On Demonisation

A fellow councillor recently retweeted in a spirit of irony, something about ‘evil’ public sector workers. After a short exchange it became clear that the issue was the ‘demonisation’ of public sector workers by the government.

Now it almost has the status of received wisdom that Michael Gove hates teachers, Jeremy Hunt hates nurses, Eric Pickles hates local government workers, all Tories hate welfare recipients, that this hatred leads to demonisation, and the Liberal Democrats, while perhaps not directly involved, are quite comfortable with all this.

I was reluctant to get involved, as I disagree often with Michael Gove, and have no desire to defend him; yet I’ve never heard him demonise any teachers. Disagree with teaching unions and teaching experts? Yes, frequently, though the unions and the experts are not the teachers. But demonise is a strong word, it suggests you are saying that someone is at least deliberately doing a bad job, or making a problem worse in some way. I wouldn’t be too surprised to hear a Tory talk in these terms, but for it to be such a common complaint, there must be some good examples of it around.

So I could have left it alone, but I thought it was important to understand a) what ministers are up to, and b) whether this is an area for differentiation, or whether this is in fact an example of lazy and dishonest hatemongering, that deserves to be challenged whoever its target might be.

So I asked for an example of a member of the government demonising, or making out to be evil, a group of public sector workers. There followed a long twitter exchange including plenty of examples of public sector workers complaining that they were being demonised, but none of this demonisation in the act.

So I looked for my own examples. What does Gove think of teachers? There’s this, which seems quite positive to me, though he clearly has some disagreements with the mainstream of the profession.

I’ve even heard it suggested that the Mid Staffs enquiry was done purely to demonise nurses, which shows disgraceful complacency over the standards of care. And is Jeremy Hunt lying when he says “I know that the last year has been difficult and how busy and stressful it can be on the frontline. Thank you to everyone for your amazing efforts to make our hospitals safer and more compassionate.”

I guess a cursory google search won’t find the unguarded remark or secret briefing, so, dear reader, can you help out my Labour colleague. Share with me, in the comments, ministers demonising public sector workers. Or claims of demonisation that seem to be unsupported by any evidence. Together we can get to the bottom of this, one way or the other.

I am aware that many people feel they are being demonised, but that might just be because they believe the Labour Party and the unions who are constantly telling them that it is the case. Who needs morale in the public sector, when you can generate some politically useful anger?

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017, is a councillor in Sheffield and is Tuesday editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

Read more by .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Paul In Twickenham 21st Feb '14 - 6:28pm

    I remember once doing a spot of telling outside a polling station in Islington. There was a Labour teller there too. He spent our time together politely telling me how awful the Liberal Democrats were and how (obviously) we would never do anything to help the working classes. Out of curiosity I tried agreeing with him to see how he would react. Would he detect the sarcasm if I agreed that I was the exemplar of all that was wrong in the world? He nodded sagely: he knew that “The Liberals” were a nasty bunch, and clearly I knew it too.

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Feb '14 - 6:46pm

    Determined to prove you wrong, I Googled “michael gove demonise teachers” and the first story that came up has the headline: “Brendan Foster hits out at Michael Gove for ‘demonising’ running”.

    So perhaps you have a point.

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Feb '14 - 7:00pm

    On the other hand…

    “So I asked for an example of a member of the government demonising, or making out to be evil, a group of public sector workers… I am aware that many people feel they are being demonised, but that might just be because they believe the Labour Party and the unions who are constantly telling them that it is the case.”

    Perhaps you could ask Steve Webb for an example?


    “LIBERAL Democrat minister Steve Webb today believes his party has “demonised” public sector workers since becoming part of the coalition Government.”

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Feb '14 - 7:21pm

    Here’s another person (Vince Cable) who believes that government ministers “demonise” people :-


    I think you must admit that it isn’t just “Labour and the unions” who believe this is going on.

  • Wow that Webb quote is pretty amazing.

    “I think because we have known we have had to cut, we have sort of demonised people and we shouldn’t of done. That has then created more resentment. I think we need to work on that.”

    Though I notice it still isn’t an example! Perhaps he Is going by received wisdom!

  • A Social Liberal 21st Feb '14 - 7:46pm

    Gove accused head teachers of defeatism, he called teachers the ‘enemies of promise’ and ‘whingers’. I’d say that was well on the way to demonisation

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 21st Feb '14 - 8:31pm


    In fairness, I don’t really require explicit demonisation from politicians when I’ve experienced a 15% real terms pay cut, and watched 40,000 of my colleagues disappear over the past six years, had my pension contributions trebled and been told that I will receive no more than a 1% pay rise at best in each of the next two years. The message as to our value is clear enough, thank you.

    Politicians of all parties, the media and the public all take it in turns to abuse public sector workers, we’re the first to see pay cuts, the last to benefit from the fruits of recovery. And people wonder why the quality of public servants is in decline. Would you recommend a career in public service to your loved ones?

  • Tony Greaves 21st Feb '14 - 8:45pm

    I suggest that you all consider the effects of the actions of these ministers on public sector workers. And then ask why they think they are being “demonised”.

    Rather like Councillors, perhaps.

    Tony Greaves

  • @ Mark Valladares. I agree with Mark 100%. But then I had the same employer for almost 40 years before I escaped.

    Would you recommend a career in public service to your loved ones?

    Well actually, I would have liked each of my children to have been a banker in receipt of a bonus of a million pounds every year. 🙂

  • Little Jackie Paper 21st Feb '14 - 8:52pm

    Mr Otten – With respect, this looks rather like a discussion of symptom, not cause. As a society, the UK is divided terribly. This line about people feeling demonised could be extended to many walks of life. Pensioners for example say that they feel demonised when as a section of society they have had a level of protection from cuts that is hardly consistent with demonization.

