In which I wonder if we’ve got it all wrong about… taxation

Taxation is a big issue in any election. Nobody likes paying tax. When Daniel Defoe coined the phrase ‘Death and taxes’ it was probably with the awareness that the latter is scarcely more popular than the former. Lower taxes are the classic carrot that politicians can dangle in front of the electorate, but in this election David Cameron has gone even further. He’s not only promised not to raise income tax, VAT or national insurance but to pass legislation ensuring that a Conservative government would be prevented from raising those taxes.

That’s crazy. It’s crazy because he’s basing his own policy on the notion that he can’t be trusted unless he passes a law to stop himself, and it’s crazy because essentially what he’s promising is that nothing unexpected will happen during the next five years. By binding his tax raising powers, he’s guaranteeing that nothing will happen between now and 2020 that might cause the government to need to raise more money. There will be no wars, no need to increase our national security, no pandemic diseases, no population spikes, no financial crises. Everything will absolutely definitely trundle along as it is now. Now if I thought that guaranteeing that was within David Cameron’s powers, then I might consider voting for him, but that would imply that he’s not merely a unusually shinyly foreheaded politician, but also a time-traveling wizard master. And who wouldn’t vote for a time traveling wizard master? That sounds way cool.

Despite it being crazy, Cameron clearly thinks that this promise is going to be popular though, because an insane leader is preferable to a leader who tries to raise income tax. There’s a wider political rhetoric in this country that uses the phrase ‘tax and spend’ as if taxing and then spending that money was a wholly terrible thing for a government to do, rather than the one key thing that all governments exist to do. The accusation of being the party of ‘tax and spend’ has been used as a stick to beat politicians, particularly Labour politicians for years. Here’s a little example from 2002. The accusation ‘You’re just going to tax and spend,’ can be thrown at politicians and not one of them has the good sense to say, ‘Well yes. So are you. That’s what governments are for.’

And the problem here is that politicians don’t say that, because they think that voters won’t like it. They think that we are sufficiently dim to prefer to shiny shiny carrot of ‘We won’t raise….’ rather than being bright enough to recognise that no politician can guarantee that, because they’re led by events and changing circumstances just as much as everyone else. Are we really that stupid? Do we really not understand the basic notion that if we want schools, and hospitals, and police, and street cleaning and all the other terribly useful things that are just sort of there without us ever really thinking about them at all then that costs money and governments raise the money they spend through tax?

There are some basic campaigning truths. You don’t say you’re going to raise taxes. If people then notice that that might mean you’re going to cut services, you make it very clear that you’re only really going to cut those services over there, you know the ones that only affect other people. And if people try to look over there, then you wave your big shiny carrot* in front of them instead.

And those I my election musings for today. Come back tomorrow when it’ll be all about coalition building. Whoop-de-doo.

* Not a euphemism**

** No. Really. Seriously. Not a euphemism. I’m talking about David Cameron and Ed Miliband here. What sort of weirdo do you think I am? Ew.

In which I, firstly, have a plan, and, secondly, lack a plan

I had a plan for this week’s blogging. It was twofold. Firstly the blogging was definitely going to happen yesterday and secondly it was going to be about how David Cameron announcing that he doesn’t want a third term as prime minister isn’t news, and doesn’t demonstrate in any way that he’s a stand up guy who’s not motivated by ‘glory, ego or wealth’.

I would have been a good blog post; basically it would have pointed out that by ruling out a third term Cameron has created a whole chunk of news coverage based on the unspoken assumption that he’s going to win a second term, and secondly I’d have argued that Cameron is vulnerable to a leadership challenge straight after the election if he fails to win an outright majority for the Tories. At the moment an outright majority for any party looks like being a tall order, and so Cameron is shoring up his own position by discouraging potential rivals from challenging the incumbent leader too soon. Why would they risk it, if he’s going to stand down in a few years anyway?

