Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Beware the numbers!

Lots of political capital (or should that be political lower-case?) has been claimed at Jeremy Corbyn’s inability to remember a made-up number on Woman’s Hour yesterday. The listening public, however, have probably forgotten the numbers already, as they should because all the numbers used by all the parties involved in this and every other general election are largely works of fiction. Nobody cares about the actual figures, their only significance is as a proxy for competence – can’t remember your own numbers, goes the logic, can’t be relied on to govern.

The Tory strategy of giving little detail in the way of numbers is both more realistic and yet just as negatively indicative of competence. What do you mean, you don’t know how much it will cost or where the money is coming from? Come on you must know! But, of course they don’t; nobody does. In the same way you don’t know what you will earn next year nor how you will spend it. You could get a substantial rise, but then your car might expensively break down. You might lose your job, but then have a horse come in on long odds. Hell you might even win the lottery, but then suffer a terminal illness. Nobody knows; the big lie of politics is that there is certainty.

So which way do you play it? Safe hands or bet the farm? Safe is boring, but then so is voting, in the eyes of many people. They may prefer a steady hand on the tiller, but placing a wager on the socialist miracle of state ‘investment’ (borrowing to the limit) might yield spectacular success in the short term, as it often appears to, but then the cold calculus of debt repayment inevitably turns up to ruin things. Ain’t credit cards a buzzkiller?

As for where the money comes from, every type of taxation is a stimulus to invent creative ways of escaping liability. Increasing corporation tax will lower company profits, either by clever accounting or by moving companies elsewhere. Land taxes and rent-capping will distort the property market still further and even fewer will be able to afford to buy, worsening the housing shortage and increasing stress levels and putting greater strains on the social care and mental health budgets, decreasing overall productivity, affecting credit rating and ability to borrow... on which plan your entire offer was made.

Making promises you can never keep is a singularly dishonest way to panhandle a vulnerable electorate, so desperate for a magic bullet they will believe anything; anything is better than being told the truth, that the only way out of poverty is hard work... and a bit of luck. Promising free stuff is effectively exploiting poor, ill-educated people. It is putting the disadvantaged at greater risk further down the line, burdening future generations with the debt of your desperation. It is everything of which Labour continually accuses the Tories. Who’s the real nasty party?

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