    I would suggest that what you are really talking about here is the them and us attitude that runs through society like letters through a stick of rock.

    Do Coalition ministers run around the place, ‘demonising?’ Perhaps not. However this government has hardly gone against trends of social divide and pitting people into competition. I want to stress that these trends were already there under successive governments. I don’t doubt that. But this government has seriously picked out the winners and the losers and in fiscal consolidation it has shown. I have already mentioned that pensioners have seen a gamut of benefits protected, but BTL landlords for example have had a rather sweet deal at the expense of those priced out. We have seen the NHS protected, with little real thought for the implications of that on other areas of spend. Arguably you could say that bankers have seen a level of demonization, but that particular instance is again, I would suggest, a case of, ‘them and us,’ rather than demonization per se.

    I suspect that this is why Ed M’s one nation message last year went down surprisingly well. A lot of people out there have had a gutful of a winner/loser society. Indeed, it is an oddity. After 35+ years of being told that we need to be competitive we were later told that Britain was broken and there was a need to manufacture a Big Society in response.

    And this, by the way is where, ‘differentiation,’ comes in. How would Liberal Democrats heal, rather than divide? It is not demonization, but it is a mindset that is a product of a divided society and I think that Lib Dems could try to look beyond the politics of division.

    Just one other question Mr Otten. ‘Anyway, the lesson we can all draw from this, is don’t seek help for any mental health problems you may have, if you want to keep your children, or value your bodily integrity.’ I can’t remember who said that, but might that comment be taken as a form of demonization and stigmatisation of an entire profession in your view?

  • Little Jackie Paper 21st Feb '14 - 9:08pm

    Tony Greaves – ‘I suggest that you all consider the effects of the actions of these ministers on public sector workers. And then ask why they think they are being “demonised”.’

    I’m no longer in the public sector having left a couple of months ago, but I don’t think that this is quite right. Sure, the cumulative effect is important, but my sense was more that ministers did nothing to discourage the most reactionary comment and response that the public sector gets – and often made it worse. Just as one obvious example – think about how the media react to controversies about how certain drugs are not deemed of sufficient value to be made available on the NHS. Look at the response to the Care Pathway. Look at the response every year about school league tables.

    Of course ministers do take the hit in other ways. But I sense (and I stress that is all it is, I claim no evidence beyond anecdote) that public sector workers face a fare more reactionary public now, and ministers do little. Standing up for the patient/parent/council tax payer is one thing, creating a reactionary culture is another.

    I do realise that in some way a more reactionary service user might not as such be a bad thing and that people should perhaps be demanding. But there is a wider issue here about what can really and honestly be delivered.

  • A Social Liberal 21st Feb '14 - 9:14pm

    Joe Otten

    “Teachers on Strike are the enemies of promise”


    “the new Enemies of Promise are a set of politically motivated individuals who have been actively trying to prevent millions of our poorest children getting the education they need”

    Note the phrase, ‘politically motivated INDIVIDUALS’, Joe


    Good enough for you?

  • A Social Liberal 21st Feb '14 - 9:34pm

    Oh, and Joe, just in case you think he was referring to individuals in a union who were striking, the TES goes on

    “Gove’s ire was prompted by a letter from 100 academics working in schools of education across the sector to The Independent warning that the minister’s proposed changes to the national curriculum would not promote problem-solving, critical understanding or creativity among schoolchildren.”

  • “it almost has the status of received wisdom that Michael Gove hates teachers,”

    My analysis of his behaviour is that it is rather more likely that he hates himself. I think the teachers are mere proxies for him to take things out upon. It is disappointing that such people rise in our political system.

  • What I think to be the powerful question, Joe, is how do YOU define “demonisation” vs how do the media and those who consider they are being demonised define it? It is clear that neither you nor they would define it in any strict sense of personification of evil, or whatever, but even in your small verbal spat with Mark earlier it does demonstrate there is a strong semantic element to your question, and any answers you receive. I am not sure whether you are being serious or disingenuous when you state in your last post that ” I did think there may be a killer example out there”. No-one uses the word “demonise” with the first person, singular or plural – it is, if you notice, only ever other people who do it. So, as a loyalist like yourself would recognise, you are unlikely to find examples from this (your) Government’s practise.

    As a “disloyalist”, I see examples of what could be described in that way regularly. As others above have said, it is unusual for Ministers to make direct attacks on groups of workers, except in industrial disputes (where you might continue your search if you consider it worthwhile), so agreement with others eg in the right wing media, or following their guidance in the treatment of public sector workers, which has happened regularly could well be cited. But please tell me, you are not still looking for Jeremy Hunt to be badmouthing physiotherapists or whoever, and when you don’t find it, to claim that it isn’t happening. It is merely that you, identifying with the Government, will call it something different.

  • Paul In Twickenham 22nd Feb '14 - 8:15am

    When Ian Liddell-Grainger made his notorious attack on Chris Smith (whose words I will not repeat here to avoid auto-moderation, other than to repeat the bit about pushing Smith’s head down the toilet and flushing it) I was driven to look Liddell-Grainger up on wikipedia as the language sounded like that of a public school boy making threats to one of the junior boys. And sure enough.. he went to a public school that is mostly for boarders, albeit a relatively minor one.

    We are all members of groups – and defined by the intersection of the groups to which we belong – and we all engage in groupthink (a word I have found myself using three times in the last few days on this forum). Let me remind you of the wikipedia definition of type 2 groupthink:

    Type II: Closed-mindedness
    Rationalizing warnings that might challenge the group’s assumptions.
    Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, biased, spiteful, impotent, or stupid.

