Friday 3 April 2015

Vote for Me and I'll Set You Free (Except I am not standing, and I don't believe in the system)

Let me set my cards on the table from the start, politics will never deliver my chosen system of government, as I hope for a Star Trek style future where currency has been abolished, and we all work together for the betterment of mankind in a utopian egalitarian society without borders, war or any of that kind of unpleasantness. It is pretty obvious that this will never be delivered in my lifetime, if ever, but I do hold out some hope that in some far flung future Jean-Luc Picard looks back at us and shakes his head in disbelief at the way we organise things.

With that, we embark upon another election campaign, Britain is currently without a government, and thus, as I had always hoped, anarchy rules, and we are all free to follow our conscience rather than the arbitrary rules and laws stated by the government. Although, of course we are not, and plenty of things are still very much illegal, so stop punching your wife in the face, and put down that spliff. It would be nice if we could function as a society without having to make laws telling us not to do awful, horrendous things to each other, but it is obvious that there are just too many sociopaths hanging around for that to be a reality, and just twats, plain, common or garden, selfish twats.

The rhetoric and dialogue of the election campaigns are the thing that is currently upsetting me. We are all being told that we must own our own homes to be valuable, and that to stop the wealth creating upper echelons from hoarding as much wealth as they can would be bad for all of us. Once again, people are treating the laws of economics as if they were as intractable as the laws of physics, and forgetting that currency is an abstract concept, a useful one yes, but while you can't stop the earth from going around the sun, or things naturally falling downwards whilst in the grip of the earth's gravity, you could quite easily not put up prices when demand outstrips supply if you wanted to.

Would the whole of western society descend into some kind of anarchic bloodbath if there were a fight club style reset of all debts? Who would actually lose out if, like a benevolent parent who has loaned their child the money to cover their rent for a month with no real expectations of ever seeing it again, all national and personal debts were cancelled, and we all went back to zero? I would hazard a guess at pretty much nobody in a life destroying turmoil sense of losing out. Equally, if all the CEOs of every company out there were to suddenly have an attack of conscience and pay all their employees an actual living wage (the aspirational £10 an hour suggested by the Greens seems good to me) and took it from the shareholders profits and the higher earners salaries, rather than knee jerk price increases, would the business actually collapse as is so often predicted? Or would football club owners and their stars have a couple less yachts, and might Mr Branson not have his own private island or something. Businesses did not collapse when the minimum wage was first introduced, despite all the protests to the contrary.

To extrapolate a bit, I work for one of the small businesses so often quoted as likely to go under if higher minimum wages were introduced. Full disclosure, I do not make ten pounds an hour, though I am not terribly badly off, and as we bring in two salaries, we are ok thanks, there are other reasons for this which I will go into later. I suspect, that if the CEO decided not to keep adding to his collection of very expensive sports cars, or maybe took one less extreme fishing holiday a year, or maybe downsized from his big country house, or travelled between the London office and the Devon factory a bit less, maybe using something more economical than an Audi R8 then he could probably push up those of us who are under the tenner an hour down here to that level without too much upward pressure on the prices we charge, or too much of a dip into personal poverty. I could be wrong, and I suspect he would tell me that I am (he might if he is reading this, and if so, this is purely hypothetical, I am not lobbying here, and you knew I was a socialist when you hired me).

Once upon a time, a household could live on one salary, and that being a salary from a factory or other such low paid work. The other members of the household (be they the wife, or children who hadn't left home yet) could go out and work as well, but the second income would be to pay for nice things, like holidays, or new curtains or some such facile crap. The point being, that now, with a single income, no family can pay its rent, food, energy etc. etc. bills without claiming some in-work benefits that are the real problem with the benefits bill that we keep blaming on long term unemployed, disabled and immigrants. A living wage would stop that, if a job offered you a decent income, rather than merely forcing you to pay your own extortionate rent, while simultaneously preventing you from affording it, even the most hapless layabout would be more inclined to take it. Perhaps if the big CEOs had to live on what they pay their cleaners and call centre staff for a bit, they might increase wages out of some kind of human decency, although from what I have seen on shows such as undercover boss, and secret millionaire, they are more likely to make one off payments to a couple of people with impressive sob stories than make an actual real difference in the lives of all their employees.

It is not the politics of envy, for most of us do not want 4 homes, a yacht and a fleet of cars, we just want to not have to worry about paying our bills all the time, to get to the end of the month and have a bit left over for a rainy day, that is not envy, that is simple peace of mind. Equality should mean levelling up, not down.

The other real, massive underlying problem in the UK is housing, and not because we can't all afford to buy, but because increasingly, we can't afford to rent either. And we are told that we should all be buying, when quite often, rent is a perfectly valid option. We have taken one of the most basic of all human rights, the right to shelter, and commodified it, turned it into an investment and shoved the prices up so high that rents/mortgage payments are fast leaping over the 50% of your income that I was told to budget for it being back when I was a wide-eyed 18 year old skipping out into the world.

I am incredibly lucky to own my own home (although the bank still own half of it) and I am not going to pretend that I managed it by knuckling down, working hard and getting on with it as so many others claim. I only managed this feat by having the good fortune to inherit a decent sum of money from my grandmother (it takes a special kind of sociopath to describe losing a grandparent as good fortune) who only managed to leave me this money by having the equally good fortune to have bought a semi within walking distance of Guildford station back in the 1950s. She did not do this as an investment, she needed a home. I was also lucky enough to be born into a family that paid for me to go to a private school and get a decent education that provides an instant leg-up into better jobs. I threw it back in their faces, and went off to do low-paid jobs in crappy factories while pretending to be a rock star by night, but that is the only reason that I feel I have this unique perspective to share with you.

