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 wonder if we’ve got it all wrong about… migration

We’ve made it to election week. Well done everyone who’s still standing. Even more well done if you haven’t started skipping past the politics section on news websites and turning the TV over every time a party leader appears. I seem to have got through the campaign without blogging about politics at all, which feels a bit wrong, but demonstrates, I think, the level of election weariness I’m currently running at. I describe myself as a politics nerd, but I’ve been struggling to get mentally involved with this campaign at all.

However, the election is nearly upon us so I think it’s probably time to engage nerd brain and get my politics on. This week will be all about the election. Well it will until Thursday – then it’s really all over bar the voting (and counting). So this Monday to Wednesday half-week period will be all about the election, and the first topic is… migration.

The in-bound element of migration is an area where we’ve really seen how a small party can set the political agenda if they are sufficiently focussed on one thing, and repeat that one thing often enough, while employing a ‘man of the people’ sort of vibe and holding a pint of proper British beer. The Tories and Labour are both keen to talk up how they would deal with immigration and the language is all about control, reduction and clamping down.

And I can’t help but wonder if we’ve got this fundamentally wrong. I don’t just wonder whether the main political parties in the UK in 2015 have got it wrong. I wonder whether actually the whole of the developed world has got it wrong right back to the birth of the UN and the drafting of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. What that document says is that people have the right to ‘seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.’ It also says that a person has the right to not be ‘arbitrarily deprived of his nationality, nor denied the right change his nationality.’ What if in our most basic declaration on human rights we just said the people have the right to move across borders as and when they please? What if we established the right to migrate as a fundamental human right?

The urge to move to where you can best provide food, shelter and security for yourself and your nearest and dearest is a basic human urge. Whether we’re looking at the very first humans in Africa glancing at the big hill on the edge of their territory and wondering if there was more food and water over there, or at kids growing up in the countryside and moving to the city to find work, the reality is that from the very beginnings of humanity through to the present day we’re a species who move in search of sustenance and security. Why shouldn’t that be recognised in our most basic declaration of who we are and how we have the right to live?

Politically and ethically I think it makes sense too. The main driver of large-scale migration across national borders is inequality. People who are well-fed, comfortably-housed, and able to earn enough to maintain that situation are far less likely to move across continents. But if you made migration easier, surely that would change? Surely richer countries would be deluged with immigrants? Well maybe, in the short term. But in the longer term making migration easier, I suspect, would also make it less common. Stick with me – that’s not as bonkers as it sounds.

At the moment richer governments deal with migration by placing legal limits and controls on who can migrate into their countries. Dealing with migration is all about legislation, border controls, and refusing entry or removing people from the country. If governments were denied those options, maybe they’d have no choice but to deal with the fundamental inequalities that drive immigration. At the moment we’re able to pull up the drawbridge and close our eyes to poverty, violence, and anything else that goes on beyond our borders. If we were no longer allowed to do that we’d have no choice but think about how we actually make the world a more equal place. In the long term that means fairer trade and interaction with poorer countries, better peace-keeping, and a move away from the sort of foreign policy that creates and perpetuates inequality.

And yes, I know – I’m sounding a little bit ‘I believe the children are the future’, and I’m a stirring chord change away from waving my lighter in the air, but I’m not going to apologise for that. Moving around is something people have always done. I’m an economic migrant myself, and I simply don’t see why the fact that I was able to do that without crossing any national borders makes me intrinsically less of a threat than some guy cramming himself onto an overcrowded boat somewhere on the north African coast, so what I’d like to hear from the people who want me to elect them is a lot less about ‘control’ and ‘clamping down’ and a lot more about global equality and fairness.

And that’s my thought for today. Come back tomorrow when it’ll be all about tax, which is a really really fun topic. I promise it is.

In which I obligingly try to generate an opinion on the topics of the day

So, as has been discussed before on these very pages, I am a feminist. I’m also quite interested in politics, and I write romantic comedies for a living. This means that, according the the memo that is sent out to bloggers each week by the nice people who run the Internet*, this week I am required to have opinions about both Harriet Harman’s Pink Lady Bus and Fifty Shades of Grey. This is a bit of a bind, because quite enough opinions have been expressed already about both these things, but the people who run the Internet are very clear in their expectations, so I’ll do the best I can.

