I’ve been allowed to vote for about 10 years now and in that time I’ve voted for pretty much everyone (including the Tories) so I like to think of myself as a swing voter, looking at policies at election time and making my decision then. However, in this election year I’ve already firmly decided that I won’t be voting Tory and each policy they announce seems to confirm that I made the right choice! In general I would say that I disagree with most (but not all) of their policies and I have outlined below the two main areas that have led me to this decision: their relentless assertion that Britain is “broken” and their general policy towards tax and the welfare state.
Britain isn’t Broken
The Tory assertion that Britain is “broken” strikes me as a appeal to the right wing media that seems to revel in producing scare stories about our society. Sadly this ploy seems to be working with the Sun, Britain’s most read daily newspaper, changing it’s allegiance to the Conservatives last year. It does not seem to bother them that this assumption that society is broken holds little water. This interesting article helps to put a more reasoned view of society in Britain: under the labour government violent crime has dropped by 45%; teenage pregnancy by 11% (and 16% lower than in 1969) and smoking has almost halved since 1980. The only measurable area where society is becoming more “broken” is the increase in alcohol consumption but even there we still remain in 10th place out of the OECD countries.
All of these facts look purely at the internal state of the country. One of the reasons I most dislike the approach the Tories are taking is because it glosses over just how lucky we are in this country. According to the calculator here my income is in the top 1% in the world. I realize that I am particularly lucky about the job I have but even so, to be in my twenties and in the top 1% of earners in the world is a humbling thought. Sure, I have worked reasonably hard at times but most of this fortune comes purely from the opportunities that our society has given me of having a safe and peaceful childhood and a world class education all paid for by the state.
The hysteria that the Tories are whipping up really seems to have no basis in reality but instead is jumping on a media bandwagon. Personally I want my leaders to lead based on reality not on what they think is the best way to appeal to the masses. I really feel that Polly Toynbee from the Guardian got it spot on when she said this message “exposed the social cluelessness among those who would govern a country unknown to them”.
Tory Tax Policy
It is when this moral tirade against the British public collides with proper policies that it really starts to annoy me. Take for instance one of the more recent Tory tax policies – the married couples allowance – as an example. The plan is to fix our broken society through giving tax incentives to married couples. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of marriage, I decided to get married at a “young” (according to the average) 22 and still think it is great. The important thing though is that I decided to get married. By coercing people into getting married by the state paying them money seems bizarre and in contradiction to the Tories desire to decrease the size of the state. If you were co-habiting with a partner and had a kid then it would be a no-brainer to get married just so that you wouldn’t have to pay much tax but I fail to see how this would help society. If you enter into marriage because you will get paid to do so why would this be more secure than two people just living together and raising their family in a loving way.
I also wonder about who this policy will help. The planned tax breaks would allow married couples to share their tax free allowances if only one person works. I don’t know the exact figures but surely if you have reached the one-income family stage then you are probably quite wealthy, therefore I’m not sure if I want the state to be paying these families. Any tax break would have to be paid for by a general increase in the tax burden on other people so this would mean that overall working single mums would be paying for middle-class families have one parent stay at home. This seems to be completely reversed logic to me. Surely the welfare state is there to help the people most in need rather than the other way around!
The idea of taking from the poor to give to the rich seems to be consistent with other Tory policies though. For example, they continue to insist that they will increase the inheritance tax threshold from £250,000 to £1,000,000, I would argue that by the time you are inheriting £250,000 you are probably quite well off and therefore perhaps should pay slightly more tax in order to help people less well off. The Tories one concrete policy so far for decreasing the deficit was to increase the state retirement age from 65 to 67, again I would argue this will only lead to the poorest people in society paying an increase percentage of the tax in our country. If you have are having to rely on the state pension to fund your retirement rather than a private pension then you are probably on a lower than average wage, so again this policy will take some money from the poor to line the pockets of the rich.
The welfare state should be there to equalize the provision of core services to all people in our society, no matter what their background and also give hope to the poorest members of society. The Tories policy of reducing the size of the state should focus on these core responsibilities, if it did so then it would noble and good aim. Unfortunately by focussing the states attention on trying to fix what is broken through giving tax breaks to those who need it least they will be reversing this endeavour and therefore make our society even more broken.