Saturday, 2 May 2015

Response To A Tory Canvasser

I live in the constituency of arch euroseptic Tory, Bill Cash. So, far, with five days to go to the election, I have not seen any canvassers for any parties. That is probably because in the small village where I live, a vote for the Tories is taken for granted, though the local feudal squire has some huge UKIP boards erected in his fields. When I say feudal, I mean feudal. The village pub, like the agricultural cottages on the periphery of the village bear his family name and coat arms. It is a village where the local squire has a covenant over all the property, and is still able to have a say over any development or modifications to it. But, in the absence of anyone actually canvassing my opinion, I was considering, the other day, if I were not a committed Marxist, but just a typical resident, how I might respond if the Tories came knocking. This is what I thought I might say.

Why on Earth should I vote for you? We never see or hear from you from one General Election to another, and then only in the form of literature sent in the post. You don't even seem to have enough members willing to deliver your literature personally. Moreover, fortunately, I am not a poor person like one of the million people now reliant on food banks, but even for someone in a fairly comfortable position, like myself, your actions over the last five years have been disastrous. What is worse, the consequences of the eighteen years of Tory government, between 1979 and 1997 were even more disastrous.

In 1979, when Maggie Thatcher became Prime Minister, the country was in the very fortunate position of benefiting from huge North Sea oil and gas revenues. Across the globe, countries with such reserves, began to set aside some of the tax revenues they obtained from them to build up huge sovereign wealth funds, so that they could balance out periods of low economic growth, and have resources to be able to sustain the public finances. Norway, for example, is a tiny country, with a population smaller than London. Yet, the money that Norway has set aside from its oil revenues means that it accounts for a sizeable chunk of ownership of global financial assets, from which it can draw additional revenue in years to come.

By contrast, Thatcher used the oil and gas to finance an ideological war against her own people, who she described as “the enemy within”. Before she came to office, she and some of her top advisers, such as Sir John Hoskyns, and Nicholas Ridley had drawn up a strategy known as the Ridley Plan, to take on and break the trades unions. It involved provoking confrontations with one union after another, starting with some of the weaker unions, and moving up to a confrontation with the miners. Other advisers such as Friedrich von Hayek, and Sir Keith Joseph, also advised imposing controls over the money supply, and cuts in government spending.

Rather than using the oil and gas revenues in a positive way, therefore, to facilitate investment in British industry, in the retraining and reskilling of British workers the oil and gas revenues were used to finance a huge rise in unemployment. It was used wastefully in the “dash for gas”, to undermine the British coal industry, which supplied fuel to the power generators, so as to undermine the miners. During the miners strike itself, damage was done to the generators by using oil as fuel rather than coal, without undertaking the necessary conversions. The same process accelerated the process of large sections of British industry moving abroad. As far as real British industry was concerned, rather than a few very rich shareholders, the real “enemy within” was Thatcher's government.

At the time, I had just qualified as a teacher and was working as a college lecturer. Thatcher's actions had two effects on me at that time. Firstly, many of the young workers I taught as apprentices, simply disappeared out of the system, because Thatcher ended such training and apprenticeships. I taught the last intake of coal board apprentices sent to the college. Secondly, the large scale cuts in public spending that Thatcher introduced resulted in dozens of schools across the country being closed down, and thousands of teachers being made redundant. As a newly qualified teacher, it made it virtually impossible to obtain a permanent position, which left thousands of us working on zero hours contracts, or casual contracts where the number of hours work diminished week by week, as the term progressed, and classes got merged.

That was just my personal experience of the rise in mass unemployment, to 1930's levels that Thatcher's policies brought about in the early 1980's, which led to the “People's March For Jobs”. The other thing that Thatcher did during that time that affected thousands of even moderately comfortable people like me, was that having encouraged this level of mass unemployment, she adopted the monetary policies of Milton Friedman, as a means of pumping up the money supply, and promoting an increase in prices and profits, at the expense of wages. She coupled that in the late 1980's with the so called “Big Bang” in the city, which completely deregulated credit and financial services.

The effect of that was to cause the massive hyper inflation of property prices, and stock market prices from which we have suffered ever since. It caused the repeated property and stock market bubbles that blew up and then burst in the 1980's, 90's, and through into the 2000's. Because each time the bubble burst, after 1987, more money was pumped into circulation, to reflate it, the bubbles have got ever bigger, so that although the consequence was that the financial bubble that burst in 2008, was the biggest financial crash in history, it is only the biggest so far. Because the bubbles were simply reflated to even bigger proportions than they were in the previous decades, they will inevitably burst again in the very near future, and that will mean the next financial crash will be much, much bigger than than that in 2008.

