Tag: social contract

It’s the Tories that want something for nothing: the democratic contract and government responsibility

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The Conservative defense of increasing economic inequality, the lionisation of Randian, Libertarian, selfish individualism and the proliferation of ideological justification narratives regarding the dismantling of the “Big (Welfare) State”, where the latter, in Orwellian fashion, is now being indicted for many of the very social and economic ills that the free market era has actually delivered has surely worn threadbare by now. 

It’s abundantly clear that it’s the Tories and the very wealthy that want something for nothing. Cameron’s mantra is “social responsibility, not state control equals Big Society.” Cameron, in his Hugo Young lecture (2009), claimed that the “Big Society demands mass engagement: a broad culture of responsibility, mutuality and obligation”.

But this isn’t about a transfer of political power or decision-making from government to the public: it’s a transfer of responsibility and duty only.

In true Orwellian spirit, Cameron went on to say: “The recent growth of the state has promoted not social solidarity, but selfishness and individualism.”  Only a conservative would claim poverty and social cohesion as their concern and passion, and then attack  the mechanism that until now has been used to alleviate them  – publicly funded state spending.

Democracy (based on the partnership between political and economic enfranchisement) happens when the concept of property encompasses access to “social goods” such as healthcare, education and public infrastructure as a right of citizenship. The idea of political representation becomes consolidated when access to such social goods is guaranteed by a legal process, as well as a political process.

The electoral franchise in countries which adopted a Lockean liberal constitutional  system, such as  Britain, had a property qualification attached to it. Universal suffrage coincided with a wider public access to social goods, giving rise to a new type of social contract: by giving up a portion of their property by way of taxation, the propertied class ensured the survival of capitalism, and the working class escaped the worst ravages of capitalism.

Access to social goods was a means of widening and legitimising the scope of democratic political representation.

However, whilst removing all of our public services, provisions, destroying our post-war settlement, the key features of which were accepted in principle by the main political parties at the time, namely: a mixed economy, a free public sector healthcare and education, a guaranteed (though minimal) state pension and social welfare provision, the government is removing social goods, nullifying the established social contract between state and individual, and is expecting that we each fend for ourselves.

I don’t remember any consent amongst the public to accept diminished living standards in return for Cameron’s proposal of national fiscal security (which he has consistently and spectacularly failed to deliver) and the maintenance of the “market-state”. Nor was there consent for authority, inequality and hierarchy, or an acceptance of being less than we can be and having less than we can have.

Our welfare provision (and I include our National Health Service, here), paid for by us, IS OUR MEANS OF BEING RESPONSIBLE AS A SOCIETY AND INDIVIDUALLY: it is a means of securing provision for ourselves if or when we need it. Our welfare provision is, and has been since its inception, each citizens’ responsibility, because we pay for it. It doesn’t belong to the government.

The consensus that the welfare state was the best basis for a healthy society was first rejected by Thatcher, who notoriously denied the very existence of society, and unashamedly espoused greed as the  “best social driver.”  Cameron, building on Thatcher’s previous groundwork, has effectively delivered an economic enclosure act, claiming OUR collective, public funds, turning that money into the private property right of the rich, in the same way the land enclosure act robbed the public of their commonly shared land, and enabled rich landowners use of their control of state processes to appropriate public land for their private benefit.

Yet despite this blatant theft: the massive transference of public funds to a few private accounts, the demands being made by the state on citizens have never been greater. All the Tories talk about are OUR obligations and individual responsibilities, whilst they claim they have NO responsibility for citizen well-being. But we have paid for state services and continue to do so via the tax and national insurance system.

