Monday, June 14, 2010

Is the TPA the spawn of Satan?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with defending your interests, especially if you do it in a thoughtful and considered way. The following is a defense of local government spending by Councillor Daniel Moylan, the Deputy Leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council. Is it thoughtful and considered? Let us see:

'Conservatives have tended to be sympathetic to the stated goals of the TaxPayers’ Alliance: “campaigning for lower taxes and better government”. Which Tory could be against that? But the approach taken by the TaxPayers’ Alliance, while great fun for a party accustomed to opposition, threatens both democracy and good government in Britain and is most likely to be damaging to the poor and inarticulate. It is an approach based on three salient qualities clearly seen in the Alliance’s Better Government Position Paper: these are ignorance, raucousness and nihilism – the bedrock of anarchy (and her twin sister dictatorship) throughout the ages.'

Wow. Sounds like hyperbole, but OK. Let's hear you back that up.

'The Alliance refuses, in its Position Paper, to articulate any vision of what government is for. There are positive remarks about the Admiralty in the year 1900, so we may assume that the Alliance sees a certain role for government in the defence of the nation. But beyond that, is there any reason to believe they would not attack anything more elaborate than a basic night-watchman state? There are respectable arguments in favour of a night-watchman state but one very strong and democratic argument against it: the people of Britain do not want one, a fact the Conservative Party knows very well.'

I'm not sure that one-issue public pressure groups are expected to present the public with a complete guide to how they think the country should be run, but let's go with it for now. Councillor Moylan believes a) that the TPA want a government which runs the police and the army and nothing else and b) that the British people want... something else (sadly, not defined).

'Of course, the TaxPayers’ Alliance will never put the popularity of their view of what government is for to the test, since they will never actually field any candidates at the polls to find out. This is where raucousness comes in. As with other destructive nihilists (one thinks of the thugs who sought to take control of Paris in 1967), the TaxPayers’ Alliance is good at shouting and uninterested in the views of others.'

TPA is not a political party, so that point is valid. Its views do indeed remain un-voted on. But it doesn't seem a strong point. Vast numbers of lobbying bodies exist which could be tarred with the same brush. Does that mean lobbying bodies should all become political parties? I'm thinking no. But suddenly, Councillor Moylan goes all hyperbolic. If you lobby, you are a destructive nihilist who shouts and ignores other peoples views! Or is that, if you lobby against the things I approve of, you are a destructive nihilist yadda yadda? At this point, Councillor Moylan loses. Public policy debate is abruptly terminated at the point where those you disagree with aren't just wrong, their very participation in the argument is deemed illegitimate. And really, when one thinks of the TPA, 'one thinks of the thugs who sought to take control of Paris in 1967'?. Shall we vote on that?

'And this lack of interest in democracy – listening to what people might want – is embedded in their entire policy approach. They identify certain failings in government but then proceed to blame them on a composite fantasy class called “politicians”. (This is a technique learnt from Stalin’s murderous condemnation of “kulaks” for causing the famines he was responsible for.) These wicked, self-serving, money-grubbing politicians – leave aside for now the many examples of elected politicians whom we know from personal experience to be the reverse of all these things, not least in local government – are to be replaced for most governmental functions, say the Taxpayers’ Alliance, by “managers”, people capable (like Mussolini with the trains) of getting things done. Of course the glorious thing about managers is that they are accountable to nobody, unlike the hated “politicians”, who are and who therefore might actually be listening to people. Moreover, these “managers” would probably be no good at their job, since it is a cardinal principle of the TaxPayers’ Alliance that paying anyone in government a rate appropriate to their skills is anathema: nothing drives them into a more righteous frenzy.'

Hmm. Where to start... Apparently, there is a new crime specific to public lobbying organisations: 'a lack of interest in democracy'. This is defined as 'not listening to what people might want'. It isn't a good definition, really. Who are these 'people' of whom you speak? When did you solicit their opinions, and can I see your notes?

Mr Moylan utilises a version of Godwin's Law. If you want to blacken somethings reputation to lefties, compare it with the Nazis. If you want to do the same to right wingers, compare it to Stalins regime. Doesn't work very well, sadly. Not only do the TPA in my experience rail at managers at least as much as they do politicians, moaning about politicians has been around at least since Thucydides. Not only that, there does seem to be some straightforward good sense in blaming failings in government on politicians. You know, the ones who run the government. I would also like to point out that the reason the Bolsheviks threats against the Kulaks were important was because of the Cheka, who just after the threats were made went off to murder the Kulaks. If Councillor Moylan could point me to the TPA's Cheka I'd be much obliged.