    How often do you see posts on this forum that follow these characteristics? I see them all the time. Given the malleable meaning of the word “demonize”, it seems to me that people in groups all demonize “the other”, don’t we?

  • Is Ian Liddell-Grainger’s self-celebrated status as a 3 times great grandson of Queen Victoria relevant to this?! Or his identifying with a Moggie on his blog? Or his vocal support for a controversial (then) Lib Dem County Councillor in Parliament? Or his work for the BBC as an “undercover reporter” at a Lib Dem conference? I could go on.

    I know this is off thread, but mere mention of the name gets me started (groupthink, possibly, Paul in Twickenham?)

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 22nd Feb '14 - 10:37am


    Ah yes, the sly dig at my “gold-plated pension”. Not funny.

    So, let’s explain a few things. When comparing salary packages, my pension entitlement is included in calculations, and guess what, every calculation over recent years has demonstrated that I’m underpaid relative to the comparators used. I will, perhaps, one day reach my scale maximum, a level which is a fraction of that earned by my opposite numbers. And, of course, I only benefit from my pension when I qualify it, assuming that my rights haven’t been reduced again by then.

    I do work in the regions, not in London, so the assumption is that I’m better paid than my private sector equivalent. However, when the Coalition had some research done after announcing that they would look at regionalised pay for the Civil Service, guess what? Have you ever seen the results of that? No, because it didn’t support the contention, indeed it showed that we were underpaid… again.

    And given that you appear to depend on me and my colleagues to raise the money to pay for your preferred policy preferences, you’ll pardon me for being slightly, no make that very, tetchy.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Feb '14 - 10:57am

    I agree with Mark that nobody should look at public sector pay as a cost to be minimised. People don’t always use the cheapest plumber, so why should they use the cheapest public servant?

    This doesn’t mean I’m against cuts, but we should always be careful about sounding too happy with the Conservatives. People’s experiences are different.

    By the way, I think Joe is one of our best candidates and I thought the article was quite fun, but as I am reminded, people’s experiences are different.


  • I agree with Mark that nobody should look at public sector pay as a cost to be minimised. People don’t always use the cheapest plumber, so why should they use the cheapest public servant?

    I would always use the cheapest plumber who I believed would do the job properly.

    Wouldn’t you?

    I mean, think about the alternative: ‘People sometimes use a more expensive plumber when a cheaper ne would have done just as well’.

    Do they? I mean, and not kick themselves when they realise they’ve spent more than they needed?

  • Malcolm Todd 22nd Feb '14 - 5:35pm

    You can’t make a fundamental change to Eddie Sammon’s argument by adding the words “who I believed would do the job properly” and then pretend that you’ve made a valid refutation of his actual argument. “The cheapest plumber” and “the cheapest plumber who would do the job properly” are not the same thing, and that, rather obviously, is Eddie’s point. (And that’s before we even get into the question of what “properly” means: one person might do a job quite adequately and another one do it better — whether that “better” is worth paying more for is a matter of judgement.)

  • Mark Seaman 22nd Feb '14 - 5:45pm

    Mark Valladares is entirely correct about the review that looked at the possiblility of regional Civil Service pay.
    The figures showed that Civil servants at the top of their pay band were about level with equivalent private sector jobs in the lower paid areas of the UK, but in the higher paid areas, especially London, the public sector total renumeration (i.e. including pensions etc) was significantly below the private sector.
    So what did the government do ? They did not implement region pay as it would have led to pay increases, but instead removed the pay band progression within the public sector so that employees cannot now even reach the level of pay that already was not equal to that of the private sector !
    And that after many years of real pay cuts under Labour.
    It was about that time that I left the Lib Dems after several years as a branch treasurer.
    All in it together ? Bit of a sick joke tbh.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Feb '14 - 6:12pm

    Thanks Malcolm. Yes adding the caveat “who would do the job properly” doesn’t really change my fundamental point and as you say, properly has different meanings and varying quality. For instance, my family are not the cheapest gas engineers, but they hide the pipes away and are less likely to make a mistake than less experienced people, so to many that is worth more.

    I’m not a conservative or economic liberal hater (jeesh I used to be a libertarian), I just think the Conservative Party treat public sector workers a bit like turkey’s at christmas. Excuse the “demonisation” of Conservatives on my behalf :).

  • “The cheapest plumber” and “the cheapest plumber who would do the job properly” are not the same thing, and that, rather obviously, is Eddie’s point

    Actually the point was:

    nobody should look at public sector pay as a cost to be minimised

    But it seems to me that public sector pay should be regarded as a cost to be minimised, provided the level of service remains acceptable?

    Give your comments I assume you agree with that statement? That you think that public sector pay is a cost that should be minimised provided the level of service is acceptable? And that therefore the debate to be had is over what an ‘acceptable level of service’ is?

    After all, the alternative is that you are saying that it’s okay to pay more even if an acceptable level of service could be had for less. I assume you’re not saying that, are you?

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Feb '14 - 6:49pm

    Tim I agree with you entirely too. In my former (perhaps present too) days of an ardent capitalist I researched theories of profit maximisation for my company, it all made sense as long as it was based on sustainable profits. This also involved sustainable cost minimisation.

    I’m just saying some people make the mistake of treating public sector workers like commodities (legal aid reforms?) and assume they all come in a standardised packages where the only real important factor is price.

    I’m exaggerating a little, but I think my points are clear. Sorry to go a bit off topic.

  • ‘Labour’s crash and deficit’

    Don’t you realise how stupid this sounds yet ?

