I wrote the other day about ‘2020 vision: an Agenda for Transformation’, the Tories’ new proto-manifesto document, and the power-mania revealed in the Conservatives’ plan to make ministers above the law, answerable only to a Parliament they control and not to inconvenient legal considerations. Cloud cuckoo land? But that’s not the full extent of the Tories’ delusions. This document, which can be downloaded in full here if you’re of a masochistic bent, is an enormously-revealing glimpse of what the world looks like through a Conservative lens. While the title of the document is a play on the US term for ‘perfect eyesight’, a reading of it leaves you wondering just how thick, and how rose-tinted, their spectacles must be to distort reality and sense to such an extent.
There are a number of examples of complete detachment from reality, and of course a few gems of hypocrisy. However, because this article is going to become long enough just in examining one particular section, I’m going to focus for now on just the one section that I consider most telling. The most jaw-dropping delusion – and no doubt the most interesting one for anyone with an interest in psychology – is what the report envisages the UK will look like in the year 2020 under a continued Tory-led or Tory government. Let’s take a look at the bizarre ‘word-picture’ painted by chapter 2 of the report – authored/supported by MPs George Freeman, Adam Afriyie, Richard Fuller, Damian Hinds, Peter Luff, John Glen and James Morris. I think it’s well worth reproducing, and reading, in full, as well as highlighting a few of the most significant portions:
It is the morning of the 7th May 2020. Over breakfast, Mr and Mrs Jones, happily married for 50 years with three children, are reflecting on the past and their hopes for the future. Reflecting on the difficult years of 2010-2015, they now know Britain is on the right track. Britain is topping the world economic tables for competitiveness and unemployment is low. The most striking development is that it seems the whole world wants to invest in the UK.
Mr and Mrs Jones have a large proportion of their savings in bonds. Not Government bonds—which are no longer issued—but in interest-bearing bonds from mutuals, cooperatives, social enterprises and private businesses. Their oldest child, John, is a successful ‘Life Science’ entrepreneur. He is hiring 20 top class science graduates and another 20 apprentices from the local technical college. He happily invests his profits in research and development. His business benefits enormously now that the Government only accepts electronic invoices. The UK online services industry has cornered the market for electronic invoicing standards. Electronic invoicing alone has added about 0.5 percent to GDP. Their daughter, Mary, is a successful maths teacher on the road to promotion. Her husband is an orderly at the local hospital trust. Nobody can remember if it is private or public; it is just a good hospital and they both hold a stake in its future. Their youngest, David, is a perpetual student and hightech entrepreneur. Like so many others, he is also registering his own IP with the Online Intellectual Property Office.
Mr and Mrs Jones seldom see politicians on TV. The only political stories appear to be about tax reductions, high-tech exports and the massive trade surplus. Britain is confident, dynamic and at ease with itself. The only criticism Mrs Jones has is that “the Conservative Government failed to raise the tax-free threshold to £25,000. It’s such a disincentive for lower earners.” However, Mr Jones reminds her of the days of “those awful tax credits, national insurance contributions and year-end tax returns.” Mrs Jones reflects on this, adding, “at least we know where we stand with a 20 percent flat tax.” “But,” Mr Jones says, “never trust a politician, I very much doubt they will get the flat rate down to 15 percent by 2025 as they promised.” “True,” adds Mrs Jones, “but we can’t expect too much, now that Parliament only sits 16 weeks a year.”
Fantasy? Not necessarily.
Just for a moment, let’s leave aside the particular details highlighted. Does the tenor of the whole thing strike you as ‘off’, and for more than just the ludicrous suppositions? Is it just me, or does it have a weird, ‘Stepford Wives‘ feel to it? It honestly has me wondering whether Tory MPs don’t just have some kind of self-deceiving, rose-tinted view of the world but a complete disconnection from reality so profound that it resembles something from the portrayal of an acid trip on screen?
Anyway. Let’s take a look at how the Tories imagine the world – or at least the UK – is going to look after another 7 years under their gentle rule, and contrast that with how the UK looks now to those of us who haven’t been ingesting LSD or magic mushrooms:
They now know that Britain is on the right track
In the Tories’ fantasy world, their typical British couple (though how typical a couple married for 50 years, with 3 prospering children and savings can be is extremely debatable) no longer has any doubt that the Tories were right all along. Oh, 2010-2015 were ‘difficult’, but all we needed was more of the medicine that appeared to be killing us and ‘Hey Presto’, it magically all turned out right!
Silly, silly people who opposed the Tory wage-slashing, benefit-cutting, state-shrinking ways! Don’t we realise that we’re on the path to a Shining Future? 2.5 million unemployed people, an impending triple-dip recession, Foodbanks opening at the rate of 3 a week and rising rates of suicide – nothing more than a few eggs that needed to be broken to complete the Conservatives’ ‘omelette’.
