Tuesday, March 08, 2011


Monbiot's Alternative Prospectus for the Left

George Monbiot anticipated the 26th March protest rally in London recently by bemoaning the lack of a coherent and viable set of alternative aims by the protesters. He aimed to help by suggesting a series of objectives which he hoped would set the ball rolling. I agree with some of them- not others but thought it an idea to record them on the blog.

1. Change the balance between cuts and taxes- currently 3-1; our regressive national insurance needs to be recalibrated:

On earnings of up to £844 a week, you currently pay 11% national insurance. On earnings beyond that point, you pay 1%. We should raise the national insurance rate for higher earnings from 1% to 15%. This would help to address a wider injustice: the poorest 10% of Britain's households pay proportionately more tax (direct and indirect) than the richest 10%.

2. Close the tax gap-only the very rich can afford the sharp accountants who minimize their liability.

The tax gap amounts to between £40bn and £120bn a year. Not all this money can be reclaimed. We need a national target to claw back £25bn a year. Staffing levels at HM Revenue and Customs should be raised accordingly.

3. A Robin Hood tax-this financial transaction tax would be easy to collect and would fall upon the those most able to afford it.

A tax of 0.005% on financial transactions could raise a net £13bn a year; a tax of 0.01%, £25bn.

4 Green Taxes- by 2020 levies on damage to the environment should amount to 20% of the tax take with commensurate reductions in taxation upon the poorest.

5. End tax exemption for private schools:

The tax exemption for private schools must end. This costs us £100m a year – to grant unfair advantages to the children of the rich.

6. Transfer national debt to the very rich:

This could be done through a one-off tax averaging 20% on total assets worth more than £1m. It would be graduated, so that the richest people are charged at a higher rate than mere seven-figure millionaires. And it wouldn't have to be paid immediately: the asset-holders could choose to pay only the interest on the debt until they died, whereupon the capital would go to the state. This ensures, as the government has promised, that "the broadest shoulders should carry the greatest burden"

7. Reduce the Gini coefficent- the internationally recognised index of inequality- by 0.5 a year.

To this end it should raise the minimum wage by inflation plus 5% each year until it reaches the level identified by the Living Wage campaign. We also need an official high pay commission, whose purpose is to identify – as a multiple of the living wage – the maximum remuneration anyone in the UK should receive.

8.Scrap defence projects:

the Trident weapons system; aircraft carriers; Eurofighter jets. The Barrow shipyard, where new nuclear submarines were to be built, should be redeployed to produce offshore renewables: wind, wave and tide turbines. The money saved should be spent on a new public housing programme.

Radical ? Unrealistic? Maybe all are or maybe some more than others. But as a rough draft of an alternative left-wing agenda, it's a start and would no doubt incense those right-wing ideologues who, to be fair, at least have a clearer current idea of where they want to go than those on the Labour/Greenleft.

I find George Monbiot hard to take seriously. His well-honed technique is to proposes things that are never likely to happen and thus never going to be put to any real test.

Fantasy land stuff isn't very helpful to those interested in real politics or to those who've come to understand how limited the powers of governments actually are.

Writing such as his is likely to encourage radicals to waste their votes on protest parties "to send a message" (but what message and to whom? - it's difficult to be unambiguous when you're only allowed an X!) and thus help the baddies retain power.

For example, does he really believe that HMR&C hasn't tried to "close the tax gap"? Or that it would be easy to levy "a one-off tax averaging 20% on total assets worth more than £1m"? Who is going to value all these assets?

Can he point to any developed country where such measures have been successful? If not, are they remotely likely to succeed in Britain?

Has he ever tried to get elected in a country with a press like ours on a defence-slashing manifesto?

Also it's wearisome being lectured by people with inherited wealth about the evils of wealth accumulation. It must be similar for people in forested countries when we, whose forests were cleared thousands of years ago, tell them not to chop theirs down. Like Monbiot we benefit from the efforts of our forefathers but seek to prevent others acting as they did.

Sorry - this is too long for a comment....
Surely no. 9 should be 'Make pigs fly, give us all some entertainment?'