    The crash was due to the banks, not Labour & trotting oout the Tory line just makes it appear that you have well & truly swallowed the lie and jumped right into their bed.

    No wonder the Liberal Democrat polling is so dire & many deposits have been lost by candidates at the local ballot boxes.

  • Joe I suppose on “the wider definition” of demonisation you have given, ie of being accused of “doing something wrong”, the whole philosophy of Thatcherism / neothatcherism or whatever we might like to describe the current Government’s economic or employment policies as, involves “demonisation” of the public sector. The whole mathematical basis of privatisation / outsourcing, in the assumptions made about the efficiency of privately employed workers being higher than those in the public sector is a form of demonisation. Accepting those assumptions as have Governments on the whole since the 80s are a form of demonisation. Where I would be with you is in saying that nuLabour hasn’t been in a position to criticise when it comes to “accepting the thatcherite consensus”, I do feel, though, that some more recent Lib Dems have used the fact that we had a severe criticism of the Blair Labour Party – essentially that they had been too timid in sweeping away Tory problems from the past – which has now morphed into “it was Labour’s fault”. One of the areas where “it was Labour’s fault” was in “overspending”, ie mainly in employing more staff, or on better conditions. I am sure, if you really wanted to find them, this is the area you would find demonisation of public sector workers. It would be interesting if you could find a quote to compare with Adair Turner’s famous, city employees performing “often socially useless” functions, but I am sure they are around!

    I will now go away and find out what you might mean by your experiment based on Karl Popper’s thinking!

  • Right, OK, Joe I think I was right first time round. It depends on how YOU (specifically) define demonisation. We are all throwing ideas at you, and you can keep on saying “No, that’s not demonisation”, until we all get tired of it, and you say “right, it was all just an invention”. Unfortunately Karl Popper, or your other mate, Karl (Marx) are not here to referee this one!

  • I am again flabbergasted… Many portions of our society have been demonised and I refuse to go off topic and name them…
    The whole problem with “we have not demonised X” and our hands are clean… is you have also not stopped the demonization either…

    There has been a rhetoric coming from government which the media picked up on and exaggerated, I did not see any government representatives refraining the media, you are in government I believe.

    ‘Evil will prevail when good men do nothing’

    But to claim our hands are clean it was not us, is quite laughable…
    And politicians wonder why they are rated so low in truth and trust… geez don’t you guys get it…
    No more please… shakes head

    Perception is everything…

  • Joe, I was trying to use your (or what I understood from your previous post to be your) definition, of doing something deliberately wrong, ie either, not working hard enough, or poorly managing in a way which allows systematically poorer productivity.[Health warning – you can’t directly compare public and private measures of productivity because of the different types of outcome, balance of skills etc used by the two.]

    Another point about demonisation, which I don’t think has been raised here, is that in addition to a passive accusation of deliberate wrongdoing by the demoniser of the demonised, it also seems to have some element of punishment (or attempted punishment or sanction) by the demoniser on the demonised. So perhaps you should be looking out for that too, Joe.

  • richardheathcote 23rd Feb '14 - 12:14pm

    Im sure other words could describe the treatment of Public sector workers that may be more correct then demonised. But then its a good representation of how people feel even if its not technically the right word to use. Or does it need a website link to prove its true as that seems to be the evidence your looking for.

  • Stuart Mitchell 23rd Feb '14 - 1:12pm

    Joe’s right, “demonise” is the wrong choice of word in most cases.

    However it’s far from being the only hyperbolic word used far too much in politics. Another one that particularly irritates me (and one that most Lib Dems really need to look up in a dictionary) is “authoritarian”.

  • richardheathcote 23rd Feb '14 - 1:20pm

    If truth and accuracy is so important how does this sit with “It’s all Labours fault” or “I pledge…..”

  • Paul In Twickenham 23rd Feb '14 - 1:39pm

    On irregular verbs:

    We objectively critique
    You make sweeping, subjective, and inaccurate generalizations
    They demonize for political gain

    We offer outstanding workplace learning opportunities for university students
    You take advantage of desperate students who need to beef up their CVs for potential employers
    They exploit our young people by making them work for nothing

  • I think, Joe, if we consider politicians (taking ministers, legislators and those politicos responsible at local and other levels, irrespective of party), we have a tendency, no doubt shared by other groups, to try to avoid blame. If it is necessary, we have designed the party structure, in order to blame “the other lot”. In respect of the framework of what happens, we should almost always blame (“demonise”?) politicians – quite often ourselves, if we have been there, or certainly our predecessors in the same party. This is what the Tories have failed to do – there was a need for Cameron to comprehensively reject thatcherism, in the way that Blair seemed to do with what he described a Old Labour. That never happened, although he came quite close a few times. We as a Party have failed even more comprehensively in this task that Cameron shirked. Had we pointed up a modernising, progressive (one nation) toryism, as allegedly espoused by Cameron, and spoken against turbocapitalism, we might have got further with a Lib Dem agenda. As it is, we look as bad as, or somewhat worse than, nuLabour.

    Both Coalition parties are left with what some describe as demonisation, of Labour, and its “surrogates” as seen by party leaders, public sector workers. That’s what seems to have happened, whether we wish to label it in this way or somehow else!

  • Little Jackie Paper 23rd Feb '14 - 8:02pm

    Mr Otten – ‘Is it permissible to observe that nurses spend too much time on paperwork (due to Labour’s box-ticking target culture, that tragically has not been unpicked)? Or is that demonising nurses?’