In 2013 the Government spent approximately £93.5billion of our money on the private sector. This is half the £187bn government usually spends on goods and services each year. Recent growth in outsourcing of government services to private providers has been widely criticised for a lack of transparency, poor management of money and, in particular, excessive remuneration of top executives and pay inequality between employees. Extreme pay inequality and a succession of scandals in the largest government suppliers suggests that, in its present form, government outsourcing is a very poor use of tax payers’ money and not fit for purpose. This is verified by the Equality Trust’s research report: Subsidising Unfairness

It’s only the very wealthy that gain (enormously) from austerity, and they  manage to avoid  any socially responsible contribution by using government endorsed accounting systems and dodges to avoid paying taxes wherever possible. The estimated amount of taxes unpaid, thanks to evasion, avoidance, error and criminality, soared to £34 billion, according to HM Revenue and Customs. This equates to £1 in every £15 owed in taxes not being collected last year.

Furthermore, it is the poorest 10 percent of households that pay eight percent more of their income in all taxes than the richest – 43 percent compared to 35 percent, outlined in a report from the Equality Trust. The poorest pay more than four times as much of their income, in Cameron’s poll tax-styled council tax system, than the wealthiest top 10 precent.

The government’s “hardworking taxpayer” myth which is at the heart of the Tory ideologically driven austerity narrative, and divert, divide and poison strategy, creates an artificial dichotomy between benefit claimants and taxpayers. Cameron’s diversionary rhetoric has got nothing to do with responsibility and fairness: it’s simply about justifying policies that privilege a wealthy elite at the expense of the poor.

 Such us and them dichotomies  can be linked to the distinctions made between the “deserving” and  “undeserving” poor, going back over a hundred years or more, to the cruel and punitive Poor Law Reform Act. The Tories have purposefully created scapegoats: adversarial identities that are politically constructed according to notions of difference which simultaneously encourages a public comparison to, and rejection of, Others. This Othering narrative portrays benefit recipients as the enemy in a battle against fairness and responsibility.

And the public have bought into it, the Equality Trust thinktank highlights a gulf between perceptions of the tax system and its reality. A poll, conducted with Ipsos Mori, found that nearly seven in ten people believe that households in the highest 10% income group pay more of their income in tax than those in the lowest 10%.

Wealth concentration damages economies. It focuses activity within finance and other services geared towards only towards serving the super rich.Maintaining inequality requires penalising and further impoverishing the poor.

Reducing  wealth inequalities will require the introduction of wealth taxes, like the inheritance tax  we introduced a century ago. Reducing inequality requires a high top rate of income tax. This reduces income inequality not only by raising revenue, but by deterring the profit-driven greedy from asking for more money. When there is a tax rate of 60 percent on incomes above £200,000 a year, it makes little sense to pay employees much more than that.

But the wealthy tend to get so indignant when policy proposals from the opposition indicate that they will be required to actually contribute something to a society that they have taken so much more than others from. There’s been an outraged outcry, for example, regarding Labour’s Mansion tax proposals. These ignoble, self-serving Randians are happy to sit back and allow the poorest and most vulnerable to suffer and starve, whilst being subjected to the unfair, punitive bedroom tax, which contravened human rights: the poorest are bearing the terrible burden of austerity cuts whilst the wealthy continue to profit massively. Presumably, Cameron exempted the very rich from responsibility, duty and contributing  to society in any meaningful way.

Of course this is about restricting political engagement, the Conservatives have always sought to reduce it to a basic partnership between corporate interests and professional politicians. Cameron’s Conservatism rests on the unwitting rejection  of the social democratic consensus by the population which, paradoxically, need what they reject. Public consent is being manipulated to accommodate the idea that democracy is a relationship between rulers and governed, rather than it being about an elected government that reflects, represents and serves public needs. The population are being incrementally subordinated to a political system which is not conducive to the betterment of their lives, well-being or material conditions –  the Tories are imposing an imbalanced social contract comprised of citizen duties with no citizen rights; the acceptance of ever-lower living standards and increasing state authoritarianism.

The Conservative scapegoating narratives, which have blamed Labour, the poor and the unemployed for a recession caused by the private finance sector, and not the “big state” as claimed, have permitted the Coalition to pursue an ideological, destructive and grossly unfair economic strategy, which has generated only a bogus and isolated recovery largely based on government-fuelled asset bubbles in real estate and private finance, with stagnant productivity, plummeting wages, millions of people in precarious jobs, inflated living costs and utterly savage welfare cuts.

