Arguably the defining context for the Coalition is The Deficit. I say arguably because I believe the sub context of Reducing the State will have a far the bigger impact in future years. Anyway I digress.
If The Deficit is the defining context how much do we know about it?
One of the ‘joys’ of politics is politicians taking complex issues and trying to distil them into simple emotionally based tag lines. Things like ‘Benefit Claimants are all scroungers’, ‘Every young person who wears a hoody is a thug’ you know the sort of thing I mean. For issues as complex as The Deficit you need to distil it to a concept that can be easily understood by the ignorant masses. Of course the one beloved of Coalition politicians is the good old family budget. You know.. If the family is in debt it has to tighten it’s belt etc.
So lets get away from the simple sound bite and compare The Deficit to The Family Budget.
There are two determinants to family debt problems:
- The size of the debt
- The income to support the debt
You get a debt problem if the ratio of the debt to income becomes unmanageable. The higher the ratio of debt to income the bigger the problem.
The average size of household debt in the UK is around £60,000, the average Gross Domestic Household Income (GDHI) is £30,000 (figures are rounded and sources are below).
The Deficit is £1,000,400 billion and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is £1,403,000 billion.
Therefore the debt ratio for the family is 200% of income. For the country it is 71.3%. So the average family debt problem is almost 3 times worse than The Deficit!
What is the average family’s response to this huge problem? Are they forcing their workshy children to dig ditches for a £1 an hour? Are they slashing their spending amid cries of ‘we have to reduce our debt right now before we are declared bankrupt like that nice Greek family down the road!’. Of course not. ( Incidentally if we reacted proportionally as families in the same way as the Coalition has to it’s debt, economic growth and with it the capitalist system would collapse.)
I am aware that at this point I could be accused of being a deficit denier. That is not my point. My point is twofold. Firstly to compare national macro economic policy to family finance is deliberately misleading the public. My second is that the Coalition are desperate to talk up The Deficit so that the public are blinded to the sub context of Reducing the State more effectively than Margaret Thatcher could ever have dreamed of.
<http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=277 UK Deficit and GDP
One of the constant refrains of the 9%ers (that’s the Lib Dems) is that their presence in the coalition is holding back the Conservatives from being even more evil. They are also at the same time, apparently, forcing the Tories to take on some of their top policies. But is their any evidence that this is the case?
I present exhibit A (don’t worry there are not going to be any others). An article from Lib Dem Voice.
In it the Lib Dems concede that they have had to compromise on the following:
- The speed of dealing with the deficit. Which means a regressive budget followed by a regressive spending review / budget. Slashing welfare payments, decimating housing benefits, hiking VAT to 20% amongst other attacks on the poor and working families.
- Accepting the ‘broad thrust of the Brown Report’ on University tuition fees. Which means that they have broken their promise to many voters particularly in Bristol West, slashed spending on University teaching by 30%, taken a huge stride to stop those from poorer families attending top universities by putting a £9K barrier in front of them.
- The ‘Green Lighting’ of Nuclear Power. Again betraying all those Green voters who opted for the Lib Dems because of their Green credentials
I think that most will admit that those are significant concessions that the rank and file 9%ers find quite difficult. So what have they got in return? Well in the category of policies that the 9%ers have imposed on the Tories which the Tories don’t like are:
- ‘A reformed House of Lords elected by PR. Although this was also a Tory manifesto promise it was not a first term priority. Use of proportional representation is also a LibDem win.
- No British Bill of Rights of the kind that might have stopped votes for prisoners.
- No repatriation of powers from the EU.
- Suspension of all major family policy initiatives including long-grassing of the introduction of a tax allowance for marriage.
- A delay to Trident renewal until after the next General Election.
- Greater use of community sentences, less use of prison.
- Higher rates of Capital Gains Tax.
- Yesterday’s referral of NewsCorp’s takeover of BSkyB to OfCom’
So picture it. You are married with two kids living in a 3 bed social housing house, you have been made unemployed from your low paid council job and struggling to find a new one. You are now faced with a rent rise to 80% of commercial rent, which is about a 100% increase and you will have 30% less in housing benefit. But at least you can go to sleep at night knowing that at least the 9%ers have given prisoners the vote.
Or perhaps you are bright post 16 student, who has just lost you EMA, who has been told by your parents that they can’t afford for you to go for one of the greatly reduced university places because they can’t afford it. At least you can be consoled by the fact that, thanks to the 9%ers, the decision on the renewal of Trident won’t be made until after the next election.
It makes me want to weep!
The recent tragic terrorist murders in Northern Ireland have rightly appalled and frightened all of us. It has however highlighted two things to me; how politics in Northern Ireland have changed and how the media can get it wrong.
One of the joys of being a political insider in Bristol (fancy name for councillor) is that you get to see how the system works. Or more to the point how it doesn’t work. Having spent 3 and a bit years in the system as a back bencher, chair of scrutiny and executive member I am convinced that the biggest problem with politics in the city is the electoral system (I predict that there will now be at least 20 comments saying ‘oh no its not its the politicians’ – proving that original thought is dead on Bristol’s blogasphere).
I will go even further and say that the electoral system as it stands has, and will, hold back Bristol from becoming the great city it should be.