Aneurin Bevan said that the evolution of our political economy is driven by three forces in a dynamic struggle – private property, poverty and democracy – and at difficult economic times private property will attack democracy to defend its interests from the demands of poverty. This is exactly what is happening in Cameron’s Britain with cost of repaying the deficit loaded on the shoulders of the poorest and the removal of the requirement to register to vote.
The number of children living in absolute poverty ( ie beneath 60% of median earnings) will grow by 600,000 in 2012 according to the IFS as median earnings actually fall by 7%. Meanwhile directors in the FTSE 100 companies saw their salaries grow by 49% last year. This is the stark reality of the ConDem priorities in action. Meanwhile, Shelter predict another 35,000 homeless by Christmas as the Tories and Lib Dems in anticipation switch squatting from being a civil to a criminal offence despite the opposition of the Bar Council.
How we tackle the deficit and who pays most are political questions rooted in who represents the interests of the few and private property – the Tories and Liberals – or of the many and those in poverty – Labour. The question of what is the balance between growth and cuts and who pays most is political. The Tories’ choice is to attack public services, pensions and jobs and the welfare state leading to a massive increase in poverty. The Tories have chosen to abandon Labour’s strategy of short term investment above tax revenues to stimulate economic growth to boost tax revenues. This accounted for a third of the deficit – the rest being due to the bankers – and successfully generated positive growth.
Instead George Osborne announced half a million job cuts which predictably provoked people into saving more and spending less. This has meant a sharp reduction in economic growth so that the deficit forecast is now £46billion higher. They are in no mood to change course but know that without attacking democacy and rigging the system they will be punished for their ruthless ineptitude at the ballot box. That’s why we have fixed term parliaments, new contituency boundaries and a reduction in the number of MPs. In Wales, where Labour is strong, one in four MPs will be removed.
Most pernicious of all is the removal of the requirement to register to vote in Britain. This will remove the votes of millions of the poorest in Britain so David Cameron will be taking their jobs and services and pensions and benefits with one hand and their right to vote with the other. Each new constituency must have 77,500 registered voters plus or minus five per cent. The Tories have calculated that as poorer voters drop off the register, Labour will have less winnable seats. Already a third of registered voters don’t vote and these tend to be poorer and are more likely to drop off the register. Meanwhile individual voter registration is being introduced so in families where the head of household has traditionally filled in the voter registration for the family – in particular amongst some ethnic communities – voter registration will fall. Money provided for voter registration to local authorities will no longer be ring-fenced for that purpose and individuals can opt not to be sent requests to register to vote.
As a further move to increase poverty and reduce democracy the Tories are advocating giving taxation powers to Wales and Scotland. They plan to freeze or reduce the block grants and then to say “if you need more money raise your own tax”. The Scotland Act gives responsibility to Scotland for raising 10 pence of income tax and helps push it in the direction of independence. Meanwhile the Silk Commission will look at extending tax raising powers to push Wales in a semi-detached direction.
Both will help consolidate Tory power in Westminster and put pressure on the net subsidies to Scotland and Wales which are £14.3billion and £14.6billion respectively. As total annual oil and gas revenue from the North Sea was £13.4 billion in 2011/12 and just £6.5 billion in 2009/10, the pretence that Scotland can become independent without making the Scots poorer doesn’t add up. In Wales the Welsh Government receives £15.7 billion so an independent Wales would lose virtually all this money.
In just 18 months the forces of conservatism are about to destroy centuries of democracy by taking away the right to vote. They are rolling back the welfare state and public services so that the rights and living standards fought for over generations are being removed. Now is the time for Labour to regain our historic place as the champion of social justice, democacy and the right to work and to heed the words of Aneurin Bevan.
However the Tory strategy of flattery and conceit is in play as part of the broader assault on democracy from private property to keep poverty rising as Nye Bevan would have predicted. The Tories and Lib Dems are dividing up and weakening democracy, making the poor poorer and breaking up the Union.
We must not let Britain down.
Geraint Davies is the Labour Co-operative MP for Swansea West.