I see my contemporaries, claiming that the only reason they have their comfortable lives in nice houses and well paid jobs is that they have worked hard. I am not doubting that they have worked hard, but so do the people who live on the council estate where I lived before I had the stroke of good luck that let me pay off all my not inconsiderable debts and buy a house. We struggled to pay the rent and the bills in that house too, hence the not inconsiderable debts. It was owned by a housing association as affordable rented accommodation, and we brought in two full time salaries at above the minimum wage, but that was not enough with the pressures of bringing up two teenagers in modern society, spiralling food and energy prices and stagnated wages. We still struggle to pay everything now, I think everybody does, but the difference now is that I know I could cut down on the wine bill, maybe have a few less pets, not eat out any more etc. etc. whereas then it was the very real dilemma of eating or heating. Most of the comfortable middle classes who agonise over being in the 'squeezed middle' have no idea, Jacinta can do without her riding lessons, and Tarquin can learn piano from a book, ok?

Misunderstanding of Tax boundaries doesn't help either, I have never made it up to the 40% band, and probably never will, but I have met people who seem to believe that it will take 40% of everything they earn, rather than of that over and above the threshold amount. And if you are lucky enough to be over that threshold amount, truly, you are in a land of first world problems if you fear a little bit of a tax rise on everything you earn above £42, 385 a year will destroy your life.
Decent policies such as rent control, and the mansion tax would hopefully stop the relentless rent rise, as, if the most expensive properties incurred an extra tax burden, then the market would make them less expensive, thus the buy to let landlords would need less income to pay for them, and hopefully the rents would drop accordingly (though probably not, as I said before, there are many selfish twats). The ludicrously high benefits payout that we hear so much about in the red-tops and the mail are almost always made up of the amount paid out in housing to a private landlord, who is all too often one of the very MPs who are so quick to demonise the benefit claimants that they are gaining so much from. A wonderfully vicious circle.

I would like our prospective MPs to stop banging on about affordable housing to buy (let alone the obsession with building new when there are so many unoccupied houses already) when a huge swathe of the country do not ever even hope to buy a home of their own, I used to be one of them, so I know. Sensible, affordable rented homes, and not trying to hound people out of them for having a spare room might be a start. Along with bringing back a fair days work for a fair days pay, rather than the culture that you should have to aspire to better yourself, and if you don't then you deserve a salary that gives you less than you need to live on. Forget about social mobility for once, cleaners and call centre workers, and burger flippers are all working as well, they should be able to live on what they earn, rather than being made to feel like they should work harder to become managers, or entrepreneurs. We cannot all be the boss.

As to the leaders debate, and the cult of personality going on, it struck me that everybody says that their guy won it, and such is the nature of the beast. We agree with those who we agree with, and everyone thinks differently, I had been leaning towards the green party all year (and have enthusiastically voted for them in the past) but it is a shame that the charismatic and enigmatic Caroline Lucas has given the leadership to the awkward and frightened seeming Natalie Bennet. I can only hope that the more she does it, the better she gets, but I am leaning ever back to the Labour party again. See, even I am affected by the personality game that I am so annoyed with, green policies are still the ones that resonate with me most.

Ed is pulling off the lurch to the left that we have all been waiting for (those of us who wanted an alternative to Thatcher/Blairism anyway) and I suspect it is no coincidence that they have been fielding the most socialist MPs they can find on Question Time recently. Ever since Tony Blair tricked me (it felt like he invited me to a fantastic party, and then it turned out that the party was in my house, and he turned up with a load of rich mates, smashed up my stuff, drank all my booze, started a war with the neighbours and then left me an invoice for a load of other stuff I hadn't even seen there) I have felt abandoned by the party of the working man. The Lib Dems promised everything I wanted last time, and they too got a whiff of power and turned their backs on us, hence my swing to the greens. I am still undecided in case you are interested, but as a proud pinko-lefty-marxist type it is unlikely that I will vote UKIP or Tory, although where I live I suspect that will be the choice, and a tactical voter may have to vote Tory to keep UKIP out, an extremely unpalatable option.

I was most impressed by the policies of the SNP and Plaid Cymru, who sound like they actually care about people. Since I am no fan of nationalism, and no respecter of borders, I was surprised to be swayed by separatist parties, and it was suggested that nationalists just dress up in whatever clothes they can to appeal to the most people. I'm not sure that's true anymore, and I might have to move to Wales or Scotland just so that I can vote for a party whose policies I agree with. All the warnings the Tories are giving about a possible Labour/SNP coalition seem like good things to me, abolishing Trident is something I have always felt to be a good thing, given the nature of 21st century conflict, nuclear warheads seem utterly redundant, if indeed they ever were effective at anything other than attempted genocide, or ensuring the whole population live in constant fear. And the SNP have been given their answer about an independent Scotland now, so they need to concentrate on doing normal politics instead. What were once single policy pressure parties are all starting to have meaningful and well thought out manifestos.

It did sadden me that the massacre in Kenya was pushed so far down the news schedule while the pundits were excitedly dissecting the leaders debate, but that's the media for you. I missed all bulletins on the Kenya thing, as ironically, I was channel flicking to find it, and missed it by a hair on all of them, that's how short it was.

 The thing I must take from all of this, is how sad it is that nobody seems to think that the economy should be there to benefit the people, rather than the people being there to service the economy, we are all thought of as just units, there to ensure GDP goes up and help bring the books back into balance. The country is not it's finances, it is the people, whether they be those who had the good fortune to inherit vast tracts of land and a crown, or born to a hapless, uneducated 13 year old girl on a council estate, or uprooting themselves from their homes to build a better life in a foreign land, we need to make sure they all have real, genuine equal chances of success, and stop peddling this myth of a meritocracy. It is not coincidence that most of the powerful positions in this land are held by privately educated white men, and I say that as a privately educated white man.