Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Party broadcasts.

Mrs Rigby and her family have watched, with interest, the latest video offering from the Labour Party. She thinks it's a Party Political Broadcast in advance of the European elections, although she isn't altogether sure because she didn't hear the word "Europe" mentioned, not once.

She's interested too in the way it concentrates on horrible things Mr Cameron will do - as if the speakers have a crystal ball. Mrs R didn't know he was standing for a seat in Europe, she thought he was happy enough here in UK.

She thinks the broadcast is all a bit odd, not only because David Cameron is just one person, but also because she knows there are lots of representatives of other parties standing for election to the European Parliament. She thought Labour would be hoping to trounce them all.

Anyhow, Mrs R was interested in what was said, because she has experience of some of the things the broadcast mentions.

1) "David Cameron would love to see people like me on the dole"
Well, OK, Mrs R wouldn't mind that actually.

When Mrs R lost her job she couldn't sign for anything because a) she is married b) her husband is in work c) Mr and Mrs R have been prudent and put a tiny bit of money into savings and d) she lost her job for the "wrong reason".

2) "David Cameron would cut support for families under real pressure in this recession"
Mrs R's family hasn't seen any support for families under "real" pressure in this recession, so she doesn't think there's much support to be cut!

Her own family hasn't seen any reduction in their living costs - in fact they've gone up because the house needs to be heated during the day. She hasn't seen any reduction in essential transport costs. She hasn't seen any reduction in food costs. What she has seen, with increases in fuel duty filtering outwards, is an increase in the cost of almost every single thing the Rigby family touches.

Mrs R knows families who are battling, unsuccessfully, with the system to get some help with their mortgage interest. She read somewhere or other that only one family in the whole country had made a successful claim since the scheme was set up, unfortunately she can't find the reference now.

3) "If David Cameron had been in power I wouldn't have an extra £60, a free TV license and a free bus pass."
Mrs R isn't old enough to qualify for any of these, but she has relatives and friends who do.

Almost without exception they quickly worked out that £60 a year is a teeny bit more than £1 a week, an insignificant amount in "real terms" when a load of bread costs more than £1. Those that don't have televisions don't benefit from the free license. Those who live in areas where public transport is poor, erratic or non-existent cannot benefit from a free bus pass.

All would have preferred to see their pension increased by a sum equivalent to the cost of the TV license and free bus pass, so they could choose for themselves where to spend this extra money; so they could choose whether or not to buy a television license; and maybe choose whether to use a bus or, in many cases, contribute towards somebody else's petrol or
share a taxi with a neighbour so they can do their grocery shopping.

Has nobody in the Labour Party, suffering from arthritis or a gammy leg, ever tried to get onto a bus with a wheeled shopping trolley and a couple of shopping bags filled with unwieldy things like toilet rolls?

4) "David Cameron would scrap the right for every patient to see a cancer specialist within 2 weeks."
No, sorry, it doesn't
even apply now.

If you go to your GP with a "scare" and it happens to be just before a public holiday - when an outpatients department could be closed for as long as two weeks due to staff holidays - you wait longer. Mrs R knows this from experience, and it resulted in a truly ghastly Christmas for all concerned.

5) "David Cameron would cut £160 million from crime fighting budgets right now, that is the equivalent of 3,500 Police Officers"
Maybe it is the "equivalent of 3,500 Police Officers", but it doesn't need to be.

Earlier this week the Chief Constable of Essex said he could save money AND increase manning by making small savings. Mrs R commented on it here.

She and her family, their friends and neighbours wouldn't notice if the Police budget was cut, because their local police station is closed most of the time. One early morning Mrs R tried to speak to the Police and found the station doors firmly locked shut. A telephone, in a box on the wall outside - that should have connected her to the "control room" - had been vandalised. She tried again when she got home, but the person on the other end didn't even know where Mrs R was, and wanted detailed directions. This sort of thing doesn't inspire confidence, and is possibly why some crime statistics are down - it's too hard for some people to report a problem.

The only uniformed people the Rigby family do see are called "Civilian Enforcement Officers", who give out fines for parking and littering, they aren't allowed to do anything else.

6) "Mr Cameron would give £200 to £300 to millionaires"

Mr Cameron would personally open public coffers and hand out that much money to people who are already "rich"? - To living people who've either worked damned hard all their lives, not spent their money and invested it in businesses etc.. Does this mean he'd hand over even more cash to professional politicians, entertainers or footballers?

No, on balance Mrs R thinks not. She thinks this is about Inheritance Tax, and is nothing about giving money to anybody, it's about not taking it from them.

Inheritance Tax is about taking money from the estates of people who have died. From the financial leavings of people who have paid taxes - on income, as National Insurance and property/car/contents insurance, in local community charges, on property transactions, on consumer goods - and they'll have done this
all their lives, rarely if ever making a claim or asking for anything back from the state.

This is a tax that doesn't only apply to "millionaires" - it applies to ordinary families who happen to be dealing with the estate of a relative who happened to own a property, a property whose value may have risen in their lifetime simply due to rising prices. This horrible tax applies as much to the working person who scrimped and saved to buy their rented home, and who have beggared themselves to maintain it in their declining years, as to those who were born to well-off parents.

This tax is applied to the estates of those people who may have struggled to retain some vestige in independence in their later years, who resisted the need to sell their home to pay for care - an iniquitous thing, not done in Scotland where elderly care is free.

Mrs R thinks this is a punitive tax, with levels set deliberately low so that it captures the life savings of almost anybody who has been careful throughout their life and whose home has a residual value, often due to no more than a geographical or demographic accident.

So, that's what Mrs Rigby thinks about the video.

Even if all these claims were true, Mrs Rigby wants to know what these issues are to do with Europe.

Europe doesn't set the levels of UK unemployment benefit or taxation. Europe doesn't set the cost of UK television licenses, public transport strategies or fuel duties. Europe doesn't set the price for a UK television license, nor does it
set the access standards for our healthcare. Europe doesn't set the UK Police budgets, and it doesn't dictate the levels of UK Inheritance Tax.

Last time Mrs R looked, all these things were dictated by her own government, with details decided either by small committees or following discussion within Parliament at Westminster, Brussels has nothing to do with these matters.

So, Mrs Rigby would like somebody who knows more about these things than she does to, please, tell her precisely what this broadcast has to do with the European Elections.

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