Watching the UK news this morning, I see David Cameron’s latest version of the “Big Society” (his code phrase for reducing the size of government and “handing power back to the people”) is to allow people to vote on whether they should have rises in their Council taxes or not.
Basically, the central government will set a cap on how much local councils can increase the Council tax (local municipality tax) each year. If the Council wants to increase it by more than that, it must hold a vote and get all the local residents to approve it. The proposal is that it will be a simple “Yes” or “No” ballot.
What are they thinking? What do you think people are going to vote?
This is the problem with society right now. What do we want? We want lower taxes! When do want them? Now! What else do you want? We want more services from the government! When do you want them? Also, now! OK, explain how that is going to happen…
For too long, “the government” has been seen as some magic mystery box. Somehow, from somewhere, it will just keep finding money to keep giving you everything you can imagine and dream of. Better schools, better hospitals, random wars in foreign countries to ensure you’re kept safe from terrorism, support for single moms, help for the elderly, pensions, drinking water, roads, police, libraries…. These are (mostly) all good things, and necessary too. But they need to be paid for. And the government isn’t some kind uncle with unlimited means who can just keep shelling out money. It’s got to get that money from somewhere.
It’s time for the government to metaphorically call the family into the sitting room and sit us down and tell us the bad news. “Kids, you know things have been tough the past few months. Daddy and mommy have been working hard, but you know we’re paying paid less and didn’t get a Christmas bonus last year either. We’ve run out savings, and no-one will lend us any more money. We’re going to have to cut back on our expenditure as a family, and really work together to get out of this mess. We’d love to go on holiday at the end of the year, but we just can’t. We’d love to send sonny here to a better school, but we just can’t afford it. We’d love to fix his skew teeth, too, but that will have to wait….” And so on. You might have had just such a conversation with your own family.
So, instead of going to the voters and saying: “Can we raise your Council tax, Yes or No?”, the government should go to the voters with a different proposition. Let’s say that every percentage point of tax increase is worth £ 10 million for a local council. They should have a list of things that £ 10 million could buy, and if you vote NO to the tax increase, you also have to indicated which activities of the Council you are happy for them NOT to do.
So, I vote NO to the tax increase. I then have to say whether I’d prefer my children’s school to not have any maintenance and lose 3 teachers, or to have the bins collected only every other week, or to not have the potholes fixed in my road, or to close the closest library to me.
You shouldn’t be able to just say NO.
And you also shouldn’t be able to say NO, and then still complain about the government at your next dinner party.
It’s time for voters to grow up. We’re living in the aftermath of the worst economic period most of us will ever experience. But it’s also time for the government to grow up, and start treating us like adults who can think, rather than pandering to the lowest common denominator of voter appeasement. Otherwise, this is all going to end in tears.