A Twitter Poll site wrote this morning: ‘So Deutsche Bank are with the Tories? It’s slipping away Labour’. The election is being conducted as if business backing policy decides all. Kevin Williamson on the narrowing of the political agenda:
As the UK general election approaches you’d be excused for thinking there is only one issue at stake, namely: How deep should the next government cut public spending?
The three main political parties are all agreed that big cuts need to be made in the public sector. They differ only in how much and where. The mainstream media purr in agreement.
Such potentially damaging cuts in public services are being sold to us as a necessary evil in order to cut a huge national debt that has swollen to around £850 billion (or 60% of GDP). This could reach around 100% of GDP by as early as 2012. At some point this will have to be significantly reduced or a currency crisis (or worse) will be around the next corner.
So there is no alternative to painful cuts in the public sector, right? If the county is to get out of debt? Well, not quite. As Noam Chomsky might say, what has developed around the idea of public sector cuts is a manufactured consensus. It’s a dishonest manufactured consensus too since all the main political parties and the media know fine well that there are political alternatives.For instance, the cost of renewing and maintaining the Trident nuclear defence system has been estimated to be around £100 billion. Decommissioning Trident could reduce the national debt by around ten per cent. The three main political parties know this. But they also know that eliminating the UK’s nuclear arsenal would jeopardise the UK’s seat on the UN Security Council. The British state’s ongoing conceit that it is a global power-broker comes at a heavy price.
Then there’s the question of the banks and the financial sector. You know, the deregulated fast buck merchants who dropped us in the manure. If any sector of the economy deserves a hefty windfall tax imposed on their profits it’s the banks, the financial sector, and their allies in the City of London. The financial sector could be stripped off its relative lax tax burden and be made to take full responsibility for their share of the national debt.
Windfall taxes aren’t popular among large corporations. An army of corporate lobbyists work behind the scenes to make sure the three main political parties steer clear of any form of corporate windfall taxes. Yet corporate windfall taxes are a legitimate political strategy to raise funds for the government. Plugging the hole in public finances caused by corporate tax evasion and creative accounting could be made a top priority. But since the media is controlled, by and large, by massive corporations – and corporate tax dodgers like Rupert Murdoch – then it should come as little surprise that media support (or even fair coverage) for corporate windfall taxes is about as likely as Sir Alex Ferguson getting the keys to the city of Liverpool.
Then there’s the question of personal taxation. If personal taxation was increased across the board then there is a straightforward alternative to public sector cuts. You get what you pay for. As far as the relative burden of taxation goes, that too could be significantly altered. Bear in mind that in 1990 – after eleven years of Margaret Thatcher’s government of the rich by the rich – the top rate of taxation was 63 per cent. That seems positively socialistic compared to New Labour’s lax tax regime which allows the very rich in our society to accumulate even greater wealth.
Then there is the beautiful (but little discussed) alternative of undertaking a massive Keynsian-financed programme of public expenditure to construct, say, millions of good quality affordable public housing. Enough to end the housing crisis and make every person in the country secure under an affordable roof. If the bar was set high enough for such an ambitious programme, and its parameters were made very specific in terms of employment and training, as well as involving local communities in the planning, it could not only help regenerate broken communities; it could not only massively reduce unemployment – directly and indirectly – and the massive financial cost of unemployment to the tax payers; but could save billions every year in housing benefit payments to private landlords.
I’m not arguing (here) in favour of all or any of these measures. My point is that the three main political parties – aided and abetted by the corporate media (and their shallow pool of political commentators) – are trying to pull the wool over the eyes of Joe Public. It is a political fraud played out on a national scale but made invisible by media complicity.
But no matter what the manufactured consensus tries to imply there are alternatives to damaging cuts in the public sector. And some of those alternatives may be much more popular with Joe Public than the three main parties would like to let on.