Mannkal Economic Education Foundation

Mannkal Student Internship Blog

Centre for Policy Studies

Cathal Leslie – Week Six

Cathal Leslie, 15 February 2016

After the intense sleep deprivation from the incessant snoring of a ten person hostel room, it was comforting to come back to a sole bed in London.

Much of my week involved assisting the Head of Economic research for an upcoming interview on recent problems in assessments of tax credits. There was a recent scandal involving people having their benefits frozen and being investigated for fraud. Whilst found to be innocent, they survived on high interest loan to cover their expenses. While this case was concerning, it struck up a debate that the new assessment procedures were being unfair on low income families in a time where there has been significant corporate tax avoidance. This kind of debate passes over the fact that the assessment mechanism for tax credits in the UK is about allocating the correct amount of money to recipients. In the year 2013/14, 880,000 people were identified as being underpaid. If the government were to remove this assessment procedure, that these people would struggle to claim their benefits. It would hardly be fair on the lower classes to allow some people to abuse the welfare system at the expense of the poor.

The weekend also brought the opportunity to see the Cirque Du Soleil, I hadn’t even intended to see the show until Wei told me she had a spare ticket. I was completely blown away at the theatrics! Seeing people jump through hoops 2 meters in the air, watching a woman assemble 20 large branches with her foot into a leaf formation, whilst balancing it on her head and seeing some insane see-saw jumping several meters into the air. It was an amazing spectacle that I would recommend to anyone.

Cathal Leslie – Week Five

Cathal Leslie, 9 February 2016

This week just seemed to breeze past.

Most of my week involved helping my boss Daniel prepare for two upcoming speaking events. The first was an address to the Cambridge young conservatives and Dan would applaud me for my “brutal honesty” in critiquing his speech. The second was more research based as Dan was appearing in a debate at Exeter university, it on whether Thatcher’s leadership was good or bad for the United Kingdom. It gave me a good opportunity to learn more about the founder of the Centre for Policy Studies.

Little did I know how bad things were in the decade prior to Thatcher’s rule. Strike action were crippling the economy, inflation was in double digits and the government was pleading to the International Monetary Fund for loans, something akin to the current scenario in Greece. That seemed almost absurd to me given how well the country is regarded now in terms of wealth and for its roles as an international centre for finance. Most strikingly to me (no pun intended) was that gravediggers went on strike and bodies were resultantly going unburied. Evidently there were systemic problems with the structure of the economy. Thatcher’s tenure would see inflation on average decline significantly and oversaw a massive structural shift in the makeup of the economy, particularly with large scale privatisations of government owned assets. Although I don’t agree with all her government’s policies (such as the poll tax) it is clear that the country needed a strong leader with deep convictions on free market economics to shock the economy back into shape. It is also clear that her tenure provided for the economics successes of the following Major and Blair governments not just through the last effecting of the reforms but through the ideological shift that she spurred across British politics.

Now for the weekend, myself and Wei took advantage of London’s proximity to Europe and booked a train to Paris for the weekend. Through Wei’s skillful navigation of the city (strong female leadership seems to be a reoccurring theme in this post) we were able to see so much of Paris in such a short space of time. I was blown away by how beautiful the city is, the amazing view from atop the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur, the immense size and structure of the Eiffel Tower and even just the architecture of the regular buildings throughout the city. I’m tempted to go back again!

P.S check out my blog piece for CPS on the Australian GST debate here!

Cathal Leslie – Week Four

Cathal Leslie, 3 February 2016

Half way through my internship!

This week was by far the most intense and interesting, with the secretary off sick I deputised with all the phone calls. There were a flurry of calls throughout the day with people introducing themselves asking to talk to various people in the office and it was very interesting to find out after whom many of them were, leading politicians, public figures and economists just to name a few. However the last phone call of the day came from a lady with a strong Scottish accent. I at first thought she was saying “Special Gas”, it turned out however to be from Sky news looking for a ‘special guest’ (understandable error in my opinion) in a program later that night. After passing through the phone call to my boss, I could hear him accept the role. Little did I know it was his first time ever on television and safe to say he was a tad nervous.

So with three hours to prepare, I gathered some key statistics on the so called “bedroom tax” (which actually isn’t a tax but is a reduction in housing benefits for those who live in council housing but have spare bedrooms) and prepped him for potential questions that he might be asked. To his credit he handled it really well and it was great to hear him quote statistics and give responses to the interviewer that I had given him only half an hour before!

This week also saw me change accommodation as my airbnb host accused me of breaking a door (that was broken from the day I arrived!), after a stern exchange at her attempt to fleece me, I checked in at a different apartment on airbnb. With a functioning heater, a bed that wasn’t missing half of its wooden supports and a friendly host, I can safely say my faith in the free market is restored!

