for next to no examination or criticism about its aims and its strategies. I've posted before asking why it is that we think the current Dalai Lama is a living saint.

For a longer look at "His Material Highness", who due to the "blissful, thoughtless exceptionalism" with which the West regards Buddhism, "combined with a Hollywood cult that almost exceeds the power of Scientology... fused with weightless Maharishi and Bhagwan-type babble" is thought of as "a saintly god-king" exiled from "an idealised Tibet", I heartily recommend this article from Salon by Christopher Hitchens. "Far from his Holier-than-all image, the Dalai Lama supports such questionable causes as India's nuclear testing, sex with prostitutes and accepting donations from a Japanese terrorist cult," begins the introduction.

Read it and see if you don't agree with me that it's time to say good bye and good riddance to this worldly prelate. As for his retirement: there's one show I'm sure he'd always be welcome on (just think of the fee he could command). As Nigel Havers exits, who's next for the jungle? Welcome, the Dalai Lama, to "I'm a celebrity... Get me out of here!".

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
Photo: Getty Images
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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR