I don’t want to be the Nation of No


We can argue forever about immigration, economics or housing. I certainly don’t know the answers, and few people seem to agree about the data. 

But to me, it comes down to this: as a nation, who do we want to be?

Do we want to be the open, outward, sympathetic country? The people who help the desperate? The friends? The optimists saying Yes to opportunities

Or the country that is closed, inward, self-obsessed? The people who let migrants struggle alone? The enemies? The pessimists refusing to even try?

I don’t have expert knowledge on migration or economics. Nor, probably, do you.

But I don’t want to be the Nation of No. So I’m voting to Remain.

How dare I ask to pay?

I recently sent the following tweet. 

Hi @George_Osborne 

I pay top rate tax. I don’t want a tax cut. I want better benefits for the disabled. Tax me more, you inhumane twat.

Which was unwise, given the flurry of abuse it generated. Not, sadly, from George, but from the type of feral UKIP intellect which occupies that perfect grey area between being fiercely patriotic about Britain, yet totally unwilling to pay a penny to fund it.

I am not patriotic. I find patriotism very uncomfortable, in that it automatically assumes the specialness of this country and therefore the lesserness (not even a word) of everybody from other countries. 

But perhaps that’s why I’m a fan of taxation, and the patriotic right aren’t. I don’t feel I’m more special or more deserving than anyone else. Luckier, sure, in some ways (but also a cancer survivor, so not particularly lucky in the matter of kidneys).

It’s been pointed out to me that, if I want to be taxed more, I can just write a cheque to HMRC. And I could, it’s true. But this misses the point of taxation. 

Firstly, my excess money wouldn’t help much. Disclosure: my salary is £40,000, which puts me in the top 12% (just), but I’m fortunate to have the kind of job that lets me freelance, so in a good year I can earn another £8,000 or so, pre-tax. 

So my massive cheque to HMRC would amount to, at best, about £40 a month.

If everyone on £40,000 paid another £40 a month (and pretty much all of them could) it would fund university education for everybody, or better social care for the disabled, or… Christ, at least some improvement to our shambolic, crumbling, failing nation. But my forty quid on its own? Not so much.

Second: I have an old friend who works at HMRC, who tells me (and this is my only reference for this, so if I’m wrong, forgive me), that HMRC don’t want your bloody cheque unless it’s for about £20k. It’s too much paperwork. They have a facility to accept it, but not the manpower; not since the closure of 108 tax offices and 60% cut in staff. Cos Osborne is all about chasing those tax avoiders. Yeah.

But, say the right, I could give it to charity. They’re right. Except, well…

Third: how many bridges have been built by charity? How many hospitals? Yeah, I could (and do) give money to charity. I worked for charities for 13 years, gave up 20% of my earnings, built free websites for them (and still do, in evenings and weekends); and I do all the usual standing-order stuff.

Good for me, aren’t I a saint? No, I’m not, I’m a smug git, but sleep well knowing I’m doing my bit (and probably your bit too)

But my bit isn’t much, and isn’t mandatory. Tax is mandatory. What about the poor sods who need to know – not hope, know – that their disability allowance will be paid each week? Charity, on the whim of comfortable smug arseholes with spare time and HTML skills, does not replace a functioning society. Only those who assume they’re better and more valuable than other people could be so blinkered and greedy. Cough up, you self-centred git.

Fourth point: government is useless, wasteful, thick. It says so in the Daily Mail. Well… yes. It is. So is private enterprise, and to the same extent. This shows us that:

CEOs, no matter how much they are paid, have no effect on the performance of a company: the idea that they are worth what they are paid, which is gigantic compared to the average member of their workforce, is nonsense. A report in 2013 found that between 1993-2012 40% of the USA’s highest paid CEOs had either their companies bailed out by the taxpayer, had their companies charged with fraudulent activity, been fired for poor performance, or have overseen the death of their companies

Are charities any better? If so, why don’t FTSE100 companies headhunt charity CEOs all the time? They don’t. Inefficiency, failure, stupidity – they’re human factors, and exist everywhere. But collective taxation does things charity or private endeavour can never do. Those things have a vital role, but so does government; and if you don’t understand that, you’re an ideologue and there’s no hope for your mind: it’s ossified in the position chosen for it by The Sun. 

Fifth: lower corporation tax has not grown the economy. We have a lower rate than anyone in the G20, but still lose investment to Germany (with a rate 8% higher). Reduced tax receipts hit our deficit, and increase the debt (which has doubled under Osborne’s low-tax regime). Our tax income has fallen almost a quarter since George the towel-folder took charge. Reducing our tax income yet more is idiotic in the extreme.

And you know who has super low tax and super tiny government? Sierra Leone. I bet they’re all glad they saved a few quid on tax and had stopped funding the state, when the local warlord is demanding their daughters down the barrel of a gun.

Finally, there’s an assumption that champagne socialists like me (and, by the way, I don’t like champagne and am a pretty rational middle-of-the-road business owner who struggles deeply with Corbybism and thinks functioning capitalism is a positive thing) – there’s an assumption that we just want “richer people than us” to pay. Well… yeah! I do. 

I’m 45. But after 25 years hard work, often 2 jobs at a time, I can’t afford to buy a house. I can’t replace my 10 year old rust bucket of a car. I saved for 2 years for an engagement ring, cos I have no savings, no pension, and for 6 years I had no holiday whatsoever. And I’m lucky. I’m in the richest 12%. Most of us have seen no pay increase since 1980 (in real terms) even though the total amount of wealth has more than doubled.

But the richest 1000 Britons increased their wealth by £155 billion since the 2007 crash – coincidentally the amount cut from government spending is also £155 billion. 

Where on earth could that money have gone to? Gosh, it’s a puzzle.

I live in Knutsford, which is all posh’n’that: but I rent here because I need to be here for work. I can’t live elsewhere, it’s utterly impractical. And I’m no silver-spoon wet liberal: I was born and brought up in a tough working class place called Ashton Under Lyne, which has just about the lowest life expectancy and highest social deprivation in the UK (certainly in the lowest few percent). If I live in Knutsford now, it’s cos I worked damn hard for it. That’s how it should be – see: no communism here, mate. 

But there are many, many people much richer than me, who can comfortably afford to pay the same top rate tax that I want to pay on my own higher earnings. There is, for example, £13trillion – yes trillion – hidden offshore, untaxed, and squirrelled away by the wealthiest 0.1% of psychopaths. Can they not afford to pay 5% more on that, to secure food and heating for our poorest and most disabled? 

Yes they fucking can. 

So when I argue for higher tax for myself (and others who are doing ok-to-spectacularly-well), I do it from a position of knowledge about how much is out there. And from a moral understanding that I am not better than the people our best patriots are currently driving into starvation, poverty, misery and death.

Cow politics.

I have a love-hate relationship with politics.

It’s important stuff that shouldn’t be trivialised, and it affects every aspect of all of our lives in a way that Russell Brand seems incapable of recognising. Voting for your leaders is the thing that separates us from animals more than anything else apart from speech, clothing and line-dancing.

But I also recognise that politics is a nonsensical soap opera, and a big part of the fun – if fun it be – is hitting MPs with a bladder full of piss whenever they do something stupid.

The problem is: we fail to spot the really big stupid things until 100 years after they happen.

A really big stupid thing is happening right now, and this little blog is my take on it. But first, and because I like incongruity, let’s discuss bison.

A bison is a massive, hairy, aggressive, powerful one-ton cow with huge horns and a fearsome mothering instinct; it can run at 20 miles an hour for 20 or 30 miles, and it lives in huge groups which have the potential to form an impregnable wall of horns, muscles and overwhelming strength.

And they get eaten by wolves all the time.

On David Attenborough’s recent series there was a spectacular sequence showing 3 wolves, each weighing 40lb, managing to take on a biomass of Bison weighing several thousand tons, scaring the bejesus out of the cattle, and killing the weak.

Now, dogs are pretty stupid, but not as stupid as cows. If bison had any brains (or maybe some vocal cords or WhatsApp ) they’d agree not to run and scatter. Scattered, they’re all vulnerable. Combined they’re indestructible, and only idiots who leave the safety of the pack would be killed. If wolves ran at 1000 tons of angry bison, and 1000 tons of angry bison turned to face them and growled, we’d see a lot of wolf tail and absolutely no blood.

