Sunday, 14 December 2014

"Big" government is essential

With the recent American election results showing Republican gains, television screens were briefly dominated by the sight of preening politicians predicting the imminent return of "small" government. On similar lines, in this country, we remember the recent pledges of Cameron and Osborne to shrink the state back to levels last seen in the 1940s. Even worse is the revelation that, following Osborne`s autumn statement this month, government spending will be akin to that of the 1930s. This, of course, means the rich associates of the Tories end up paying low income tax, and very little inheritance tax, whilst low corporation tax enables profit-making companies to enrich further their CEOs and shareholders. 

     With little government interference in the lives of people, and in the practices of businesses, the return of the 19th century idea of laissez-faire is made possible. Students of history will need no reminding that, in practical terms, it meant not only the rich getting richer whilst the poor`s suffering increases, but the virtual abrogation of responsibility by the state for hunger and deprivation; the workhouse was the result!  When Gladstone practised the doctrine in his 1868-74 administration, it ended disastrously, with its replacement, Disraeli`s government, having to invent the "One Nation" idea, and to pass reforms to improve housing and food standards, and even increase trade union rights. How "shrinking the state" can end up any different, widening the wealth gap, and increasing the problems for the less well-off, defies logic, and Labour should be shouting about the dangers from the rooftops!

   To reduce the role of the state further in the 21st century would lead to increased inequality and suffering, decreased regulation and more privatisation. Only those few who stand to benefit from the privatisation of the NHS are in favour of it, the rest of us want it firmly in state hands, and the same now applies to energy companies and railways, which since going into private hands, have continued to raise prices and exploit customers, despite their huge government handouts. At least when nationalised, such companies paid their proper share of corporation tax!
       The rich don`t welcome the concept of "big" government because it means increased rules and regulations, and fines imposed when they are broken.Of course, we have them now, but how many people believe the recent "record" fines imposed on the banks for manipulating the foreign exchange market will lead to improved behaviour in the banking sector? The fines, anyway, only amounted to a few days` profit for the banks involved. More regulation is needed if the various "cultures", like those in the banking and tax avoidance industries, and amongst profiteering private landlords, are to be forced to change. Without it, as history shows us, slums flourish and exploitation is rife.  "Big" government also means more tax inspectors employed to ensure as much tax is collected by the Treasury as possible, and it means those who can afford to do so paying rather more.
     With "small" government, the reverse is true; help for the needy is reduced, the welfare state is cut, and foodbanks multiply. It also means more complaints from the rich when ambulances they need in emergencies are late because of funding issues, when the police can do little about the spate of burglaries in their area for the same reason. Strange, too, that a reduced role for government does not always lead to less; "small" government inevitably is accompanied by increased surveillance, as we know from news relating to the growing role played by GCHQ, the government`s spying department.
    The majority of the British electorate do not want the state shrunk back to these ridiculous levels; indeed, what would many think of reduced scrutiny of our borders? Fair-minded folk want more tax inspectors not less, more help for the less fortunate not less, and more government departments and agencies well staffed to ensure the return of "government for the people", not simply for the rich.
      It is Labour`s responsibility to make certain that the voters are aware of the consequences of voting Tory or Ukip, and that they do the right thing, come May,2015.

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