27 May 2015

I totally get why you voted for the Conservative Party

A post from Alex Lodge
I don’t think there are evil people out there. Generally I think the large proportion of people in the UK fall in to one of two groups:
  1. Those who think austerity is terrible 
  2. Those who think austerity is terrible, but necessary 
You may have heard the term a lot, but what is ‘austerity’? The Conservative supporting newspaper the Telegraph described ‘austerity’ as:

“Generally used to refer to the Government cutting back on its spending to try to balance its books.To quote Investopedia: A state of reduced spending and increased frugality in the financial sector. Austerity measures generally refer to the measures taken by governments to reduce expenditures in an attempt to shrink their growing budget deficits. Austerity measures are generally unpopular because they tend to lower the quantity and quality of services and benefits provided by the government.”

Austerity, in other words, is when the Government try to cut their way to growth and this tends to hit the poorest people.

What was the attraction of voting Tory?
All discussions about tactical voting and electoral reform aside a lot of people still voted for the Tories; 27,813 voted for Neil Carmichael in Stroud District which is 45% of those who voted. Obviously the Conservatives were offering a vision that a lot of people found attractive and clearly not all of these people were extremely wealthy.

So what were the Conservative Party selling during the recent election? These are the headings from their 2015 manifesto;
  • An economic plan to help you and your family
  • Jobs for all
  • Cutting your taxes, making welfare fairer and controlling immigration
  • The best schools and hospitals for you and your family
  • Securing your home and your neighbourhood
  • Dignity in your retirement
  • Keeping our country secure
Sign me up now! These points sound fantastic. They speak to me about my family and things that I am worried about in terms of their wellbeing and their future. And from the foreword by David Cameron I can see that the Tories are able to deliver these wonderful things because they have been prudent with public finances and have developed “one of the fastest growing major economies in the world” by implementing their “long term economic plan” which has been austerity.

A sensible and measured approach which looks after the interests of our families and future generations. Some tough decisions have had to be made, but these are inevitable and we all have to share our part. “We’re all in this together” we’ve heard George Osborne tell us.

These are obviously smart men talking soberly about what needs to be done to put sensible spending back on track after recklessness. We can relate to this because we have visions of people spending wildly without a care. We think of our own household and how when we have less money coming in we make decisions to spend less. We make our own cuts. And if we’re honest, we get a bit frustrated at people who seem to struggle with this idea!

I imagine this is exactly the type of reason that people decided to vote Conservative. It is attractive because it appears intuitive. It would seem that the Tories are focused on achieving economic prosperity; the vision that as the economy grows we will all benefit because there will be more to go around. In other words, let’s put off some happiness now in the hope of tomorrow; our lives have shown us that this is necessary and so the Tory message speaks to us of reality.

The illusion
But we have all been misled. Not just by the Conservative Party but by a narrative that is so prevalent in the mainstream media and all the main parties.  This narrative is one that holds “economic growth” as being the most important goal that government, businesses and private citizens can strive for.

I don’t think this is a conspiracy. Or at least I don’t think it is a conspiracy in as much as we think about conspiracies happening behind closed doors. The “economic growth” message is given out in the open. It is accepted as a universal truth.

Who has really benefited from austerity?
Austerity has moved money from the poorest parts of society to the richest; particularly the top 1% of the richest people are better off because of cuts to top rate of income tax. To be in the top 1% you need to be earning over £160,000; so unless you, or the company you own, are bringing in more than this, the Tories really aren’t worried about helping you.

Through the last 5 years of austerity the rich have become a lot richer. Britain's 1000 richest individuals have doubled their combined wealth from £249 billion to £519 billion. These are the people who support and fund the Conservative party and own the largest businesses that benefit from Tory tax cuts.

Of course ‘not being helped out’ is not quite as bad as being directly penalised as has happened to families, women, old people and the disabled. Lots of people voted Tory because of their talk of ‘British values’ and ‘security’ but if you have children you will have lost 9% of your net income through the cuts compared to 4% of net income lost by childless couples that you know.

The poorest 10% of the population have seen their income decrease by 38%.

The reason that a lot of people (particularly those who are in, and support, the Conservative Party) tend not to worry about this too much is because of the labelling of poor people and benefit claimants as feckless and undeserving.

But poverty and inequality are inherent in the system; economic policy has been specifically created to take money from the poorest people and give it to the rich. The anti-Robin Hood. Those of us who benefit from the system are able to do so only because some people lose out. We have a responsibility to support anyone who is a victim of this system even if they appear to be unwilling or unable to help themselves; how could they struggle against the might of the systemic inequality alone?

Additionally, consider the reality that only 14% of the welfare budget goes on working-age benefits. When you think of Mr Osborne’s plans to announce cuts of £12bn from welfare spending understand that this money will come out of health, education, the environment and state pensions among others. Also consider it is not the wealthiest that benefit from these state funded services. It is no surprise that the wealthy don’t defend greater investment in them.

The Conservatives represent the interests of the wealthy, powerful minority. But even in our unfair voting system they still need us to vote for them to get to a position to enforce their policies; so they tell us what we want to hear.

Just because we have ‘economic growth’ it doesn’t mean we have prosperity. Although this will seem completely ludicrous to anyone who measures prosperity in terms of national gain in wealth; we would be better off seeing an end or a decline in ‘economic growth’ and begin to see a growth in ‘prosperity’.

Poor people spend more than rich people

(Please forgive the simplifying of ‘rich/poor people’)

Other than being morally wrong to take from the poor and vulnerable to give to the rich, economically speaking it makes no sense. The thing is, poor people spend more money than rich people.

Because they have what they need and have a good level of security, when rich people have more money they are more likely to save it rather than spend it. This means that they have no immediate effect on the economy because they are not spending. Money sat in savings accounts is good in the longer term for the economy but actually with the number richer people with accounts abroad in tax havens this impact is diminished.

Poorer people do not have the basic things they need and so when they have more money they go out and spend it. This therefore stimulates economic activity and because there are a lot more poor people than rich people there is a lot more of them to do this.

We need to ditch the Conservative mentality of ‘trickle down’ and start working on a ‘trickle up’.
(For this part I effectively summarised Thomas Clark’s discussion on Marginal Propensity to Consume)

We can’t keep growing
Out of everything I have read, the satirical news outlet The Daily Mash has explained this better than anyone else in their article “Green manifesto full of crazy stuff about oil not lasting forever” in which they “quote” a Green Party spokesman as saying:

“It’s a radical idea, certainly. But how do we prove it? Well, this lunchtime go and get yourself some soup and then eat it all. You’ll notice that once you’ve eaten all of it, it’s not there any more. That cup of soup is finished.Do a before and after picture then show it to your friends to see if they can tell the difference.”

Whichever way you look at it; the finite resources of our planet mean we can’t keep on growing indefinitely anyway. We have to find some alternatives to ‘growth’.

I get why you voted Conservative
We’ve all heard the narrative about ‘economic growth’. It is convincing. It is relentless. But it is wrong and ‘austerity’ won’t achieve it anyway.

If you are interested in the idea of ‘Prosperity without Growth’ may I suggest you start with the economist Tim Jackson and watch this short TED video.
Alex Lodge

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