The answer’s obvious: when in doubt, bullshit
I don’t know how many people picked up on Denis MacShane’s article over at the Daily Torygraph calling for massive cuts in spending. Not being a regular reader myself, I was not very impressed with his logic, which mixes a populist anti-tax crusade with other issues, such as government spending on consultants, with which it has very little to do.
Less impressive still was his call for President Sarkozy to send in the French navy to open the blockades of French ports, rather than pay money to the men and women whose lives le Président doesn’t mind destroying. How do people like MacShane manage to get elected to the safest Labour seats in the country? It’s like Ed Balls being an MP in Yorkshire, or Chris Bryant holding forth at Rhondda, despite having been an OUCA place holder.
How broke can one system be? And I don’t mean a pun on our impending bankruptcy, though the fact that Gordon Brown et al might have to shell out £24 million has me in kinks, believe me.
So, back to the point. Should Labour be cutting taxes? Absolutely – I have always believed and continue to believe that anyone earning below about £20,000 should not be paying income tax at all. If we’re going to have a proper system of graduated tax, however ‘reformist’ our revolutionary friends might consider such a move, let’s actually allow it to mean something.
When a fifth of the wage of a Tesco worker barely surviving on £13k is taken off them in tax, but Sir Terry Leahy can still get away with earning over £10 million alone, something isn’t working. That doesn’t even begin to deal with the number of tax loopholes and offshore accounting rules which Tesco are reportedly exploiting to squirrel away money from the tax man.
Don’t even get me started on a government that wants to raise the bar for inheritance tax, so that yet more people can grab a load of money they never earned. On the other hand, perhaps I’m biased because from the teacher’s salary I’ll be earning I’m unlikely to have £300,000 in cash or property to hand when I die unless something crazy happens with inflation.
MacShane, however, is not merely proposing that we cut taxes for the less well off and find the money elsewhere. No, in fact MacShane is proposing a radical cut in spending, likening it to the fiscal discipline necessarily shown by trade union leaders as their membership numbers ebb and flow. Which is all very well but a completely bogus analogy, as trade unions don’t provide material services on which the least well-off in society depend for subsistence.
Among other things, MacShane nostalgically recalls the days when Labour councillors were privileged to scrimp and save under Thatcher. Apparently those were the days, rather than all those other ‘tax-greedy’ Labour councillors of the 1980’s who wanted to, er, reduce the cost of the London Underground to average working people.
Unlike their tax-greedy comrades of the Left in London councils, the municipal socialists of Leeds and Manchester, of Birmingham and Salford created a new style of local government by making less money go farther and finding innovative partnerships with the private sector to begin the renaissance of the great cities of England.
Curious that; I wonder could any of that be the reason that Leeds has been lost to no overall control? Could it be the reason that Birmingham, a city which by rights shouldn’t have a Conservative within ten miles of it, is actually under Conservative control? Salford and Manchester are among the last remaining bastions of local government – and I seriously doubt that it’s because of public-private partnerships.
All of this is conflated in MacShane’s head with the piffling pomp of local officials such as mayors having their own car, or the ridiculously wasteful practice of retaining consultants. Which is a practice that absolutely should be cut – who can forget the several cases where consultants have advised privatisation only to buy up what was on offer and sell it on again or float it on the stock market a few months later, earning millions that should rightfully have belonged to the taxpayer?
Yet for all the populist talk of people knowing how to spend their money better than government can, I wonder what MacShane makes of the attempts to cut incapacity benefit rolls? Or what he makes of the opportunistic use of private funds to supplement state spending with little or nothing of benefit gained? I don’t hear him complaining about the public-private partnership that has wasted billions in the NHS, defence, IT and the less said about consultants and the Child Support Agency the better.
I doubt the confused Mr MacShane has thought that much about it; his general thesis is that income tax shouldn’t rise, but he forgets that income tax isn’t the only tax in the UK. He has forgotten that holding down public spending is not a virtue when services are being neglected.
He has certainly forgotten that if the government were to follow the ‘ruthless pruning’ of companies like Marks and Spencer, we may end up paying millions of people to sit around and do nothing. Again.
Perhaps I am not alone in suspecting the MP for Rotherham of indulgence in a combination of sour grapes syndrome with a touch of “giz a job Gordon”-itis. Fired from his ministerial job for a stupid comment in front of Labour students at Durham, I wonder are the following remarks more indicative of how the government operates or how MacShane has reconstructed in his own head the reasons for his fall from grace.
Labour prides itself on filling Tony Blair’s promise to bring NHS spending up to European levels. But as Hugh Bayley, MP for York and a former minister, says: “If you increase health expenditure without increasing the supply of health services you simply fuel NHS inflation.” Bayley had the fatal flaw of being a leading health economist before he became an MP and so did not last long as a minister. His kind of can-do delivery style never fitted in with the Paul Smith suits that pullulated in New Labour’s higher reaches.
Either way, with this mishmash of populist anti-tax rhetoric and denunciations of popular action against government spending cuts, the white elephant in the room are the millions of people to whom government spending is a boon. Not the consultants – hang them from a tree for all I care – the millions drawing benefits or tax allowances of one for or another, from whom we would be recouping money if we introduce the all-encompassing spending cuts a lot of the Torygraph readers would advocate.