One obligation that all democratic states have, surely, is that of protecting citizens rights and freedoms. Those are most certainly being steadily diminished, and Cameron has been quite candid about scrapping our Human Rights Act, and withdrawing from the ECHR in the future.

See what I mean? It’s all take take take…

Danny Dorling says: “Gross economic inequality is as vile as racism, misogyny and hatred of the disabled; as damaging in effect; and as dependent on a small group of supporters who believe that just a few should have more and more and more, because they’re “worth it”.”

I believe that growing social inequality generates a political necessity for prejudices: they are entrenched vis-à-vis Social Darwinism in Tory ideology, fueled and perpetuated through justification narratives and amplified via the media.

I’ve said many times previously that never in this country have those who fight for democracy and social justice carried a greater burden or faced the possibility of bigger losses of human rights, human freedoms, human dignity and human welfare than they do right now.

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 Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant art work

The word “Tories” is an abbreviation of “tall stories”

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“The deficit reduction programme takes precedence over any of the other measures in this agreement”
 – stated in the Coalition Agreement.

For a government whose raison d’etre is deficit reduction, the coalition really isn’t very good at all.

Of course the truth is that this whole process of prolonged austerity is NOT about deficit-cutting. It’s just the cover for Tory ideology. It is actually about “shrinking the state” and squeezing the public sector until it becomes marginal, then none existent, in an entirely market-driven, competitively individualist society. The banker crisis-generated deficit has been a gift to the Tories in enabling them to launch the scuttlebutt that public expenditure has to be massively cut back, which they would never have been able to get away with without the deficit-reduction excuse in the first place.

And I am still seeing the “inherited debt” LIES that the Tories are still telling, despite official rebuke from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) chief Robert Chote. This is the same Tory-led government that lost our triple A Moody and Fitch credit rating, and that borrowed more in 3 years than Labour did in 13. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that the coalition had borrowed £430.072 billion in just 3 short years, whereas the last Labour government managed to borrow just £429.975 billion in 13 years, and unlike the  Tories, Labour invested most of what they borrowed in public services.

After continuously lying that the UK had the biggest debt in the world, George Osborne admitted to the Treasury Select Committee that he did not know the UK under Labour had the lowest debt in the G7. Also, confirmed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Those who have used cash terms (instead of percentages) have done so to scare, mislead and give less than half the story.

The much banded about 2010 deficit of “over 11%” is false. This is the Public Sector Net Borrowing (PSNB – total borrowings) and not the actual budget deficit which was -7.7%. (See OBR Economic and Fiscal Outlook March 2012  page 19, table 1.2.)

Secondly, in 1997 Labour inherited a deficit of 3.9% of GDP (not a balanced budget) and by 2008 it had fallen to 2.1% – a reduction of a near 50% – now that’s impressive. Hence, it’s implausible and ludicrous to claim there was “overspending.”

It’s common sense, in cash terms, that a millionaire’s debt would be greater than most people’s. Therefore, the UK would have a higher debt and deficit than most countries because we are the sixth largest economy. Therefore, its laughable to compare UK’s debt and deficit with Tuvalu’s who only have a GDP/Income of £24 million whilst, the UK’s income is £1.7 trillion.

In 1997, Labour inherited a debt of 42% of GDP. By the start of the global banking crises 2008 the debt had fallen to 35% –  almost a 22% reduction (page 6 ONS). Surprisingly, a debt of 42% was not seen as a major problem and yet at 35% you would think the sky was suddenly falling, to hear the Tories acting up.

The deficit was then exacerbated by the global banking crises after 2008. (See HM Treasury archives). The IMF have also concluded the UK experienced an increase in the deficit as result of a large loss in output/GDP caused by the global banking crisis and not even as result of the bank bailouts, fiscal stimulus and bringing forward of capital spending. It’s basic economics: when output falls the deficit increases.

The large loss in output occurred because the UK, like the US, have the biggest financial centres and as this was a global banking crisis we suffered the most, and not as a result of overspending prior to and after 2008 – as the International Money Fund (IMF) concur.