Tony Blair's government can be held responsible for continuing that policy that Thatcher and Major had pursued in the previous 18 years, but by the time he came to office, in 1997, his hands were already largely tied by the financial infrastructure that Thatcher had put in place, by the fact that the economy was already massively dependent upon financial services, and consumption based upon huge amounts of private debt, and by the fact that Thatcher's policies had de-industrialised the economy. What is more, although Blair could be held responsible for not reversing that situation, the Tory Party wanted to go further still. They wanted even less regulation of the banks and financial institutions.

Remember that in 2009, Gordon Brown was seen across the globe as being the man who had essentially saved the world economy.  It was his measures that were seen as being the ones that other governments followed to prevent the financial crash from continuing.  At the end of 2009, it looked like Brown would win the election he was about to call, and he was put off doing so not by promises of austerity from the Tories, but because of the promise of tax giveaways by them, in the form of a huge Inheritance Tax giveaway from George Osborne!!!

The consequence of Thatcher's policies for me personally again, reflect the consequences of that economic policy on the country. In less than three years after we got married, in the mid 1970's, despite me and my wife being both young, and on low earnings (I was earning £25 a week, and my wife even less), we saved up enough money to buy our first house for cash. Okay, we were very determined and did without many of the things that other people, even at that time, would have found essential. We got rid of our car, and walked everywhere; we had no TV, and certainly no phone let alone mobile phone; we took no holidays; we very rarely went out for entertainment.

We bought our first house for just over £5,000. But, a decade later, in 1988 when we came to move from that house, the consequence of Thatcher's policy of money printing and debt, during the latter part of the 1980's was that the house we wanted to buy had gone up in price to £32,000! Okay, the house we bought originally for £5,000, now sold for £22,000, but the increase in prices meant that the gap between the two had grown massively. If we had bought the second house at the time we bought the first, it would have cost us only £7,500, meaning only £2,500 in difference, now the bubbling up of house prices had increased that difference four fold, to £10,000.

Worse, was to come, in the following year house prices more or less doubled, before the inevitable crash caused them to drop by 40% over night. Tens of thousands of people who had been encouraged by Thatcher to buy houses, including thousands who were persuaded to buy their council houses, found they could not pay the mortgages, as interest rates rose, and they were evicted from their houses. It meant that the chances of my children being able to do what I had done, and save up to buy a house for cash, as a secure start in life, had become impossible.

But, it also meant that thousands of people like me had no prospect now either of accumulating enough money to move up from our existing houses, to the kind of better house that would have been possible back in the 1960's, or 1970's. The price of our existing houses rose astronomically, but the price of the better houses we wanted to move up to, even if they rose by the same proportion, rose in absolute terms by a much bigger amount, sending them out of reach, without going into ever more debt.

Blair may have continued the policy, but the economic model and financial regulation that caused the bubbles were created by Thatcher, and what is more, in the last five years your government has intensified that process. The four fold increase in house prices you promoted in the 1980's, has been followed by a five fold increase in the 90's, and after.

You have encouraged the blowing up of the property bubble that must inevitably burst with dire consequences, with your Help To Buy scheme; you have encouraged a culture of private debt, which is now more than double public debt,  for example, by encouraging young people to take on massive levels of student debt, which will hang around their necks like an albatross for the rest of their lives; you have given incentives and encouragement to Buy To Let landlords and so on. Another consequence of all that is that, with house prices having gone into outer space, young people, unable to save enough for even a deposit on such expensive houses, and no council houses for them to rent, the number of people needing ever increasing amounts of Housing Benefit has continued to soar under your government.

Who is it that pays this Housing Benefit? It is ordinary workers like me, out of our taxes. Its not that I begrudge it to the young people, and others who need somewhere to live, after all, my own kids will want somewhere of their own to live, at some point, but I do begrudge paying those taxes so that the money can be paid out of Housing Benefit, to landlords, who charge these inflated rents, and who have done nothing to earn the money they obtain, other than to have benefited, without working, from the huge rise in property prices that your government, and Thatcher's government before it brought about.

