How the left was lost

Mrs Rabbit’s question

This morning, Mrs Rabbit asked me how rich someone would need to be in order for them to logically vote Tory. Her thinking was that something didn’t add up. Wouldn’t only a small proportion of people actually be better off with Tory policies?

I wasn’t able to give an immediate answer to this because, firstly, I was about to go onto a conference call with the Swedes and secondly, it’s pretty complicated to determine where the line between better or worse off with the Tories would be drawn. For a start, we need to decide that the alternative is. The alternative might be to vote for Labour, Lib Dems, SNP or someone else. Also there are lots of factors to consider. It isn’t simply about each party’s policy on income tax. There are wealth taxes, consumption taxes, inheritance tax and lots of other things such as how much a party might spend on public services and how much those services benefit people of different levels of wealth.

As an example, we know that since 2010 the Tories have been wilfully underfunding the NHS to such an extent that it is now in a very big mess. This has a big negative impact on those people who can’t afford private health care and a small positive impact on those who can (because of lower taxes). Those who can afford private education for their children are similarly positively affected by the wilful underfunding of our schools and those who can afford to buy any book they want are positively affected by the closures of our libraries.

Whilst benefit cuts have predominantly hurt the poorest in our society, it does seem that you would have to get to a fairly high level of wealth before you were positively impacted by a broken NHS or state education system.

That much seems fairly obvious but strangely, when voters are given the option of voting to increase taxes on the wealthier part of society in exchange for additional funding of their public services, they don’t seem to respond in anything like the numbers one might expect. In a world that’s lurching further and further to the right, Mrs Rabbit has asked a pretty important question. So what exactly is going on?

Rich donors

This is Michael Farmer.

michaelfarmer

Michael Farmer runs a hedge fund, has a personal fortune of £150m and has donated over £6.5m to the Tories.

Why he supports the Tories isn’t too important. If I were to guess, I’d say that Michael is one of the people who isn’t affected by the the underfunding of the NHS or state schools and is more concerned with which party will offer him the lowest taxes and the least amount of regulation on his hedge fund.

Now you might well argue that someone with £150m in the bank could afford to have a slightly more altruistic outlook and you might be right but like it or not, the Tories are going to be better for him personally than any alternative. Simple enough.

However, while we all get to vote for the party of our choosing, very few of us have the luxury of being able to give the party of our choosing £6.5m and therein lies a big problem. A rich person has the opportunity to influence proceedings far more than a non-rich person. Further still, the Tories can’t win with only the votes of the people who they will make better off and they need to convince an awful lot of other people (who they will make worse off) to vote for them too.

Michael’s £6.5m doesn’t get spent convincing other people like Michael Farmer to vote Tory – there aren’t enough of them to matter. That £6.5m goes straight towards the campaign to, (if I may use a metaphor), convince non-Michael Farmers to keep buying big guns, aiming them at their own foot and pulling the trigger. And then when those people say, “Ow, my foot really hurts now!”, telling them that it is due to (metaphor over) immigrants.

The art of fibbing

If you think about politics in a basic left/right context, there isn’t any reason that one side should make stuff up more than the other. The right believes in a smaller public sector, leaving more things to market forces and a smaller redistribution of wealth. The left believes in a larger public sector, leaving fewer things to market forces and a larger redistribution of wealth. There is no reason here that one side should lie about things any more than the other but that’s absolutely not what we see today.

Whether it is Donald Trump saying that Muslims in New Jersey were cheering as the towers collapsed on September 11th, or Boris Johnson putting the £350 million per week figure on the side of his Brexit Battle Bus, the right is far happier to make stuff up now than they have ever been and what’s more worrying is how effective it is.

You want another example? Six months ago, Donald Trump convinced millions of Americans to vote to lose their health insurance. Something is seriously amiss here.

The issues we are asked to vote on are wide-ranging and complex. We are asked to understand economics, healthcare, education, foreign policy, the environment etc, we are asked to form an opinion on how each party’s policies will deliver in each area and then make an informed choice. That’s a remarkably difficult thing to do.

A political party could try to help voters make an informed choice but it is clearly easier and more effective to go with a simplistic, lies-based narrative that appeals to a lot of people who aren’t able to check. For the Tories, Trump and others on the extreme right, it isn’t just easier, it is absolutely necessary for them to get elected. Remember, only a small proportion of the population will benefit from their policies so helping the rest of the electorate to make an informed decision would be an act of extreme self-harm.

The fact that the small proportion who benefits can provide political funding beyond the wildest dreams of those who don’t, perpetuates the problem. The parties who benefit the richest donors get re-elected, the distribution of wealth goes further in the wrong direction and the cycle continues.

I’m not done though. It gets worse.

The media

You’ve got your funding and you’ve got your fibs. To really get your message out there though, you need some friends in the press and, conveniently, owning and marketing a national newspaper is expensive. It’s not surprising that a lot of newspaper owners fall firmly into the small section of society that benefits with the election of a right-wing government. I wrote a blogpost a while back where I looked at the daily circulation of left-wing and right-wing newspapers in the UK: 7m right-wing papers sold every day to 1.5m left-wing papers and the list is dominated by The Sun and The Daily Mail.

These days though, owning the media isn’t enough for the right. These days, chillingly, the right goes after any media outlet who attempts to do anything other than toe the line. Trump wages war on the New York Times and the Tories wage war on the BBC. Neither of those organisations is anything like as partisan as some of the uncriticised publications that support the right-wing cause. The Tories don’t criticise The Daily Mail and Trump doesn’t criticise Breitbart. Lies good, facts… BAD!

Summary

I’m no particular fan of Jeremy Corbyn or Tim Farron and I wasn’t a particular fan of Hilary Clinton either. What I do know is that they are much better than the alternative of what I’m describing here.

Am I paranoid? If you think so, here’s another one: Why is it that climate-change denial is almost exclusively a right-wing thing? After all, there’s no reason for it to be. There’s no reason that preferring lower taxes at the expense of smaller public services should mean that you don’t believe releasing carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere causes the planet to warm up.

This correlation could of course be coincidence but could it possibly be that oil companies fund political parties? Or that rich donors or newspaper owners fear they would be asked to pay more in tax if we were to move to renewable energy? Tough one.

Before I end, let me make something clear. I am not trying to demonise all rich people and I don’t have a problem with a society in which someone can become rich. Those are the things I am often accused of by lazy people when I talk about raising taxes but that’s not what this is about.

We live in a society where we don’t look after the poor or vulnerable properly. We live in a society where we don’t fund healthcare or education properly. We live in a society where there is enough money to tackle all of these things and you know what? There’d still be enough money for us to have some rich people too.

My point is simply that there is no sign of this happening, and the reason for this is pretty simple too:

The problem isn’t that people can become rich. The problem is that the rich get to make the rules.

RedEaredRabbit

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About RedEaredRabbit
My name is RedEaredRabbit, King of Kings. Look on my works ye Mighty and despair.

One Response to How the left was lost

  1. Martin Read says:

    Thank you.

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