Stephen Hill is an independent public interest practitioner, a chartered surveyor working in planning and development, and a founding member of the PHA and Taxpayers Against Poverty
The garrulous Peter Cruddas was unwise, not just because of what he said, but because he reminds us yet again how the current generation of political leaders has brought a wholly distorted set of values to our public life.
Entry to the “Premier League” of political influence costs only £250, 000, it seems. That is less than a month’s wages for some of our most celebrated footballers. If big business and wealthy individuals really are trying to buy favour and advantage at the expense of other businesses, and improve their prospects for exploiting private citizens…why so little?
A Treasury spokesperson revealed that the need for the national planning reforms announced this week was largely driven by ‘private conversations’ with investors and businesses who would have otherwise invested overseas rather than here. Who spoke to whom about what is, however, a secret. But surely, with such privileged access on major matters of state policy, our biggest businesses should have been expected to pay MUCH MORE than a mere quarter of a million. Have they no sense of proportion?
Many commentators have been using the Conservative’s fund raising activities to restate the increasing inequities that have become entrenched in public life under both Labour and Coalition governments. This is one of the best:
“Public services and taxation have a disparate impact on the contented electoral majority on the one hand and the less affluent on the other, and it is this difference that has clearly and plausibly produced the tax and fiscal policies of these last years. One part of the community pays the taxes and votes, another receives the benefits and does not vote.
In pursuit of the self-interest of those with voice and vote, it has been held that taxes should be reduced and not thereafter increased in any visible way; welfare services should, to the extent that is possible, be curtailed. There should not, however, be any reduction in favoured expenditures, especially for defence and financial rescue operations.
Support to failing financial institutions…is a fully defended function of the government, however evident the financial extravagance and extensive and visible larceny (…of the commercial banks…) that made it necessary. Were the appropriations for these rescue operations applied instead to government expenditures for welfare, that would be deemed burdensome and otherwise wholly intolerable.”
Not many political and economic commentators have quite this grand patrician style of political economist JK Galbraith… he speaks about the events of today, despite haveing been dead for six years. Galbraith was writing about the financial crises of the early 1990s. We have been here before, of course, and will be again, unless we start doing something different.
In 1991, he wrote ‘The Culture of Contentment’, explaining the causes and effects of Reaganomics and Thatcherite policies. He describes all economic policies, of the left or right, as acts of faith for which there is no objective evidence to suggest that they do actually work; all the evidence is that they don’t.
Politicians also trust in their sense of self-belief as being sufficient justification for their policies and actions. Blair and Brown, or Cameron and Osborne are simply the latest professors of economic faiths that they represent as certainties and inevitabilities. Snake oil salesman mostly pedalled harmless coloured waters, but these articles of economic faith are no placebos, having serious and immediate consequences for large parts of the population.
This background is an important starting place to understand what we need to do build many more new homes and make all housing more affordable. Before the summer break, I will be covering in later blogs:
- Why we need a Chancellor who understands land economics
- Why reducing private debt, much of it property debt, is a much more important political task than reducing public debt…and not just because private debt is six and half times greater than public debt.
- Why the last thing that investors want is a deregulated planning system in whch there is even less certainty that the right stuff will be built in the right place than now.
- Why landowners and unrestrained land price speculation are damaging society, the environment and the economy.
- Why housing in London has become the bank for surplus wealth from the Middle East and Asia, and why that is bad for our health
- Why we need a national housing and land policy, and a national housing bank