Gordon Brown may have been in office at the time that the 2008 financial crash happened, but the underlying causes of that crash were created by Thatcher and Major during the 1980's and 90's. But, let's turn more specifically to what your government has done in the last five years. When you took office in 2010, the economy was growing quite strongly. In the last quarter for which Labour was responsible, the second quarter of 2010, the economy grew at 1%, the equivalent of 4% p.a. growth. Had the economy continued on that trajectory, the problem of the deficit would quickly have been resolved. Rising economic activity would have reduced the level of benefits paid out, and increased the amount of tax income taken in.

But, even before you took office, you had been talking down the economy, even ridiculously frightening people with your claims that the UK economy was in as dire a state as Greece, as a result of the deficit, which it clearly wasn't. Those comments were in stark contrast to the position you had adopted only months before, when you had been promising to match all of Labour's spending commitments pound for pound. It was in stark contrast to the position your Liberal allies continued to advance even after the election, when they rightly argued that any measures to reduce government spending before the recovery had properly taken hold, would be disastrous, and choke off the recovery.

They were right, but they abandoned those ideas, just as they abandoned their opposition to Tuition Fees, in return for government jobs for themselves, and now try to lie about the positions they held back then. The Liberals are even bigger liars than are the Tories. The consequence was that the strong growth in the economy that you inherited was choked off, and you sent the economy back into recessions and stagnation. The only reason that the double and triple dip recessions you created have now been turned into just periods of very slow growth, is a statistical fluke caused by the rebasing of the calculations of the economy, so as to take into consideration earnings from things such as prostitution and drug dealing. It says a lot about the kind of economy you have created during that five years.

If you created uncertainty and undermined confidence in the economy due to your propaganda driven purely on the basis of electoral advantage, you have created even more uncertainty with your policies over Europe, of which your candidate Mr. Cash is a prime example. Let me use my own experience as an example. In the United States, people of my age, as they come to retire, often move from the cold northern states to somewhere like Florida. It makes sense for them and for the US economy. The warmer climes of Florida help people to live out their remaining years in better health. Having contributed to the economy of the northern states, by their productive activity, in their youth and middle age, they now contribute to the economy of Florida, by spending their retirement savings. What is more, because they enjoy better health for longer, they save the state money in payments of Medicare and so on.

It is precisely the kind of thing that a single market in Europe should be able to do also. In past decades, indeed, many British people have done something similar retiring to France, Spain and Portugal and so on. They save the NHS money, that it would have had to pay out as they suffered, increasing ill-health in their later years. At the same time, they assist the economy of France, Spain and so on, by spending their pensions in those countries. A flow of young people from those economies into Britain, where they can contribute as productive workers, makes it a win-win situation.

But, for the last five years, you have done all you can to undermine that possibility. There are two and a half million British people living in other EU countries. There are many who are retired people, who have moved there, and many more who have bought property in those countries, ready to retire there in the next few years. But, you have undermined all confidence in that possibility, by your calls to withdraw from the EU. Hundreds of thousands of British pensioners who have retired to warmer climes are now in the situation of not knowing whether in a couple of year's time, everything they have worked for will be undermined. They currently get their pension paid, as though they lived in Britain, but if Britain leaves the EU, they will be placed in exactly the same situation as if they lived in Australia, or the United States, where their pension would be frozen, and rapidly eroded by inflation.

Already the policies you have pursued, like those pursued by Thatcher in the 1980's and 90's, have made our pensions worth much, much less and reduced the value of annuities and savings to near zero, because of negligible rates of interest designed to get people to spend and go into debt, rather than to save.

Already your policies have removed some of the bilateral agreements that facilitate such movement. For example, you have made it impossible for people suffering from health problems to obtain EHA and so on, if they are not living in Britain. If there is to be a single market, then it requires a level playing field for everyone across Europe, including the confidence that if you move from one country to another, whether to work, or simply to retire, that you will enjoy the same rights and benefits. It requires more Europe rather than the less Europe, and narrow minded nationalism that the Tories have promoted.

In a world, where the global economy is dominated by huge economies like that of China, the United States, and the EU, and where other economies are forging similar structures in Asia, and Africa, the Tories proposals, driven by the extreme nationalism of UKIP, seem bizarre. It seems to be driven by a kind of feudal, colonial reminiscence of past glory and Britain's role in the world, rather than a clear headed appraisal of current global realities, and Britain's place in the world. I am not young, but your attitudes seem to be driven by a section of the population still operating on more or less Edwardian values. I will not be voting for you, because I prefer to look forward, not back.

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