I have a rather old-fashioned left-wing attitude to the current debate over cuts and services. It’s this: if you’ve run out of money for services which you’ve said for decades are vital, don’t cut them. Make us pay for them. Go on, grow a pair and put up taxes, and explain why that’s important.
In the long run, of course, that isn’t going to happen. The conversation just now is all about cutting back the Leviathan of the state – there’s a pretty good Economist section on it this week, and some of what is said in unarguable. If the government’s spending the equivalent of more than half of a country’s GDP, that just feels wrong. And if public sector workers really are retiring to a life on the Costa Brava in their mid-fifties, that feels wrong too. On the ground, it’s easy to see a new generation of senior public sector managers in their 30s and 40s who grew up under New Labour’s prescription of professional competence and reform, who believe that anyone taking money out of the public purse unfairly is somehow defrauding society. They’re the ones who’ll change things.
But I would just like to point out a broken bit of this conversation. Today, I received Lambeth’s council tax leaflet. There’s a picture of the cover to the right of this post. And what does it boast?
“Council tax frozen for third year!”
That’s it. That’s the only message from the cover. And it’s like a missive from a different world. Inside, the council explains that their central government funding is being cut by Â£79 million over three years, and that just makes me want to scream: “Why the hell are you not raising council tax then! Blame it on the government! Explain what services it protects! GROW A PAIR!” Everything about local government funding is driving me nuts. The fact that house prices haven’t been rerated for TWENTY YEARS, for instance. How can that possibly be fair or efficient?
So, if you want to close a library, look me in the eye and explain to me why you didn’t try and raise the money to keep it open. Show me now. Because the way we’re going, deficits are always only going to be about cuts, and never about taxation.