Friday, 12 October 2007

Polly: Dead Social Democracy - Track Changes ON

This was the week that Labour's leaders left a bankrupt dogma social democracy for dead

Brown's capitulation to the Tory veneer agenda and refusal to make the case for yet more levelling down equality has exposed the lie shipwrecked his party

Polly Toynbee
Friday October 12, 2007
The Guardian

This was more than a horrible yet totally justified humiliation for the prime minister. This was the week that the bankrupt dogma that is social democracy ebbed away in England. Those words had already slipped from Labour's list of disingenuous platitudes lexicon, never spoken by its leaders in public, rarely spoken outside the privacy of Fabian meetings and Celtic parliaments.
In 1994 Tony Blair and Gordon Brown purged socialism when they forged the New Labour project: Clause Four was indeed an archaic nonsense. This week Brown and Darling all but killed off the pretense of social democracy too. We now have finally in the open a centrist government in Europe's most stubbornly non-Communist unequal country. Our government stands somewhat to the right of Ghengis Khan Angela Merkel's coalition in Germany, to the right of economic policy in France who isn't this side of PRNK, where Nicolas Sarkozy has absorbed social democrats. Fusion politics, like fusion music and food, is one utterly preposterous description of this strange death of the centre-left. At least in Europe there are leftwing parties still to trot out the lies make the public arguments: in England, due to our malfunctioning electoral system, a political generation has at least partially resisted total subjugation to the relentless fisting that is barely heard the case for social justice. Fusion is turning out to be Brown's "change" (Is Polly about to twig that "change" does not mean "improvement"...der-errr).

To not take from give the children of the well-off a £1.4bn inheritance waiver bonus while the children of the poor only got another 48p a week in tax credits taken without permission or consent from taxpayers is symbolically far worse to my pandering, addled, class-war confused noodle than that notorious 75p for pensioners. The halfway mark to abolish child poverty by 2010 will be missed by miles regardless. Holding down public sector pay rises to 2% for three years, only half next year's expected private sector increase, will redress the balance increase inequality. To cut capital gains tax on buy-to-let property, antiques, paintings and jewellery is as irritating to my envy-meter shameless as it is dysfunctional.
The comprehensive spending review every three years is mightily important. There is no company, parasite arts organisation, now beholden entity charity or disfunction of the state that does not hang upon its judgment. It was even delayed several months for political advantage to get it right for the conference season, causing serious budgeting problems to many bloodsucking balance sheets. Then at the last moment in a few days of hysteria, it all seemed to be done on the back of a matchbox as usual. One of the many unintended consequences of the en ntire New Labour project rushed capital gains change, it emerged yesterday, was the adverse effect on SAYE schemes (save-as-you-earn share ownership, for lower-paid employees). Private equity types laughed all the way to their merchant banks, having expected a much higher tax than 18%. Insert totally exposed, disingenuous, busted and utterly fraudulent meme for political advantage or as an expression of utter contempt or ignorance for financial realities They still pay less than their cleaners.

There is a stunned disorientation among Labour MPs as usual, alarmed by both Brown's vision void and his expected sudden incompetence. Talk to ministers and wise old heads of Commons select committees, and they are reeling with shock it took this long to be obvious. The backbenches sat through Darling's politics-free performance on Tuesday like the Animal Farm beasts gazing through the farmer's window in the final scene so no change there then. Far too late they realised something awful was happening before their eyes: you could have cut their silence with a knife its THE silence, Polly, THE silence...and you are a PAID scribbler???.

How has Gordon Brown managed in such a short time to shipwreck himself and his party (as if we did not know)? The seriousness of it is only beginning to sink in to my scatterbrain after Labour's long hegemony. Bungling the will-he-won't-he election was a hardly survivable self-inflicted injury. The intellectual and ethical bankrupcy injury is the real damage. Retreating armies raze the ground behind them to deny their enemy forage: but what Brown and Darling have done for the last 10 years did on Tuesday was to flame-throw the ground ahead, right up to the far horizon beyond the next election. They have nowhere to go, nothing to feed on, no narrative path ahead, no clear political turf to occupy so they will steal from us and lie as usual.