This is a neat metaphor for today’s global economy. 100 years ago, nations were like bison in a land without wolves. They competed with each other, and had fleas, and were subject to plague; but nobody was picking them off, so it made no sense to have agreements. Eat your cud, keep your head down, cooperate with nobody.

But today, the world is different. International finance and corporate giants – whilst a fraction of the size of most nations – are wolves picking off the weak. National laws have no effect on international companies, just as they have no effect on international criminals (in most minds, these amount to the same thing).

So to return to my earlier comment: the stupid thing we’re doing right now is wasting air on a massive debate about which way to run, like each nation is a bison, and we can’t communicate or join forces to mount a defence.

What we should be doing, of course, is recognising the reality and joining forces to make a shield-wall of horns and muscle against predatory capital, to prevent anyone being destroyed.

Of course, in this biomass there would be a lot of mess. We’d all have to wade through a lot of shit before we work out the toilet facilities. We’d have to learn to live together in ways we didn’t before. We’d have to work collaboratively to walk to the watering hole en-masse, and have proper health and safety rules that prevented anyone falling in.

But wolves wouldn’t kill us. And we’d prosper.

And this – in its confused, bureaucratic, inefficient way – is what the EU is attempting to do. It’s not perfect. It’s not clean. There is shit underfoot, and we haven’t figured out a way to get to lush green pastures yet. Lots of people are bitching about the cost of health and safety (although they’d stop bitching if they saw what it’s like when someone falls into the pond). But the EU is protection in a world which is – like it or not – ruled by wolves which will kill us all, given a chance. It’s not great protection. But that’s mainly because we’re not yet great at collaborating.

And this is my intellectual opposition to UKIP. They fail to realise that alone, we’re at the mercy of killers. They’re too busy moaning about other bison standing too close and nudging them while they wee to recognise the truth: that proximity to neighbours is better than having your throat ripped out by lupine psychopaths. UKIP ignore the fact that the problems of globalisation aren’t globalisation per se. The problem is that only the killer corporations are global. The nations are still, well, national, and therefore vulnerable.

We can’t put the Internet away, or stop progress. All we can do is recognise the new vulnerabilities progress exposes us to, and find ways to fix them. And the only rational fix for supranational finance is supranational governance.

Not only should we stay in the EU (which must, I agree, reform fast). We should also work towards more and more global agreements on tax, workers rights, ecology, power, military and more.

Otherwise, we’re little better than idiot cows running away from each other to be slaughtered in the bushes.

What happens next

Scene: Interior, day, hospital ward. The young urology consultant is visiting Mole Rat, who lies in bed with a book

Consultant: Good morning.

Mole Rat: Hello there.

Consultant: Well, that was a bit of a surprise!

Mole Rat: What was?

Consultant: …. your cancer?

Mole Rat: Oh yes. That. Sorry. Yes, yes it was.

(Consultant has notes. He consults them. The clue is in the title.)

Consultant: It says here you don’t smoke.

Mole rat: Correct.

Consultant: Smoking is the major cause of kidney cancer.

Mole rat: I’m sorry to disappoint you.

Consultant: Do you work with chemicals.

Mole rat: No, I make websites.

Consultant: Chemical exposure is another major cause.

Mole rat: Not much of that in website design.

Consultant: I imagine not. Has anybody explained to you about the surgery?

Mole rat: You’re going to remove my kidney.

Consultant: That’s right. We’ll do an open surgery. I just wanted to let you know before we take you down to theatre.

Mole rat: I hope it’s not as bad as the last time I was in theatre.

(Consultant consults his notes, once again living up to his reputation)

Consultant: I’m sorry, I can’t see when you were last in theatre.

Mole rat: We Will Rock You. It was awful.

Consultant: Oh I see. Very good.

Mole rat: Sorry.

Consultant: Was it that bad?

Mole rat: I haven’t seen it, I just liked the joke.

Consultant [long pause]: We’ll try not to hurt you.

(Mole Rat suspects they will try to hurt him. It really was a terrible joke.)