The idea that the TPA would like to see all politicians replaced by managers is extraordinarily funny. The technocratic urge is a collectivist urge. Replace incompetent politicians with demi-godlike experts has been the cry of the collectivists since Bismarks Prussia. It Soooooooooooo isn't a Classical Liberal/Libertarian/TPA thing. Sooooooooooooooo not. '[A] cardinal principle of the TaxPayers’ Alliance [is] that paying anyone in government a rate appropriate to their skills is anathema'. Good. Remuneration for government jobs ought to be based on how much money the Government has in its limited budgets, not how much some middle manager believes his CV should get him. There is no market mechanism in Government to determine what level of remuneration any particular employee should get. Pay grades are completely arbitrary. So yes, 'a rate appropriate to their skills' is a laughable fiction, and the TPA are right to castigate profligacy with OUR MONEY.

'One of their most persistent lines of attack against local government is on communications budgets. This is understandable. They cannot tolerate the notion that people might actually know what local government does for them. There is a typically sneering piece currently on their website, attacking Knowsley Borough Council for wanting to hire someone to help make Knowsley “the borough of choice”. This is described as “non-job of the week” and an example of “burning our money”. I have no idea where Knowsley is or whether its aim to be “the borough of choice” is remotely credible. But the TaxPayers’ Alliance would deny its people even ambition and hope. One may suppose that all they need in Knowsley is some underpaid “managers” selected (no doubt by the TaxPayers’ Alliance) for their unaccountable competence at telling poor people what to do.'

Councillor Moylan is obviously distressed as he writes this, and unfortunately coherence suffers as a consequence. Here is a test question: If the average council tax-payer knew exactly what PR people do, and if we could position a CCTV camera directly above a PR persons desk and watch what they do over an average week, how many council taxpayers would vote to have PR people employed on public money? Not only do most people in my experience ignore all correspondence from the council which does not involve handing over their hard-earned money, they despise the make-work bullshit which many councils indulge in. You know, stuff like 'lets make Knowsley “the borough of choice”'.

Councillor Moylan then makes one of the stupider comments I've seen recently: He contends that the TPA squashes the ambitions and hopes of the people of Knowsley by terming their councils boondoggle “non-job of the week” and an example of “burning our money”. Seriously? Some lobbying group calls into question an action of the Knowsley council, and thereby stymies the ambitions and hopes of the people of Knowsley?

In probably his most revealing snide aside, Cllr Moylan lets us in on his true standpoint- viz, 'competence at telling poor people what to do'. He is on the side of the working class in their perpetual war with the hideous middle class and the evil aristocrats. See, Council people and the grubby working class stand shoulder to shoulder against the toffs, innit. Council people know instinctively what worthless sinecures the working slobs want created. Built right in.

'There is a strong tradition of civic pride and achievement in Britain and Conservatives have been at its forefront. I personally have no doubt that the TaxPayers’ Alliance would have been amongst the opponents of the project to build sewers for London in the nineteenth century. Society, particularly urban society, is complex. A civilised society is dependent on a degree of civic co-operation, which happily has tended to be under democratic control in this country. The TaxPayers’ Alliance seeks simultaneously to crush that civic effort and to de-democratise what remains. They are dangerous people masquerading as promoters of lower taxes and better government. The Conservative Party should have nothing to do with them and will, I have no doubt, quickly disembarrass itself of any connection on coming to power.'

I'm glad Cllr Moylan appended 'personally' to the statement that the TPA would have been dead set against building the sewers of London. I imagine that virtually no one else in the country would agree with such an egregiously stupid assertion. 'The TaxPayers’ Alliance seeks simultaneously to crush that civic effort and to de-democratise what remains'. I'm sorry, you can't just launch an accusation like that and provide no evidence for it whatsoever. Especially when it is aimed at an organisation which lobbies, rather than say employing brown-shirted thugs.

While it is true that both Parish and Borough councils have often been the forum for civic pride, when the latter was at its zenith it was the efforts of local grandees which usually provided the money for beautiful parks, monuments, poor houses, hospitals, schools, paupers cottages and swimming pools among much else. But since the State grew to ever more gargantuan proportions, and filched ever greater chunks of private wealth so it could 'make Knowsley “the borough of choice”' plus a million other stupid, non-core things, privately funded 'civic pride' has all but disappeared. Where I live in North London, I know of no example of private civic benefaction more recent than the early twentieth century.

Public compulsion destroys private volunteerism. This is so obvious I can't believe there are still people willing to deny it. But Cllr Moylan does. He seems to believe that somehow, because we the public vote for Councillors, we the public support the ever-expanding public sector payroll, the stupidly high salaries paid to these new employees, and the burgeoning 'projects' created by lefty public sector drones.

I have nothing against government- parish, local council or national. But I do have a problem with government as a cancer, eating up every function and activity and strand of our national life so it can control it, regulate it and license it. What the exact set of things I require from my government and which things I want it to leave alone is debatable.

But this piece by Councillor Moylan does not advance that debate. Indeed, what it does is say is that any criticism of increasing government activity crushes civic effort and destroys democracy. What utter tosh.

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