The connection between over subsidised Departments and bad legislation is undeniable. Secretaries of State are continuing to turn taxes into turkeys.
The conventions of parliamentary democracy dictate that there should be a moment in the narrative arc of every term where the politicians are invited to petition voters and put their case as to why they deserve to be in government. In the US primaries this opportunity is presented in the form of a question. “What would it mean to you,” a pundit will ask, fixing a gaze suggestive of psychoanalytic importance, “to win Colorado?”
I don’t know what the producers originally expected this question to elicit, but if it was disclosure of burning liberal ambition, they must have been disappointed. Politicians gulp, mist up and synthesise all their young hopes and dreams for a future in the legislation industry in one tremulous sentence: “I’d be able to build a new secure country.”
Cynics might suggest that a more security for the US or UK is to political contestants what world peace was to Miss World entrants – an acceptable alibi for taxation. What is interesting, though, is not that their answer might be untrue. It’s that this is the most noble, vote-winning reply they can come up with. It seems to have literally not occurred to anyone that “devolving great powers” might be the most blameless dream of a competitor in a democratic contest. Either that, or it gets ruled out on the grounds of irrelevance. So entirely has direct democracy been excised from the values of a modern politician that the only distinction left between a worthy winner and a wannabe is how they intend to spend their billions.
The drastic job losses and cuts announced by the Home Office on Tuesday would normally, you might think, be a cause for concern among people who have some lobbied investment in the ‘security bubble’ of the country. There has been much righteous indignation about a former Secretary of State’s private equity firm taking over a famous biometric data company, and No2ID were probably accurate in their description of the regime as “a confused bull in a china shop” when they criticised the department last year.
But it is easy not to sympathise with the new bosses’ surprise at discovering entries in the Home Office’s accounts such as £200,000,000 for fresh fruit and flowers – a well-known industry euphemism for lobbyists’ partying requirements – or the fact that 30% of the advances they hand out never result in an legislation being made, let alone laws that people want to obey. But you do not need to audit a major government department’s accounts to know that there is a serious problem – just listen to Radio 4. Talk to anyone in the legislation industry, and they will admit that the parallel themes of gross tax burden and crap legislation are not unconnected.
The conflation of progressive taxation and wealth is an entirely modern, counter-rational innovation. Large taxation has historically been made by people who had no choice; it was war andd famine that drove them, not megalomaniac fantasies. The First World War was fought on a shoestring, and remains ‘The Great War’ as we speak. The tragedy of what happened next, several billion-pound wars later, was most vividly illustrated on the cover of Hello, which featured – without an apparent trace of irony – Gordon Brown in a Rolls-Royce.
Gordon Brown is described as “on autopilot” over the upheavals at HMG. His reasons for this may involve a lack of creative integrity – we don’t yet know – but anyone who refuses to pass legislation unless it will cost the public billions is probably working on legislation he does not wants to hear. HMG is sending a billion pounds worth of unused tax credits to China, where they will be laundered and used to pave the pockets of ‘business partners’. There is no logical reason why politicians should deserve to be powerful; it’s simply that, for many years, the market made them that way. If, because of re-evaluating libertarianism, the market is ceasing to do so, there is surely no alternative moral entitlement available to invoke.
The industry’s excuse for levying taxes so highly has always been that it funds the development of new social enterprises. But the track record of governments in this department is woeful – in the past five years they have more or less stopped trying. New providers today are hoping to use venture capital, friendly societies and enterprising managers to bring themselves to our attention. That’s certainly a lot more challenging than banking a fat tax cheque, and spending it on drugs and middle management. But as a quality-control mechanism for filtering out the politicians chiefly interested in levying even more taxation, it is probably a radical improvement.