Let’s start with Fifty Shades of Grey. Is it erotic? Is it glamourising abuse? Does it misrepresent BDSM? I have no idea. I haven’t read it. I haven’t seen the movie either. I have, however, had this conversation lots of times:

Random person: ‘So what do you write?’

Me: ‘Romance novels mainly.’

RP: ‘Like Fifty Shades of Grey?’

Me: ‘Not really… Mine are a bit more down to earth.’

RP: ‘Oh. You should write something like Fifty Shades of Grey. Then you’d be rich.’

More recently I’ve had this conversation a few times too:

Random person**: ‘What do you think of this Fifty Shades of Grey?’

Me: ‘I don’t know. I haven’t read it.’

RP: ‘Why not?’

Me: ‘It’s just didn’t really fancy it.’

RP: ‘Well that’s not fair. You shouldn’t decide you don’t like something until you’ve tried it.’

Me: ‘But… I said I didn’t know… I… er…. but….’

In the first conversation, Random Person is just doing the current variation on the conversation had by writers across the world throughout time. Ten years ago we were all being told we should write something about a wizard school. I have no doubt that writers who were contemporaries of St Paul were regularly told that they should ‘write some like letters to churches and that.’

In the second conversation though, Random Person, is being properly stupid. Of course it’s fine to just not fancy reading something. There are things in life about which it is appropriate to feel guilty about not caring more. It is entirely right and proper to have a pang of guilt when you drop your eyes to the floor and hurry past a Big Issue seller or a charity collection jar. The feelings of inadequacy when you donate £10 to a DEC appeal are appropriate feelings of inadequacy. Not reading a book, or seeing a movie, because you just don’t really want to is fine. So there you go – Fifty Shades of Grey – haven’t read it, haven’t seen it, have suspicion that neither liking nor disliking it makes you an intrinsically better person.

So, onto the Labour Party’s Lovely Pink Lady Bus. The essentials of this story are that Harriet Harman and other high up female Labour MPs are trying to engage directly with female voters by touring the country in a minibus with ‘Woman to Woman’ written on the side. This has caused lots of people to send slightly miffed sounding tweets about how this is patronising to women, and caused lots of Labour people to give interviews where they describe the bus as cerise or magenta or created by a fairy godmother from a pumpkin – really anything so long as it’s not pink.

My gut reaction is to agree with the miffed tweeters. Yup, having a special Lady Bus where I can discuss my special Lady Concerns with special Lady MPs is deeply patronising. Generally this sort of segregation into ‘Lady Concerns’ and ‘Manly Concerns’ is patronising to both genders. Lots of women care about stuff outside their front door, and plenty of men care about what goes on inside.

But, as with Fifty Shades of Grey, I’m not really the target audience for Harriet’s lovely magenta bus. I’m already going to vote, and I’m a politics nerd so there’s a high chance that I’m already fairly decided on who I’m going to vote for. The target is women who aren’t fully decided, or more particularly, women who might not vote at all. In 2010 the turnout amongst women was slightly lower than amongst men, but women were slightly more likely then men to vote Labour rather than Conservative. Against that background it’s pretty obvious that engaging female potential voters is going to be important for Labour’s chances in May. If you look at the demographics by social class as well as gender, we see that DE (semi-skilled, unskilled or non-working) women are the group most likely to vote Labour but least likely to vote. Those are the women that Labour need to reach. So I’m torn on the issue of the Cerise Lady Bus. Part of me really hopes it doesn’t work, because it is hugely condescending, but part of me hopes it does work, because the women that Labour should be trying to focus on are a part of our society whose voices aren’t frequently heard.

So there you go – two issues on which I’m required to have an opinon and I sort of failed at both. Apologies.

 

*They’re lovely. A married couple called Duncan and Shirley. They have a bungalow near St Albans.

** Makes mental note: I really ought to learn my friends’ names.