Lastly the weekend gave me the opportunity to visit my extended family in rural Ireland whilst also making good use of a quad bike in the muddy countryside!

Cathal Leslie – Week 3

Cathal Leslie, 25 January 2016

Week 3!

This week, the office focused on Public borrowing figures, as the current borrowing had been above the estimates forecasted. Helping gather information in preparation of the release of the official statistics, positive results came in and public borrowing came in better than expected. However as my boss would later say after writing a piece on the statistics, the media seems to only be interested in the negative stories! Resultantly there was no-where near as much media coverage given to this month’s positive borrowing figures compared to last month’s poor figures, it seems like negativity sells in other countries as well!

I was also offered the opportunity to write for CPS’s sister think tank, CapX, where I am currently penning an article on the free market trade reforms that are reinvigorating the economy of former hard-line command economy of Vietnam.

This week was also the first week that I managed to venture outside of London and see the rest of England.  After a three hour train ride with Wei (a fellow Mannkal scholar interning at CapX) enjoying the worst of Kanye West’s songs, we arrived in Liverpool. Both Wei and I are big football fans (aka soccer) and with Liverpool Fc being one of our favourite clubs it made sense to visit Anfield stadium. Unfortunately there wasn’t a home game scheduled for the day but we were given the stadium tour where we were able to watch the ongoing Liverpool away game (Which they won 5-4!) in a deluxe corporate box. Seeing the grounds and the various trophies was somewhat of a childhood dream fulfilled for me.

From there we visited the docks of Liverpool,  and the merchandise store of my favourite band: The Beatles. After buying some funky John Lennon styled glasses we both headed back to London. Still pumped as ever, now for week 4!

Cathal Leslie – Week Two

Cathal Leslie, 18 January 2016

Week Two!

This week started off a bit slower than last week, which gave me plenty of time to work on my upcoming blog for the CPS’s website. I’ve been researching throughout the week about the current GST debate back in Australia. I argue that GST reform should be a bi-partisan issue and that the government should move in line with other OECD nations in rising/broadening the GST and combining that with other measures to give a net tax cut. Hopefully it should be online in the next few days.

Wednesday also gave me the opportunity to sit in on a meeting of all the centre-right think tanks in London and talk about what each were focused on. One think tank began talking about the rise of Donald Trump and how they were quite confident that he was destined to fall come voting time and everyone appeared to agree. (My prediction is that the more he’s dismissed as a candidate the better he does). We also had a speech from the campaign manager from the Conservative Party’s candidate for London mayor and it gave me a great insight into the political scene of the city but also just made me realise how important the mayor in London is, with 8 million people in the city – That’s larger than a lot of countries.

This is also the second week I have spent going through the city’s many museums. Of particular note was the National Museum of Science, to see such amazing displays in such large quantities is just something you wouldn’t see back in Perth. What I thought was particularly interesting was a wooden carving of a bear by a Neanderthal many thousands of years ago, to think just how intricate it is and for it to last so long over time is truly a wonder.

After work I was also able to continue my growing love of English theatre as I saw the production of Wicked and Shakespeare’s “as you like it”. I’m loving the theatre so much that I’ve lined up several other plays to watch in the coming week!

Cathal Leslie – Week One

Cathal Leslie, 12 January 2016

London!

And there could be no better time to be here! I arrived on New Year’s Eve to see the city alive with celebrations, spending my first day between the Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park and watching the spectacular fireworks from atop Primrose hill. It honestly amazes me how much there is to do here compared to Perth. In my first few days I have been able to see the London Eye, Parliament and several galleries with ease.

However I was most looking forward to( as well as a being bit nervous about)  starting my internship at the Centre For Policy Studies (CPS).  I was delightfully surprised at how young yet capable the staff were and I slotted in straight away.

I’ve always wanted to work in some area of Government Policy so I’ve been very happy with how my internship has been going. Each day my boss will be given a different task to write upon , with tasks for the day quickly changing depending on breaking news. As his intern, I’m tasked with researching evidence to back up the arguments that he makes and so far this has brought me to research everything from the Greek Debt crisis (did you know the ratio of workers to pensioners in Greece is 0.97?), education policy in Germany as well as giving me the space to pursue my own research policy on Australian taxation. I’ve already learnt so much about different topical economic issues and it’s only the first week!

Even the office room conversation has been interesting as my colleagues debate the merits of staying in/out of the European Union. It’s safe to say that the work life at the CPS as well as the day to day life of London is proving to be an incredibly fun and rewarding experience.

Bring on week 2 !