    But that is not demonising nurses, it is demonising, ‘paperwork.’ That is not the same thing is it? Another term for paperwork might be, ‘accurate record-keeping,’ or, ‘essential record-keeping,’ or, ‘record-keeping to keep interest groups happy.’ And vicariously that IS a comment on professional practices with an implication that public sector practices are not there for the public but those that work in it. Would you say that a minister offering comment on, say, NHS services to non-UK taxpayers was, ‘demonising foreign patients,’ and if not how can ministers address the issue of abuse of the NHS (which, I am in no doubt, is real)?

    I think that in one of your previous comments you said that you are/were a school governor? If you wanted accurate statistics about your school is that, ‘management information,’ you would want or is it just box-ticking by bureaucrats?

    Indeed one could argue that the target culture had exact effects of division that I mentioned in my earlier post – it set one people with priorities above others and led to some very reactionary service users who were not a priority in target terms. One could, of course make an entirely valid argument that target culture had some good effects, perhaps that is for another day.

    Mental health is another area where bureaucracy is easily dismissed, but is important as records of mental health history over time is important. Some of the more unthinking, reactionary types may say, ‘Anyway, the lesson we can all draw from this, is don’t seek help for any mental health problems you may have, if you want to keep your children, or value your bodily integrity.’ However accurate information is very important for the service, whatever the keyboard warriors think.

  • Little Jackie Paper 24th Feb '14 - 12:11am

    Mr Otten – ‘but don’t you think it is rather dangerous to repeat out of context’

    Can you elaborate on that?

    By the way, the challenge you set out in the article to find quotes. Does it only apply to central government only, or do you include local government too?

  • @Joe Otten
    “don’t you think it is rather dangerous to repeat out of context. I.e. the context of ‘what will people think if you conduct a forced caesarian’.” The actual context was of one case where the full details were not in the public domain. One case where without knowing the presenting conditions (from the viewpoint of all parties) or seeing the contemporaneous medical notes you came to a damning judgement on the outcome of seeking medical help for mental health conditions.

    Even in context, you used an isolated incident to demonise all Mental Health professionals, after all who else would be removing their children or assaulting their bodily integrity. You were given opportunity to correct or withdraw the statement and you refused. Your statement was the equivalent of telling the elderly not to use GP services due to Dr Shipman, it was insulting to health workers and highly irresponsible scaremongering.

    So perhaps our current crop of MP’s are not demonising public servants but that may change should you become successful in furthering your career…

  • I’m a fluvial geomorphologist and sedimentologist, but after four degrees and a couple of decades of research I lack the expertise that Eric Pickles picked up in the space of a day. That’s how worthless and useless we public servants are.

    The demonisation of public servants by the likes of Gove and Pickles has been so severe over the last four years that I find it incredible that anyone should wish to defend what has turned out to be the most anti-intellectual, anti-evidence, knee-jerk and reactionary government of my lifetime.

  • A Social Liberal 24th Feb '14 - 11:28am

    Steve said

    ” . . . . . that I find it incredible that anyone should wish to defend what has turned out to be the most anti-intellectual, anti-evidence, knee-jerk and reactionary government of my lifetime.”

    Isn’t that demonising the government?

    . . . . . . or maybe not :O)

  • “Isn’t that demonising the government?”

    I didn’t explicitly refer to them as demons or describe them as evil so I’m guessing Joe would be happy that I haven’t demonised them 🙂 I suppose I did tar everyone in the government with the same mucky brush, but isn’t that what happens when you sit alongside Gove and Pickles without denouncing their idiocy?

  • Peter Watson 24th Feb '14 - 1:54pm

    Tony Greaves rightly points out, “I suggest that you all consider the effects of the actions of these ministers on public sector workers.”
    Gove may not call teachers demons, but what of his actions and their implications.
    When he (and Clegg amongst others) describe the system as dumbed down and criticise the value of qualifications, how will that make the teachers feel after working hard to help their pupils achieve those qualifications?
    When Gove suggests that teachers could work more hours for more weeks, does that give the impression he believes they already work hard enough?
    When he dismisses the value of teaching qualifications or the university route by which teachers have achieved theirs, does that give the impression he values their professionalism?
    When he calls teaching unions “enemies of promise”, what is he saying about their members who are (the clue is in the name) teachers?
    When he ignores the opinions of teachers and educationalists over examinations, curricula and teaching methods, does that give the impression he really values their experience and expertise?

    With the drip-drip of all this negativity, supported by a Gove-friendly / teacher-unfriendly press, if I were a teacher I would certainly feel demonised. And every time I contemplate a career change to teaching, I look at the way teachers are treated and recoil.

  • I would also add to the list of demonising statements the ‘argument’ that the private sector pays for the public sector through taxation. I’ve seen this economically illiterate thought written on LDV on numerous occasions, but it can only be logically true if one starts from the premise that the total net worth created by the endeavour that those in the pay of the public purse is zero. That’s right – it’s not just money given to the unemployed for doing nothing, but also all the money given to bin-men, social workers, nurses, heart surgeons, teachers, research scientists, etc. None of these people do anything of any use whatsoever according to the argument that the private sector pays for the public sector.

  • I’m less worried about Gove demonising teachers than I am about him appearing to make policies up on the hoof which is what I think teachers are objecting too.
    As for the rest of it. People on welfare are plainly being demonised in fairly crude ways with the rhetoric of workers and shirkers.

  • Harriet Harman and the Daily Mail: Now THAT is being demonised.

  • “I would argue that the private sector pays for the public sector through taxation. ”

    You’d be wrong though. It doesn’t pay for the public sector any more than the public sector pays for the private sector, e.g. public sector workers pay some of their earnings to tax and the rest goes to pay for the private sector as they spend their cash on goods and services created by the private sector. Neither sector pays for the other – the only way there is a net transfer of money from one sector to the other is if one sector is more efficient at creating those goods and services than the other (in terms of value for money). The only way it can be said that one sector pays for the other in its entirety is if one starts from a position that one of the sectors creates nothing of any worth – i.e. is completely inefficient. So, stating that the private sector pays for the public sector logically implies that nothing of any worth is created by the public sector.

    Your argument that a strong private sector helps the public sector also applies in reverse – a strong public sector also supports the private sector.

    I’ve seen this point raised so many times on LDV, but it is a complete fallacy. In reality, money is created by banks and is used by individuals and organisations in the private and public sectors to buy goods and services from one another. Neither sector on its own is responsible for creating all (i.e. 100%) of wealth, therefore neither sector ‘pays’ for the other.

  • “This is a more positive vision of a strong public sector, than the vision of inexorably higher taxes, and, in result, an ongoing cost of living crisis.”

    Sorry for the multiple posting, but you really are misunderstanding what money is. It isn’t created by the private sector and the wealth that money represents is not created solely by the private sector. Therefore, the private sector does not ‘pay’ for the public sector.

  • richardheathcote 27th Feb '14 - 6:06pm

    @Joe “Use of public money = public spending (public sector)”

    I don’t accept that I would imagine most public money spent would be in form of sub-contracting private firms,wages within the public services most of which will be spent in private sector, paying private landlords lots of money, paying lots of pensions again spent in the private sector. I think both public and private sector rely on each other and i cant see how you can label using public money as public spending

  • “To say that A pays for B does not imply that B is worthless.”

    This is how it actually works:
    A is the private sector
    B is the public sector
    A buys goods and services created by B and A by taxes and discretionary spending
    B buys goods and services created by B and A by taxes and discretionary spending

    If you say that the money B spends on buying goods and services created by B and can be rubbed off the balance sheet by an ‘accounting’ trick (as you have done), then you would also need to wipe out the proportion of the money that A uses to buy goods and services from A (the portion of the private sector employee’s wages that are spent purchasing goods and services from the private sector). This leaves an economy in which A pays for B and B pays for A – i.e. both sectors pay for each other. This is how it works (as well as partly paying for themselves – you can’t rub it off a ‘balance’ sheet because the economy is not a balance sheet) – both sectors pay for each other by buying goods and services from each other. However, it is completely logically false to say that one sector pays for the other. That could only be true of the other sector is not producing anything of any worth and A is effectively giving B money in return for nothing.

    This really is one of the most basic concepts in economics. Please tell me you now get it.

  • I’m not sure what happened to my last comment, so I’ll give it a go again.

    You really are misunderstanding this, Joe. Could you please take the time to try and understand.

    If A is the private sector and B is the public sector, then:

    A buys goods and services from A and B using discretionary spending and taxes
    B buys goods and services from A and B using discretionary spending and taxes

    You’r arguing (incorrectly, but we’ll follow through on your logic) that the money B received for their labour comes from the public purse so B is effectively only buying goods and services from A (crossing off the taxable part of their income from their income). However, the same logic need to be applied to the goods and services that A buys from A (the private sector employee buying part of their goods and services from the private sector). This leaves the model of the economy as:

    1. A buying goods and services from B using taxes
    2. B buying goods and services from A using discretionary spending

    So, the private sector is now spending all its money on the public sector and the public sector is now spending all its money on the private sector. However, you are saying that the economy simply consists of 1. rather than 1. AND 2. That can only be logically true if all wealth is created by A and B does nothing of any worth.

    This is not a contentious issue in economics (such as the Laffer curve, for example) it is a simple statement of fact. It may well be true that there are economic rent-seekers in the public sector extracting money for doing little or nothing, but the same also applies to people in the private sector – e.g. private ownership of monopolies such as land, especially when that ownership is inherited. There are plenty of people in the private sector that receive money for doing nothing – part of the wealth they receive for doing nothing has been taken from people that created it in the public sector and the other part has been taken from people that created it in the private sector. However, there is no serious economist in the world that would argue that the private sector pays for the public sector, as it is very demonstrably not true.

  • “I would argue that the private sector pays for the public sector through taxation. ”

    It was precisely that fallacy (as in the quote) that I attacked in my original comment that you then came along and defended , despite the fact that the private sector doesn’t ‘pay’ for the public sector any more than the public sector ‘pays’ for the private. Indeed, you repeated the justification that is always used to try and support the fallacy (that publicly funded employees tax contributions come from taxation, disregarding that private sector employees pay for private sector goods and services). If you’re limiting the discussion to just the public finances, as you now claim, then the funding is actually provided by both the public and private sectors, given that both sectors pay tax, so you’re still wrong.

  • richardheathcote 28th Feb '14 - 5:25pm

    I Think you seriously downplay the contribution public sector makes to private sector.

    “However, the particular reward to any public sector worker for their labour takes the form (with perhaps the odd exception) of goods and services provided by the private sector. The converse is not true”

    I take it when your ill you arent rewarded with treatment?

    It might just be me I really haven’t got a clue what you are talking about.

  • I have some sympathy with the last sentence of richardheathcote 28th Feb ’14 – 5:25pm.

    @Joe Otten, a simple question . Have you considered the management of assets?

    Norway has a sovereign wealth fund of £450 Billion.

    The UK has no equivalent because we handed over the oil asset to the private sector.

    Which was better public or private benefit from forty years of oil revenues ?

    Or if you want a UK only example — water. In England it used to be the case that water was a national asset. We were charged water rates by public sector “Boards” who were accountable . Since “privatisation” they have become privately owned monopolies accountable to nobody but their shareholders, whose only measure of success is profit.

    The management of the water resource has declined as we swing violently from hose-pipe ban to widespread flooding, whilst the price to the consumer has rocketed.
    So tell me do you think the management of water has improved since it was handed over to the private sector?

  • Stuart Mitchell 28th Feb '14 - 6:19pm

    “What you are getting in reward for your work, is the food, clothing, housing, transport and leisure as provided by the private sector… the particular reward to any public sector worker for their labour takes the form (with perhaps the odd exception) of goods and services provided by the private sector. The converse is not true.”

    You’re overlooking the billions in subsidies paid to food producers; the (still significant) stock of public housing; the transport infrastructure; and a large chunk of what might be called “leisure” as well. The moment you step outside on to the pavement, you are consuming a public good.

    It’s really difficult to ascertain what point you’re trying to make here Joe. Private companies are not generating money on their own – they are aided by public money every step of the way, from infrastructure to education, from public investment in technology to the money spent by public sector workers who use private businesses.

    Ultimately, all money is created by the banks – so perhaps we could follow your logic to its ultimate conclusion and simply say that the banks pay for everything, and the rest of us should just be grateful to them for it.

  • Joe Otten
    You are simply failing to grasp the points that are being put to you. Don’t worry about it. Perhaps it’s just that you were educated by an enemy of promise.

  • “You’re in danger of just repeating yourself rather than addressing the point.”

    Nothing could be further from the truth, Joe. I have addressed the central point, but you have failed to understand it or are deliberately pretending not to understand it.

    “What you are getting in reward for your work, is the food, clothing, housing, transport and leisure as provided by the private sector.”

    The same thing applies to private sector workers – part of their income comes directly from public sector employees spending their cash on private sector goods and services – part of the goods and services they use are created by the public sector.

    How many times do you need it explaining to you?

    @Stuart Mitchell
    “Ultimately, all money is created by the banks – so perhaps we could follow your logic to its ultimate conclusion and simply say that the banks pay for everything, and the rest of us should just be grateful to them for it.”


  • Stuart Mitchell 1st Mar '14 - 9:16am

    “Stuart, this is whataboutery. I make a point particular to private goods, and you are saying what about public goods, as if I had said something to deny or belittle them.”

    Joe, you’re having a really terrible thread here. I didn’t say that at all. I said that what you described as goods provided almost entirely by the private sector are, in fact, in many cases provided by, or heavily subsidised and supported by, the public sector. That’s not whataboutery, it’s correcting an inaccuracy.

    To state that “the private sector pays for the public sector through taxation” is palpable nonsense. Anybody can see that by spending just a few moments thinking of ways in which the private sector is supported by the public sector (and of course the reverse is true also). Every successful economy that has ever existed has been a mixed economy – one sector does not pay for the other, it is a symbiotic relationship.

  • @Joe Otten
    “Steve I understand perfectly what you are saying. I’m not sure you do.”

    I understand perfectly what I am saying. It is you that hasn’t grasped what everyone else is saying.

    “the latter can be considered an accounting convenience”

    I’ve already explained to you why this is untrue. Crossing off the money that public sector employees receive in salary with what they spend on public goods and services through taxation has no more validity than crossing off the money that private sector employees receive in salary and spend on private sector goods and services.

    “You’re both very keen to move this debate onto the safe ground of whether a symbiotic mixed economy exists”

    With respect, this really isn’t a debate. It is an attempt by numerous people to expose to you the absurdity of an idea which is logically false. Is a ‘debate’ on whether the Earth is flat a ‘debate’ given the overwhelming evidence and acceptance of the contrary?

    “and if you are interested in continuing this discussion in a constructive manner”

    I find that quite offensive. I, and others, have gone to great lengths to explain the central issue you are misunderstanding, Joe. I have done so in a very polite and constructive manner.

    “But we still need doctors, teachers, etc, and how can we pay them to do those jobs if all the food and Ferraris are free? ”

    If all the food and Ferraris are free then all the MPs and doctors and teachers and everybody else can pay each other from the money they receive from each other for providing goods and services to each other. This is how money and the economy works – people give each other money in return for goods and services. The private sector does not create money – that is what the banks do. How many times do we need to re-state this fact? It is the first thing they teach you on any economics course.

  • Joe Otten,

    The fallacy of your argument is not in the system you show. The system you show is straight forward sophistry. The private and public sector are interdependent and indistinguishable unless you consider everything the public sector spends to be on luxuries that would not be needed other than the fact that the state chooses to make them exist. There is no difference between saying that the private sector funds the public sector than there is in saying the public sector funds the private sector. Both are simplistic and both wrong. In stating that the public sector is uniquely indebted to the private sector and therefore implying a subordinacy on its behalf you are in fact engaging in a subtle form of demonisation, unless of course you define demonisation in the narrow unrealistic terms designed to make a false point that you have employed throughout this debate.

  • “Explain how this diagram is logically false:”

    I have done several times already. One last time: It’s false because the public sector employees also pay taxes and because public sector employees also buy goods and services from the private sector.

    Your cash flow diagram in isolation makes no more sense than arguing that the public sector pays for the private sector because:

    Public sector spending on the private sector —-> private money —-> private spending

    How many time times do I have to say this – neither the private sector nor the public sector creates money. Money is created by the banks and used by people to buy goods and services from one another. That’s what I was taught when I was 14 years old when I began my GCSE in economics. This is basic, basic stuff that you are misunderstanding.

    “I.e. that we could set tax rates to zero on private sector activity.”

    That’s the same as wondering how the private sector could exist if public sector employees stop spending their cash on private sector goods and services. You’ve asked me to disprove an argument that is based on a fallacy – I have repeatedly demonstrated how the fallacy is a fallacy in this thread. Is there any point in me continuing if you are not prepared to listen? Is the next instalment of ‘Joe Otten vs economic theory understood and accepted by everyone’ going to be the same?

    “In stating that the public sector is uniquely indebted to the private sector and therefore implying a subordinacy on its behalf you are in fact engaging in a subtle form of demonisation,”

    Quite. Which is exactly why I raised the subject of the fallacy of the private sector paying for the public sector as an example of demonisation. Given the nature of our redistributive tax system it is perhaps understandable how people on very high incomes who pay a lot in tax and don’t use public services as frequently as those on low incomes (health, schools, etc) consider that most of their payments to the system, on an individual level, are paying for nothing for themselves. I can understand how such people might want to try and persuade the rest of the population that they are paying for nothing in an effort to shift public opinion against taxation – a good way of doing that is creating and propagating the fallacy that the private sector pays for the public sector. It is the rhetoric I would expect from the loose-cannon, back-bench, home-counties wing of the Tory party, but it appears they are now in charge and the other wing are even more mad – George Osborne mentioned people in the private sector paying for public services in his last budget speech, but, then again, he has no qualifications in economics.

  • Malcolm Todd 20th Mar '14 - 1:33pm

    Joe Otten

    No, you really don’t get it.
    Claiming that the private sector “pays for” the public sector (and not vice versa) is just meaningless, for the reasons that Steve and JRC have tried to explain above. I’ve tried in the past, too, but it doesn’t seem to go in.
    This is not the same as claiming that you are saying the public sector is “useless”. I accept that you don’t think that. You do believe, however — you have said it above — that if there were no private sector there could be no public sector, and that the converse is not true.
    So: a thought experiment.
    Imagine that the state (however defined) is the only employer. Shops, factories, banks as well as hospitals, schools, etc. are all owned by the state.
    Everyone who works, works for the state. They continue to make things, provide services, and so on, just as happens in the real world. They receive tokens from the government in recognition of the work they do. They hand these tokens over to other departments of the government in return for things that considered “discretionary”. They like to call these tokens “money”.
    Explain to me why that doesn’t work. Don’t do it by appeals to the greater efficiency of the private sector. No one here has disputed — and I would not dispute — that the private sector is more efficient in many areas (broadly, though by no means perfectly, the areas in which we mainly rely on it today). I am not proposing the above model as the ideal arrangement for an economy or suggesting that it would work better than the real economy — any more than you are suggesting that an entirely private economy, with no state involvement, would be better. I am only saying that the above model is actually possible, which is what you are persistently denying.
    Can you explain why it is not possible?

  • Joe Otten,

    You ‘sense’ incorrectly. It appears that your lack of understanding of the point being made to you extends to a lack of understanding of the words you use yourself. A strong private sector is theoretically possible without a strong public sector although history demonstrates that it would be incapable of providing all of the goods required for a just society. It would however be possible to describe any private sector as strong in that it provides only that which it sets itself to do and is therefore self-enclosed. A whole society requires more.

    The point I actually made is that you do not appear to have a functional understanding of the nature of demonisation in order to make valid comment about it. Demonisation is the use of language to denigrate and undermine others ad hominem, as such it is a very subtle process. It cannot be disproven by calls to find direct causal events or specific examples of demon words. It is a concept that can also be applied to institutions and ideas. Using the false argument that the private sector ‘pays’ for the public sector is an example of such demonising propaganda.

    Even in your revised version, that of the incapacity of the public sector to be strong without the private sector you are employing an ideological belief as if it is an accepted fact to support your false dichotomy. The absence of a direct disagreement with your point is not evidence of an unwillingness to agree for fear of validating it, it is evidence of the fact that, as i clearly stated, your point is not a point. There is nothing to disagree with. It is a creation of language without any substance. It is, to use the fashionable phrase, a straw man. This particular straw man is one that has the expressed purpose of categorising the public sector as inferior and subordinate to the public sector so as to characterise it as a drain on resources.

    Another element of the phenomenon of demonisation could be described as the use of plausible deniability, although it might be more accurately described as sophistry employed to undermine the legitimate disagreement of others in order to claim hollow debating victories. For a simple example of this technique I would suggest reading your final paragraph posted at 12.29 on 20th March.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • User AvatarMichael BG 18th Aug - 2:38am
    Matt, I agree the formation of a Government of National Unity is hugely difficult. The easier solution would be a Labour minority government which Jeremy...
  • User AvatarDavid Allen 18th Aug - 12:46am
    The Lib Dems need a crash course in rational bargaining. The Corbynites on the Left, the Tory rebels on the Right, and the Lib Dems...
  • User AvatarGeoffrey Dron 18th Aug - 12:24am
    To get a GNU, needs a successful VONC against the current government. Getting even three Tory names to support the motion would be a major...
  • User AvatarChris Key 17th Aug - 10:17pm
    Simon Hebditch - superb analysis and totally agree about falling into a trap. We should have given the idea a circumspect welcome without committing to...
  • User AvatarJohn Marriott 17th Aug - 10:03pm
    @Dilettante Eye “Social disobedience”, “Civil Disorder”? Surely that could equally happen in a No Deal worst case scenario? And you know who would get the...
  • User AvatarChristian 17th Aug - 9:55pm
    Jo Swinson should double down now and call out Corbyn for not putting the country first. She should say his recklessness risks a damaging no...
Sun 18th Aug 2019
Sat 24th Aug 2019
Thu 29th Aug 2019
Mon 9th Sep 2019