Thursday, 9 June 2011

Government (un-)Accountability (Taxation, #TuitionFees, #EU)

Citizens have to be on their guard against the 'political class'. Whether or not power corrupts, it cannot be denied that there are corrupt people, and they will be attracted to positions of power. This means there will, on occasion, be corrupt people in positions of power.

Knowing that positions of power will, on occasion, fall to corrupt people the public must ensure that the jobs/roles/positions of power that are created cannot be used by corrupt incumbents against the public. The citizens protection against such potential abuse of power is 'effective accountability', we need a rapid and effective mechanism to remove people who we beleive are abusing the power of their role. We also need to ensure that we have the same power to change, remove, defeat any policy, law etc that the abusers have introduced.

I could talk about various jobs/roles in the EU (including EU president) - these jobs are too powerful and unaccountable. When (not 'if' but 'when') a corrupt (or incompetent) person takes the job of EU President the result could be as bad as anything you can imagine.

However I am focusing on the UK right now - particularly drawing attention to a few 'tricks' introduced by NuLabour. Tricks that were used by them to reduce accountability, tricks that have fed through and are continued under the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government.

The first is budget announcements. It used to be that budget announcements were made and implemented at the same time. The pubic could see a chancellor making changes to the tax system, they would immediately feel the impact and then hold the chancellor to account.

However, Gordon Brown introduced a new trick - budget announcements started to include changes that would not come in to effect for many moths - or even years. He started making announcements that made no immediate difference to people or their pay and taxes. This meant the public were left unsure of what the effect would actually be. Being unsure they didn't (and couldn't) complain or hold Brown to account at the time of the announcement.

Months or years later when the announced item (usually a tax rise) came into effect the public were told that it was too late to change as it had been planned for months/years and everything was in place. They were told that it was beyond the control of those currently in power to do anything about it. (even if those in power now were the same people who were in power when the announcement was made). And people were told that any objection should have been made at the time, any objections being made now were 'in the light of hindsight', hindsight that the chancellor did not have at the time of the announcement so he could not be blamed for.

So by separating the announcement and implementation of an item by months or years, the chancellor became almost completely unaccountable to the public for the decisions they made. Genius for the political class, a terrible day for the public.

This was actually a very old trick for the EU. In almost every contentious thing they do - first objectors are told that it is too early to object to any plans because nothing is finalised, objections must wait until the plans are announced. Then when the plans are finalised and announced objectors were told that it was too late to change anything. You can see from this that the time for objections never actually exists - it is always too early or too late.

A more recent, and to my mind more pernicious use of this delayed effect to remove accountability is in student loans for tuition fees.

Education was traditionally financed out of taxation - and traditionally (notwithstanding the practices I have mentioned above) governments of the day are accountable for the collection and distribution of tax-monies. There is no contract between the citizen and the state to pay taxes, we pay taxes when we are told to because we are told to and will be locked up if we don't.

However the move to Student Loans to finance university education changes this relationship fundamentally. The new loans are a contract between the student and the state - a contract that will probably last the life time of the student and says that they will pay and extra 9% of their earnings (over a certain level) to the government to 'repay' their loan debt. So a young person is signing a contract to agree to pay taxes, a contract that is enforcible by law and which the government of the day can deny any responsibility for.

Todays government claps you in chains and then passes you on to future governments to serve their wishes, and most importantly,when done on a contract for a loan, this is with the the courts and our judicial system to back them up. Taxation, an issue of democracy, legitimacy, accountability and representation has been reduced to contract law - with no accountability and no appeal.

If things don't change, soon government will be completely unaccountable - we will be serving previous administrations conforming to what they laid down long ago, while a current administration will be laying down legislation that makes no difference to us, but will bind our children.

Right now the wheels are in motion to impose trillions of pounds of debt on our children - the government are not being held to account because many people are greedy and happy to consume now what our children will one day produce, and to many others it doesn't make much difference to them right now, today, so they let it go. Meanwhile our children are too young, or may be not even born so can't hold the government to account for it either!

We are allowing ourselves and forcing our children in to servitude to our political class by letting our politicians remove accountability. It really has to stop.

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