Contributory negligence

I am not giving to writing political posts. Indeed, the allegiances of the characters in this one are unimportant compared to the message they give about society, participation and responsibility.

This line was the trigger:

“This decision will cost him (and benefit the Treasury) tens of millions a year in tax yet he considers it worthwhile.”

[William Hague, talking about Lord Ashcroft in the Guardian].

Nobody really likes tax. That’s usually a starting point for the arguments. It’s a statement I think is arrived at too easily, but that’s another story. Let’s assume you aren’t exactly a fan of seeing your earnings disappear out of your pocket into another place, wherever that may be. We can probably all identify with that to some extent.

There are two ways to deal with this: an intelligent one of questioning priorities, addressing waste, and doing what you can – directly and through your representatives – to help shape a programme of public service funding.

And there’s the lazy one of pretending that it all just goes into some big smoking hole under Alistair Darling’s bed. And then after some labyrinthine process of leaking out into various MPs’ and bureaucrats’ pockets gets spent on equality coordinators in Scunthorpe. So you should resist paying at all costs because it’s just some nasty combination of extortion and fraud.

Clearly the latter approach is utter bollocks. But it’s far easier to believe in, and strangely comforting, provided you never actually have to experience life at the sharper end of any form of public service.

It seems Lord Ashcroft felt it was the most disgraceful waste of his money to have to pay some of it as a contribution to a society he was part of. It’s a view, I guess. But what message does it (and Hague’s support for it) give about the character of those purporting to be leaders of that society?

That everything they will propose as a publicly-funded programme is founded on something you really shouldn’t have to do anyway? That’s going to work, isn’t it?

These are statements of selfishness, shortsightedness and greed. And for politicians heading towards a General Election, lunacy. The row over deals, peerages and status is one thing. But the underlying attitudes revealed (which by no means are the sole preserve of any political party) about the role of contribution to our society, are far more serious.

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One Response

  1. I wonder whether our society needs a more radical rethink? The 1980s retro trend in music and fashion seems to be affecting thinking in other spheres.
    I want to believe that politicians go into politics for fundamentally altruistic reasons.
    Altruism is a human characteristic. There is increasing evidence in the archaeological record indicating that prehistoric humans provided food and shelter for disabled adults in their community, even when they must have been a strain on the community’s resources in hunter-gatherer communities.
    Maybe politicians need to go on a retreat – a retreat from power – every now and then to remember or understand why our ancestors found a system of contributions for the benefit of all in society was the better system.

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