Yesterday the British Chancellor of the Exchequer presented the governments Budget for 2013. The details were not announced in parliament until the afternoon but the mainstream media covered the story all day. Potential changes to taxation and spending had been mentioned in news bulletins from early in the week as is now common practice on these occasions. Contentious changes in government policy can lose politicians votes so they like to leak their ideas to the media to judge public reaction. If the media can whip up a frenzy of concern and protest amongst potential voters then the idea may be amended or quietly dropped. This can be less embarrassing than dropping a policy after it has been introduced, although this seems to happen with increasing regularity. Politicians are looking out for themselves rather than those they are paid to represent.
I read the budget headlines yesterday evening, but will study what has been announced more closely in a few days time when the various accountancy firms have managed to sift through the small print. Many of the changes are not openly announced but are buried beneath a complicated layer of obfuscating legal speak. By the time the paperwork has been digested and the impact analysed by those who can understand these things the media interest will have moved on. Politicians rely on this to push through economic policies that will not be well received. Just as they wait for the big, bad news days to announce policy changes that could result in a storm of protest, so they will try to introduce potentially vote losing economic changes in the Budget by hiding them away and hoping that nobody has time to understand the true impact until general interest has waned. Unfortunately a lot of people have a short attention span or no interest in the detail of complicated economic policy. They will welcome the penny off the pint of beer and the cancellation of the proposed increase in fuel duty and not notice the monetary losses they will incur that are difficult to understand and that have not made the headlines.
I have friends of all political persuasions, from Marxist socialists through to liberal capitalists and many views and variations in between. All are intelligent, well educated, informed, eloquent and, just sometimes, appear to be deluded and hypocritical in their beliefs. I use the word beliefs deliberately. In discussions, the most ardent political supporters come across as fervently as religious believers. I am absolutely in favour of an individual’s right to believe what they want so long as they do not try to force their views on me. I am happy to listen to their arguments as I can learn from these, but I do not appreciate being put down or held in contempt for not agreeing. I may not fully understand the implications of all the issues (do they?) but I am not a fool.
My own political views may appear to be somewhat ambivalent. I try to gain an understanding of all sides of an argument and will then tend to swing one way on some issues but not others. It makes it difficult for me to support any political party. My biggest problem with modern politics is finding a politician, any politician, that I could trust. When I see how they operate I am in danger of screaming, apoplectic with rage. Few things make me feel so angry and impotent as the way in which we are supposedly represented in the cradle of democracy. I have yet to become so despairing that I have decided not to exercise my right to vote, but the futility of the exercise under the current system has brought me close.
Of course, I recognise that it is unlikely that any of us will be able to find someone who is willing to be a politician, who will represent our views on every issue and who is standing in our constituency and therefore eligible to benefit from our vote. When the big parties differed markedly in their policies I could round up the issues that mattered to me and vote for the closest match. These days they all seem as bad as each other. The dishonesty and denial that the politicians get away with is breathtaking. Do people notice? Don’t they care?
In many ways I can understand why so many people simply shrug their shoulders and switch on the TV; there seems to be little that can be done by any individual. There are still some who will shout loudly for their own pet causes, but central government is not addressing the big issues. If money is to be found for public sector pensions; for NHS funding; for the arts, then less must be spent elsewhere. No politicians are willing to tackle this in a meaningful and sustainable way because it is seen as vote losing. Better to bumble along and hope that the system doesn’t implode under their leadership. Let’s blame everyone else, especially Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair, and ignore the fact that today’s batch are probably causing at least as much damage to the long term good of the country. Stop looking back and blaming others people! By all means learn from history, but we need to look at where we are now and move forward.
And no, I have no answers; no quick fixes; no easy solutions. What I want to see though is leadership amongst our leaders, honesty in what they are doing and courage to push difficult, vote losing policies through for the good of the country rather than for their mates from school. There are some sound economic ideas to explore (e.g. Universal Credit and a much simplified tax system) that may not be popular but would support the needy and save money. I am well aware that even the expert economists do not agree on the best way forward, but borrowing more and repeated QE is not sustainable.
I will only mention Europe in passing. I love Europe. I love its peoples, its culture, its food, its architecture, its common heritage, its cultural diversity, its trains, its art, music and drama, its literature and poetry, its history and the richness of its land. It’s just the EU that I loathe. If I go any further on that then it might be me that implodes. Pouring money down a drain comes to mind but I know that there are many who would strongly disagree.
Soundbite manifestos, policy decisions backed up by dodgy statistics, rebound legislation and trial by media are all symptoms of the tumours growing in British politics. I feel that I am in danger of becoming DJ Steve Wright’s Mr Angry (although how do you slam a modern phone down?). It would be so easy to give up and disengage as too many have done already. If those who are willing to think through the implications of our situation give up hope of changing things for the better then the politicians gain total freedom to strip the assets of the country, and we risk losing not only our freedom, but also our integrity.