Topping the economic tables
Our economy is shrinking, demand is flat, tax receipts are reduced by the lack of recovery so that the deficit – no matter how the government tries to disguise it with accounting tricks – is growing. But this will all magically turn around within just 7 years – to such an extent that the UK has not only started to recover, but will ‘top the world economic tables’. If the Tories can mass-produce whatever it is that they’ve been smoking and we can export it, maybe. Otherwise, no.
No more government bonds
Well, the most unrealistic thing about this scenario is probably that ‘Mr and Mrs Jones’ have savings at all. But the idea that government bonds – which is how governments finance their spending – ‘are no longer issued’ is far more revealing than you might think at first reading.
That the report thinks such bonds will no longer be necessary betrays the extent to which the Tories, in their secret ‘heart of hearts’, want to slash the state on which many people inevitably have to rely.
Only in a country where virtually everything is provided by private companies, and paid for by direct charges on each individual ‘customer’, could a government even conceivably do away with government bonds. Either that, or we discover that we’re sitting on oil reserves that make those of Saudi Arabia look like a duck-pond.
Without that unlikely event, a country that does not fund its spending through bonds is going to be one that has no place for the vulnerable, for those who through disability or circumstance are unable to pay their own way. Such people are too expensive, and too unprofitable for private providers if the government is not footing the bill.
That this is how the Tories see the future speaks volumes about their plans and ethos – far more than their coded, public statements will ever admit to. Life sciences and electronic invoices Here we see what the Tories are pinning their hopes on.
The economy is circling the drain because of policies that are either misguided or, more likely, deliberate; full-time jobs are disappearing while poorly-paid part-time jobs replace them if we’re lucky; decision after decision sucks cash – and therefore demand – out of the UK economy. And demand is everything, for economic recovery.
And the panacea – the ‘magic bullet’ that will turn around the whole situation to the degree described in the Tories’ fantasy document? Electronic invoicing and ‘life sciences’.
Electronic invoicing alone, in the 2020 vision ‘has added about 0.5 percent to GDP’. The UK’s GDP, give or take a little to allow for the continual recessions under this government, is worth around £1.5 trillion. That’s 1,500 billion pounds.
0.5% may not sound much, but it works out at £7.5 billion. From ‘electronic invoicing’. I’ve worked in electronic billing, and there is not a snowball in hell’s chance that ‘electronic invoicing standards’ are going to add £7.5 billion to our GDP. There will be enough money in it for one or two companies to make a handsome profit from it, and for some smaller companies to get by, but that’s about it.
‘Life Sciences’, on the other hand, might add £7.5bn to our economy. They might even add £15 billion. But life sciences are a high-tech, low-manpower industry. They will generate big profits for some companies, but the value of ‘life sciences’ to our economy in terms of employment, wages and tax revenues are never going to be the thing that results in our economy ‘topping the world economic tables’.
It’s pure fantasy – nothing but wishful thinking, or else smoke and mirrors to make an idiotic political philosophy seem tenable.
Teachers and orderlies – and all’s well
The scenario painted by the Tories implies that all is well and wonderful in the Jones’ little world, as well as in the country as a whole. But ‘Mary’, their daughter, is a teacher and her husband is an ‘orderly’ at the local hospital.
Under the Tory-led government, teachers’ salaries have been frozen, as have those of orderlies, while the pensions of both teachers and NHS workers have been attacked and devalued. If the hospital where hubby works is privately operated (though apparently, no one can remember if it is or not), then his salary and/or hours will have been cut to increase company profits.
Even if it isn’t, by 2020 (in the nightmare world in which they’ve held onto power) the Tories will have completed their plans to destroy national pay frameworks so that the pay and conditions of NHS staff can be attacked regionally and eroded piecemeal.
Mary had better hope that she gets that promotion. She and her husband are going to need the extra cash desperately.
Nobody knows (the trouble we’ve seen)..
Again we have a statement that reveals far more than the authors probably intend:
Nobody can remember if it is private or public; it is just a good hospital
In their future idyll/dystopia, nobody is sure any more whether the local hospital is private or public. Leaving aside the ridiculous supposition that nobody will care by 2020 whether we still have a true National Health Service or a series of privately-owned pseudo-NHS hospitals with all the fragmentation and variation that will inevitably entail, the statement is a classic Freudian slip by the Tory authors.
Without intending to, they’ve given away their game plan for the NHS – to break it up and privatise it while keeping the news out of the public awareness as far as possible and with the collusion of the media.