But, having failed at the first part of my plan, a whole 24 more hours has now elapsed, so the tiny political hoo-ha feels even less like news, and I have become distracted by other things – primarily by how I think I might be doing social media wrong. I’ve suspected this for a while. Every time I find myself gathered with writing chums, either at conferences (occasional), places with cake (frequent) or, indeed, online (bascially all the time), the conversation invariably turns, at some point, to social media and How To Do It. And every time, I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I do not have a strategy. I basically live on facebook and twitter, and I do post links to blog posts and new book releases and I RT book related stuff that looks interesting, but mainly I just tell the world about my lunch or the shiny thing I’ve just seen and then sort of chat to people. I don’t have a system for checking who’s followed me or unfollowed me or isn’t following me back. I don’t really schedule tweets or statuses, although I use TweetDeck so I totally could, but it would involve deciding what I wanted to tweet more than 4 seconds before I tweeted it, and I don’t know what shiny thing I’m going to be looking at in the future, do I?

Somehow I seem to have found myself embracing social media in a weirdly luddite sort of a way. I like just chatting. I like seeing pictures of the weird stain that random people on the other side of the country have found on their carpet, and musing about what it might be and how to get it out. I like feeling that if I RT or share someone’s post it’s because I think it’s interesting and not because I’m trying to get a certain number of reciprocal retweets every day. I like having a place (albeit a virtual place) where people who spend a lot of their time sitting on their own in their pyjamas can feel like they’re slightly connected to the world. I even quite like getting outraged en masse about some minor thing that does not matter at all, and then sort of sheepishly sidling away when we all calm down. Basically I like being social and chatting to people; I don’t really like to have a strategy for how I’m going to chat to get the most benefit out of it. Chatting to people is the benefit.

And here endeth today’s lesson. I had a blogging plan and I failed. I have no social media plan at all, and therefore can’t even say if I’m failing or not, which is nice I guess. How about you (especially you writer types)? Do you have a system for social media-ing and how does it work?

If you enjoyed these random musings and would like to read more by me, I also write actual novels and novella. Details here.

In which I wish everything wasn’t so bloomin’ earnest

Movie award season is upon us, which means that cinemas are currently full of a steady stream of Oscar-bait movies, usually identifiable by the high likelihood of a stupidly long running time and an actor working some serious prosthetics. If you venture to your local multiplex at the moment you’ll be treated to trailers for Steve Carrell and Channing Tatum looking earnest on a wrestling mat, Miles Teller looking earnest with a drum kit, and Bradley Cooper looking earnest and bearded with a big gun.

Let’s be clear what I mean by ‘earnest.’ I don’t just mean ‘serious.’ Sometimes it’s good to be serious. If you’re organising the WHO response to Ebola, a bit of head-down focus on the job in hand would definitely be the right approach. Funerals, job interviews, big work presentations, court hearings – there’s a whole big range of situations for which, if you’re trying to pass yourself off as a functioning grown-up, you probably want to use your serious face.

But being overly earnest is a step beyond that. Now we’re talking about taking yourself, and everything around you far too seriously. We’re talking about wanting to be seen to be serious. We’re talking about the state of mind that leads us to look for reasons to take offence. Taking the little things too seriously leads us to a situation where a bit of playground bitchiness about a kid not turning up to a party becomes headline news to be pored over and debated. Allowing our earnestness to lead us into this sort of breakdown in our understanding of what matters and what doesn’t is bad in two ways.

Firstly, it sucks the fun out of life. Keeping a constant watch on twitter in case some person you’ve never met might say something you don’t agree with, or find offensive, is not a joyful way to spend your time. More widely, the feeling that seriousness is always better, takes the joy out of our cultural lives. On Saturday I saw the film version of Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods. I love Into The Woods. I own the DVD of the Broadway production with Bernadette Peters as the witch and it is a thing of wonder. It’s also really really funny. The film is amusing, in places, but not in anywhere near the number of places that the show is; somehow in the transition to the big scene its lost its sense of the ridiculous, and given that it’s a story about a baker who has to feed hair, a cloak, and a shoe to a cow, then sense of ridiculous about it is kind of important.

Secondly, and more importantly, if every minor irritation and offence matters, then nothing matters. The more column inches are expounded on unimportant stuff like how the film version of Into The Woods takes itself a little bit too seriously, the more distracted we are from things that do matter. Comments thread on articles about nothing, and Twitter wars over little more are joyful only for politicians and vested interests who would rather we were all looking the other way. So here let me sum up today’s lesson – take offence sparingly, don’t take yourself too seriously, and understand that serious isn’t always better then silly.