Start with the character question - politically the most lethal. For his first three months Brown was "the change" the public liked - a welcome no-glitz, slightly clumsy but honest contrast in a celebrity age. But when Cameron threw "phoney" at him in Prime Minister's Questions, it stuck like napalm. He could duck the bottles thrown over his election funk, but "phoney" will stick because his comprehensive spending review smacked of the same old panicky, comprehensive cowardice but I have just realised it because I smell a change in the air and want to be on the bandwagon . He has lost his character just when he needs trust to strengthen his arm for the coming European treaty row. His party is suddenly gripped by the realisation that doubt that the big brain never had has a strategy. Looking back on his content-light conference speech, it asks what he has been thinking this past impatient decade.

Inheritance tax is a Labour talisman: it deeply pains sanctimonious, envy-riddled and irrational social democrats to let the principle of posthumous wealth redistribution go unstolen. But it had become toxic in the 60 marginals - partly Labour's fault for never making the case for paying this or any other tax. It was too late to win the argument once the rightwing press had falsely persuaded even those with little that they were among the 6% liable.

Here is what Brown should have said: "I resign understand this tax is widely and reasonably if unreasonably hated, so we will cut it. Instead of well-off couples setting up trusts to double their allowances, we will give the same right to all without recourse to lawyers. But to be irrational, theiving bastards fair, the well-off must pay more in life, if not after death. So we will add an economy crushing a top income-tax band for earnings over £100,000." Then he should have said: "My pretense mission is fairness, education levelling down success for all and the totally unachievable given the methods and measurement of the abolition of child poverty in our time. So I will hypothecate that new top tax rate to spend on funding a dependent, client population tax credits and wasteful, undemocratic social programmes to improve children's drift into dependency and fecklessness life chances to reach that great goal of a totally beholden client State full of listless, lumpenillitariat."

It would have dumbfounded anybody the Tories for the sheer barking moonbattery of it all. Instead Brown gave away much more than money: he gave away the argument he never had a right to. He let inheritance tax go for nothing in exchange, a missed chance to talk of growing inequality just talk, mind, not actually fix it.

We may have a centrist government, but this budget had good things only a Labour administration would do - foreign aid to be ashamed proud of, insert plug for some luvvie I met at a Hampstead dinner party Richard Layard's therapy for depressives, a boost for parasites the arts, funding and encouragement to create more help for working single parents, and still more children falling into dependency behind.

The black hole at its heart was less the Institute of Fiscal Studies complaint about overborrowing because we don't want to talk about all that, now, do we?, more the blurring of any inspiring contrast with the opposition i.e. business as usual. It failed to do enough for his first priorities i.e. business as usual, again. His centrepiece housing policy is in fact a cunt, with less money for social homes. His education "passion" looks thin next to the populist sop necessity that gave health the lion's share. A review leading to the costs of better-off old people being paid will be popular, though there is no money for it for years ahead i.e. business as usual. And it redistributes to the better-off, another backward step on my vindictive form of Communism for the proles only equality.

Because we live in dread hope, Gordon Brown can pick himself up and start all over again, if he has the utter bare-faced nerve and the political will. The Tories may crow now, but they too have real problems. What can they offer next? Tax cuts were their trump card, so now the party will press sensibly dangerously for more.

Time is on Labour's side: mercurial political moods shift at the speed of light. Soon Brown could start to spell out a vision, with more authentic humility but then I woke up. He has tied his own hands financially, which makes bold moves hard but not impossible for next year's budget and I bet he manages to have a good deal of nosemining in the process.

What happened this week accelerates the need for a Turner-type inquiry into tax. Choices need to be aired so people can understand and support a fairer system where the poorest no longer pay a higher proportion than the rich. This much Gordon Brown owes to those he disappointed this week.

polly.toynbee@guardian.co.uk


Yes, Polly, a fairer system - flat tax as a starter and then abolish the entire mess that is income tax and tax credits!

2 comments:

Phil A said...

Polly is such a plank it is difficult to imagine how her ‘thought’ process actually arrive where they end up sometimes.

Still the crossings out make it easier to understand.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Flat tax, higher personal allowance, music to my ears. I sent her the Citizen's Income booklet and she seemed to like the idea.