Sadly, the media have been very collusive so far, and the tactic is working far more than it should. Every person who cares about the NHS needs to shout loud and long to make sure that people can’t be ignorant of ‘if it is public or private‘.
‘Tax reductions, high-tech exports & the massive trade surplus’
Once again, the Tories’ slip is showing. The first thing in their list of political news in 2020? Tax reductions. Tax cuts lie at the heart of every Tory goal and strategy, because their aim is to make sure that the rich keep as much as possible, and have to pay as little as possible to keeping the UK a decent place for us all to live in.
More on tax shortly. According to the Tory dream/nightmare scenario, by 2020 the UK is going to be enjoying a ‘massive trade surplus’ because of ‘high-tech exports’ (and don’t forget the electronic invoicing standards!). The ‘balance of trade’ is the difference between the value of what the UK sells abroad and the value of what it has to import. If we sell more than we buy, we have a ‘trade surplus’. If we sell less, we have a ‘trade deficit’. The Tories predict that, if they are allowed to continue with their policies until 2020, we’ll have a ‘massive trade surplus’. The graph below shows the UK balance of trade since May 2010:
At no point under this government has the UK’s monthly balance of trade been less than £1 billion, and it currently stands at about £3.5 billion. Per month. That’s a trade deficit of about £42 billion a year at current rates. Not only that, but since 1955 the UK has averaged a deficit of almost £1.2 billion.
The Tory party envisages that, by 2020 and in spite of a massive programme of spending cuts that will throw people out of work, crush demand and cause companies to go out of business, the UK can buck the trend of almost 60 years, ignore the foolishness of ‘austerity’ and will have turned a deficit of £42bn a year into a ‘massive trade surplus‘.
Elsewhere, the report states that the UK cannot possibly compete with countries like India and China on the cost of basic commodities. The majority of our steel, textiles, raw materials for everything from pencils to smartphones and almost all of the finished items themselves, along with myriad other substances and articles and a large proportion of our food, will continue to have to be imported.
And the Tories think that, by 2020, ‘life science’, high-tech exports are not only going to cancel out our £42bn trade deficit, but turn it into a massive trade surplus. But the ‘high-tech’ items that we consume in big quantities are already produced in China etc – and any new technologies are almost certainly going to be produced there as well, under licence. The licensing fees will be valuable – but there is no way that they will be enough to turn a massive deficit into a massive surplus.
‘Cloud cuckoo’? I think that’s unkind to cuckoos. And to clouds.
Flat taxes or flat-earth believers?
Once again, the real agenda comes through in a none-too-subtle disguise. ‘Flat tax’ is the principle – much loved by the wealthy – that everyone, no matter whether they earn £10,000 or £10 million, should pay a single, unchanging rate of tax. The 2020 scenario pictures the Jones family’s delight with the simplicity of a flat tax and contrasts it with the
awful tax credits, national insurance contributions and year-end tax returns
that we ‘suffer’ in 2013.
Right-wingers believe in flat taxes with the same unthinking fervour of those who believe, against all sense and evidence, that the earth is still flat, and argue constantly for its ‘fairness’ and ‘simplicity’. But the reality is obvious – flat taxes hurt the lower-paid, whose disposable income is almost entirely eradicated by the cost of essentials such as energy, food, clothing and housing, while the wealthy get to sit on a bigger proportion of their wealth at the expense of the poor.
Not only that, but the Tories envisage a ‘fair’ flat tax at only 20%, and ideally 15% or possibly less – and the end of the national insurance contributions that help to fund the NHS, pensions and social security. Once again, this betrays the Tory loathing of anything being provided for those who need it by the state at the expense of the fabulously wealthy and extremely comfortable.
I could talk about the ludicrousness of the idea:
that ‘lower earners’ could be earning up to £25,000 when the government is bent on freezing wages and benefits and removing employment protections and refuses even to consider imposing a ‘living wage’ of £8.45 an hour;
that the Jones could have a son who is ‘a perpetual student‘ and still have savings, when this government has tripled the cost of tuition fees and would love to put them up further still;
that Britain can be ‘dynamic, confident and at ease with itself‘ as long as this government continues to play ‘divide and conquer‘ by setting the working poor against the unemployed, private workers against public, the able-bodied against disabled people.
But I won’t, because this post is already more than long enough, and I need to wrap it up. So I’ll finish by inviting you to read the document for yourself if you have the stomach for it, and to make up your own mind about it if you’re not happy with my analysis. But I think it’s pretty clear: the Tories are suffering from a distortion of, and disconnection from, the real world that makes them a danger to any ordinary person every second that they are in government.
So let’s make sure they’re not, at the earliest opportunity.