Sunday 10 May 2015

Posted by Jake on Sunday, May 10, 2015 with No comments | Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Just before the 2015 General Election polling day, the Liberal-Democrats suggested the Tories lacked a heart and Labour lacked a brain. The Conservative victory in that election showed when it comes to voting for a national government brain tends to trump heart.

Perhaps unfairly: Conservatives are perceived to be heartlessly selfish; Labour are presented as brainlessly altruistic. It is suggested that Conservatives want to take less in taxes and put less into public services and welfare: everyone to be more self-reliant. While Labour seems to want to do the opposite: everyone chipping in for the needy. Labour would provide welfare carrots to help the waylaid while they get back on their feet, while the Tories would get them up by prodding them with a stick.

In the 2015 general election the voters, given the choice of handing over some of their own carrots in taxes or leaving the government to wield a stick, decided they'd rather keep their carrots. Unconcerned that one day in the future it may be them, or perhaps one day in the past it was them, waylaid by sickness or unemployment or legal difficulty or some other consequence of fate.

Which is understandable, because for most people such misfortunes are very rare, and the memories of them quickly fade.

A survey by the law firm Slater Gordon found: "Results showed the average person will undergo two surgeries, at least three hospital trips and one case of broken bones in their time". In an average UK lifespan of 80+ years that's not a lot.

For most individuals requiring the high profile publicly funded services is rare. Out of a population of something over 64 million only a tiny fraction require emergency help at any particular time:

Cuts to Legal Aid have meant only 173,315 new civil cases were started in 2013/14, compared to over 700,000 in each year between 2000 and 2010. Denied Legal Aid many were left to defend themselves or to give up. But even half a million people cut adrift in a legal storm don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy electoral world.

The reality is most of the time most people don't use publicly funded firemen, policemen, doctors, nurses, or lawyers. Most people don't claim housing benefits or job seekers allowances most of the time.

However most people do need them at some time. And when they do need them, the benefits or the services, they really really do need them. 

At those times they value the welfare state, but most of the time not so much.

It is true that everybody relies everyday on publicly funded stuff from roads to broadband. But all that has become subliminal to the voter. Just before the 2015 election the government had the brilliant idea of putting a Union Jack logo on publicly funded infrastructure to remind us. But while famous military victories have been won over bridges, it is unlikely a general election would be.

In his pre-election budget of March 2015, just two months before the General Election, George Osborne's proposals were described by the OBR as "a much sharper squeeze on real spending in 2016-17 and 2017-18 than anything seen over the past five years".

In the weeks before the actual general election vote even Osborne wasn't confident how much 'heartlessness' the electorate would take. In March 2015 he pulled out of the nose-dive he was planning in public spending. The Office of Budget Responsibility's reports for December 2014 and March 2015 showed Osborne pulling on the joystick with a promise to increase spending from 2019-20 (in time for the next General Election).

The OBR report in December 2014 stated: "As Chart 1.1 illustrates, total public spending is now projected to fall to 35.2 per cent of GDP in 2019-20, taking it below the previous post-war lows reached in 1957-58 and 1999-00 to what would probably be its lowest level in 80 years."

The OBR report in March 2015 stated: "Chart 1.2 shows current receipts and total managed expenditure as a share of GDP since 1919-20 using Bank of England and ONS data. The Government’s decision to assume that spending rises in line with nominal GDP in 2019-20 means that it no longer falls to its lowest share of national income in a full year since before the war, as was the case in our December forecast. "

In the privacy of a polling booth, on balance helping oneself tends to be more alluring than helping others.

Labour's mistake is not the "helping others" thing, but failing to show that the "others" are in fact most people at some time in their lives. The Welfare State is not just for life's victims and casualties, it is also a very cost effective insurance policy for the great majority of middle class voters. An insurance policy most of them will have to call on every now and then.

Labour failed to show that by helping the "others" most people are actually helping themselves. Labour should not be appealing to the voters' hearts, but to their brains. And by doing that they may even force the Tories to think with more heart!


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