by David Seymour
It is the last resort of a desperate politician to fall back on denouncing judges as unelected. Michael Howard was at it the other day, complaining that the courts should not be asked to decide whether it was lawful for the government to snatch away million of pounds promised to councils as part of the “building schools for the future” programme. (Yes, that’s the same Michael Howard who was overturned 27 times by the courts when he was home secretary).
If the only people who could decide anything had gone through an electoral process, we would be in a situation in which an administration supported by less than a quarter of the electorate (as most governments in the past decade have been) could do what it liked.
What really gets me agitated, though, aren’t the attacks on judges by politicians and right-wing journalists (can’t recall many of them being elected), but their acceptance at the same time of certain unelected and self-appointed individuals and bodies who exert an overwhelming influence on decision-making.
Take Sir Andrew Green and migration watch. Where did they come from? He was a retired diplomat who founded a body which has been at the forefront of terrifying the British people into thinking we are being over-run by foreigners.
Journalists, being lazy, and newspapers, being only too eager to run scare stories about alien hordes, leapt on the reports churned out by MW. Sir Andrew quickly became a regular on the airwaves.
Who elected him? The editors of the Mail, Express and Sun?
Even more insidious has been the taxpayers’ alliance. It started modestly enough (it is alleged) in a coffee shop, but soon had become a conduit for a torrent of “reports” about waste in the public sector. Its simple message is that taxation is always bad. It is your money and the state is stealing it for no good purpose.
Sound familiar? It should. It is the surreptitious mantra of this Tory-Lib Dem government. Although hidden behind the spin that the cuts are driven by Labour’s profligacy and the record deficit, the real aim of the Tories is to complete the move from public to private sectors which was started by Margaret Thatcher (and helped on its way by Blair and Brown).
But isn’t the government putting UP taxes, I can hear you ask. VAT up, petrol duty up. That is true. But the real project is what they are doing to the NHS, education, particularly higher education, welfare, pensions, local government and the rest. They are determined to shrink the state sector so that, when the finances have recovered a bit, public spending will be able to plummet. Meaning lower taxes, particularly for the rich.
While Cameron in opposition appeared to accept the consensus that spending on key services should be maintained, behind the scenes the Taxpayers’ Alliance was poisoning minds by pumping out its dogma, which was eagerly lapped up by the papers.
The taxpayers’ alliance is our version of the US tea party, with the same motto: ask not what tax may do for you, ask why your hard-earned money is being grabbed by the state.
It’s not difficult for them to find examples of public money being wasted or spent unwisely and incredibly easy for them to puff up examples of expenditure which they don’t like. Though they don’t complain much about, for example, billions being lost in defence procurement scandals.
They have a simple job because none of us likes paying tax. But it is the job of politicians to explain why it is raised and where it goes, and so to challenge the TPA and other tax deniers. Yet no one ever asks them: so are you against state pensions? Against state schools? Against the NHS? Against welfare benefits? Even against defence. They should be forced to show where they draw the line.
Yet the ideology they have promoted so successfully has become part of the DNA of the Tories and hence the Lib Dems too. Danny Alexander and Vince Cable have swallowed it hook, line and stinker.
These elected politicians – though not elected to do what they are doing to the country – have formed an unholy alliance with the unelected taxpayers’ alliance and unelected newspaper editors.
I had toyed with the idea of starting a website called something like The Real Taxpayers’ Alliance and then, to my joy, I discovered there already is one – The Other Taxpayers’ Alliance. It explains what the battle over spending cuts is really about rather than the phoney, nasty arguments of the TPA.
I am sure the people who run TOTPA haven’t been elected either, but at least they are speaking up for the majority of the country rather than the narrow elite represented by the better known, much better funded and wholly unelected and unrepresentative TPA.
David Seymour was group political editor of Mirror Group newspapers for 15 years. He blogs here.