To start with three obvious flaws -

1) A Robin Hood tax would probably not end up falling on the rich - they would make transactions take place on computers in the Cayman Islands. Meanwhile, the rest of us would be stung for using credit cards and cheques.

2) Green taxes are again a great idea. However, they are completely meaningless unless there are alternatives to oil/coal/petrol put forward. The fact that we don't have any at present is worrying, but rather than talk about taxes, wouldn't massive investment in non-fossil fuel energies be more productive - particularly, a series of tidal lagoons (he may offer it, in fairness he usually does, I'm just going on what you say).

3) Defence projects. Yes, love the ideas. Alas, thanks to Labour they are not workable - or does he not realize that it would be more expensive to cancel these projects than to complete them, so money would be lost, not saved? The carriers are the grossest example. Horrendously late, appallingly over budget, completely useless as we cannot afford aircraft for them - and yet it costs £4.5 billion to build them, £4.9 billion to cancel them. If I were cynic I would wonder if that's because they are being partly built in Dunfermline - and we all know who lives there and therefore had a vested interest in making sure these great white elephants were built. Oh, hold on, I am a cynic.

Yes, the left lacks direction. However, if it constantly bangs on about taxes, it might well end up being seen as defined by what it's against, rather than what it's for. I don't need to tell you how disastrous that can be - just look at the Tories, who became known as the anti-immigration, anti-spending party. Nobody knew what positive things they might do - including themselves. Anger on its own is not a vote winner.

What we need to know is what Labour would do differently, how it would try to reform public services so they serve the public (which the NHS, for starters, certainly doesn’t – at least, not round here) and how they would get the economy back on track by promoting enterprise and making it feasible to start or expand businesses. They have a poor track record in all this – and I think some hard work on that would be a better way to start than the prospectus outlined here.
1. The balance between spending increases and tax cuts was never so talked about on the way into this mess. Generally speaking, Labour squandered our increasing GDP on spending increases. Slightly contradictory to expect a bail-out for dependents on the way down.

2. I don't completely disagree with this. I believe in low taxes, but it is hard to argue that the rich should be able to pay to find loopholes. The law should be tightened. The state should by and large leave people alone, but where it acts it should act strongly.

3. Fairytale stuff, the tax would simply be passed on to the end user (banking services would adjust by exactly the amount of the tax...or with our banking sector, by more!). Bill Nighy is an excellent actor and he should stick to that.

4. Environmental taxes are all well and good (and we have quite a few already), but the proceeds should be spent on discouraging certain kinds of behaviour, and enabling other more benefitial types of behaviour. Most people know that fuel duty is just used to balance the books, since there is no practical alternative to using the car.

5. No. The schools provide parents with choice and opportunity and these are things we should not tax.

6. No. The debt was accumulated by the state. Why should we expect the rich to pay their share if they are obviously discriminated against?

7. No. Inequality of outcome is a good thing, and the natural consequence of equality of opportunity. If we disincentivise work and intelligence (more than we do at present), and incentivise sloth and stupidity (more than we do at present) then our national product will be less than it is now.

8. Failing to defend ourselves in a dangerous world is a classic left-wing tactic. Thank God these people have never been in a position to disarm us at a time of great national danger.

Intellectually quite weak, and not even populist. The left will need new ideas, not these same tired old dreams.
Isn't it the acid test of democracy that we don't necessarily end up with the policies that you approve of, but rather that we end up with a series of compromise policies over which none of us feel strongly enough to start killing each other ?

Like all authoritarians & their campfollowers, Moonbat believes he knows what the real and true interests of the people are. To him, policy preferences are democratic only if they embody his perception of the real and true interests of the people. If the people don’t vote for what he believes is in their real and true interests, then they have been duped and have “false consciousness” (copyright Miliband, R.).

Not a great advert for Stowe, is he ?

Kind regards
The government has already scrapped the Ark Royal & the Harriers. The other two being built were so well contractually tied down that it would have cost more to cancel that to keep.

What is amazing is that public spending is still going UP (7%+ since last year and will continue to do so).

Labour have REALLY screwed the economy.
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