The UK national debt is the total amount of money the British government owes to the private sector and other purchasers of UK gilts. The national debt now stands at £1.5 TRILLION (and rising).

So a further saving of £3 Billion in benefits, as proposed by Osborne, will clear the debt in, say, a mere… 500 YEARS.

Once again, this exposes the nonsense of the “reducing the deficit” excuse as being a genuine motivation behind cutting the incomes of the poorest and the most vulnerable citizens in the UK.

Gosh. Tories in “telling lies” shocker. Here’s a  few more:

In October 2010, Cameron said : “But it’s fair that those with broader shoulders should bear a greater load.”

The prime sinister minister talked of “fairness” as he tried to dodge the criticism that the poorest would suffer from the second big announcement of that week: a cap on benefits paid to out-of-work households.

Cameron said his government would: “always look after the sick and the vulnerable”, but said that: “society will have to rethink its approach to fairness.” 

It hasn’t been “rethought” : it was the very first austerity cut.

He lied, because:

Cameron also said said : “Too many people thought: ‘I’ve paid my taxes, the state will look after everything.’ But citizenship isn’t a transaction – in which you put your taxes in and get your services out. It’s a relationship – you’re part of something bigger than yourself and it matters what you think and feel and do.”

Well actually, Cameron, your arrogance will be your greatest downfall, because we DO have a right in a so-called democracy to demand transparency and accountability from government, the state IS responsible for maintaining essential public services and provision, AND for upholding our human rights. Citizenship isn’t all about responsibility and giving to the government and an elite of millionaires – there IS something of a contract which we call “democracy”. 

Citizenship is a foundational and structural institution of democracy, insofar as it is both a legal status and a societal and political value. As a status, citizenship bestows a collection of rights and a set of responsibilities on individuals who are free and equal in rights.

In a democracy, citizenship is not a privilege that may be granted by the government at their discretion; it is a right.

Someone should remind Cameron that the term democracy comes from the Greek language and translates simply as “rule by the people”. The so-called “democracies” in classical antiquity (Athens and Rome) represent precursors of modern democracies. Like modern democracy, they were created as a reaction to a concentration and abuse of power by the rulers. Yet the theory of modern democracy was not formulated until the Age of Enlightment (17th/18th centuries), when philosophers defined the essential elements of democracy: separation of powers, basic civil rights / human rights, religious liberty and separation of church and state.

In order to earn the label democracy, a country needs to fulfill some basic requirements – and they need not only be written down in it’s constitution but must be kept up in everyday life by the government:

  • Guarantee of basic Human Rights to every individual person (including poor people and sick and disable people) vis-à-vis the state and its authorities as well as vis-à-vis any social groups (especially religious institutions) and vis-à-vis other persons.
  • Separation of Powers between the institutions of the state:
    Government [Executive Power],
    Parliament [Legislative Power] and
    Courts of Law [Judicative Power]
  • Freedom of opinion, speech, press and mass media
  • Religious liberty
  • General and equal right to vote (one person, one vote)
  • Good Governance (focus on public interest and the absence of corruption).

I think the Conservatives have spectacularly failed on meeting most of these criteria.

We also have an absolute democratic right to ask: what have you done with OUR money?

This was (allegedly) a liberal democracy before you took office, Cameron, not your “kingdom”.

Democracy isn’t something the government is elected to redefine and “manage”.

 

It’s worth noting that the word “Tory” was originally used as term of abuse. It derives from the Middle Irish word “tóraidhe” which means outlaw, robber or brigand. That explains Conservative policies, then. This Government is certainly robbing the poor to give  handouts to the rich.

Further reading

The Great Debt Lie and the Myth of the Structural Deficit

The mess we inherited” – some facts with which to fight the Tory Big Lies

Tory dogma and hypocrisy: the “big state”, bureaucracy, austerity and “freedom” State

A catalogue of official rebukes for Tory lies: Austerity, socio-economic entropy and being conservative with the truth

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone