Pay the top, squeeze the lot – the intuitive definition of Toryism

It is indicative that the ‘Welfare Bill’ made a news splash mainly for the Labour Party’s disarray “now we vote, now we won’t”. Otherwise no emotions shown or played, no questions, no strong public reaction. (With the exception of Tim Farron’s speech). The conclusion? Business as usual.

At the other end of the political spectrum, Labour is leaning left – we do not know the policies yet but the move is apparent. Whatever the result of the Labour leader’s election it will be ‘business as usual’.

What it shows is that Labour and the Tories are reverting to their stereotype. During my hustings as a PPC for South Holland and Deepings I argued that we cannot rely on ‘business friendly Labour’ and ‘working people Tories’. I reasoned that if and when they are put under pressure, if and when they have to make a decision in face of uncertainty, they will retort to their ‘intuitive reaction’: so the Tories will cut taxes for the rich and benefits for the poor and the Labour expresses preferences for Jeremy Corbyn.

There might be sophisticated verbal narrative to justify the decision. For Conservatives rewarding boardroom directors, the bankers, the fund managers is ‘attracting talent’. If you are not the top and want to keep your wages and benefits this is classified as ‘loss of competitiveness’. ‘Pay the top, squeeze the lot’ is a default position for Conservatives. For Labour large public investment program, redistributing wealth through tax regime, and prescriptive economic policies are the self-evident answer to all problems. ‘Soak the rich’ is the default.

The intuition works both ways though. It is the same “intuitive understanding” which makes large number of voters to vote for a party. Put it in another way: regardless of the manifesto, the people who vote for the Tories or Labour ‘intuitively know’ what they are voting for. This is of utmost importance for the Liberal Democrats – no manifesto can rationally explain all political eventualities in the future five year term of the parliament. People do need intuitive understanding of what they can expect in unforeseen circumstances. We cannot rely on the rationale of manifestos.

We therefore need the public to recognise our identity ‘intuitively’. The Tories are the party of ‘the business’, Labour have ‘the workers’. I would suggest Liberal Democrats will identify themselves with ‘the commons’.

The ‘commons’ have always provided free, specified and regulated usage for all – regardless of the ownership. (The ‘common land’ could be owned by a community or a single person but always allowed for free grazing, access, foraging).  Later ‘the commons’ came to represent the resources accessible to all.  ‘Free air’ is a text book example. Presently ‘the commons’ are again at the forefront of economic, social and political discussion – for the necessity of having it (climate warming) and the danger of guarding it (the tragedy of commons – overfishing).

So Liberal Democrats have the opportunity to specify ‘the commons’ of their own: education or unrestricted web access or indeed ‘social and culture norms’, all these can be defined through Liberal attitudes as fighting against the abolishment of collective rights in favour of private property. Land Value Tax which will stop appropriation of private profit from public expenditure is another example.

Allying ourselves with ‘the commons’ would give us the narrative and the collective recognition, it would indicate what our ‘intuitive reaction’ is going to be when faced with bailing out banks, arguing about EU membership or facing industrial discontent …

Instantaneous identification, immediate intuitive recognition – the party of ‘the commons’. Why not?

* George Smid was the Liberal Democrat candidate in South Holland and the Deepings in 2015. He is a member of the East Midlands Regional Executive, the English Council Executive and is a former European candidate

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13 Comments

  • What a weird article.

  • Simon McGrath 25th Jul '15 - 10:33am

    “so the Tories will cut taxes for the rich”
    The recent budget increased taxes on the rich.

  • Richard Stallard 25th Jul '15 - 12:18pm

    “the party of ‘the commons’. Why not?”
    Because it sounds like its “The party of the House of Commons” – in other words, a bunch of self-serving MPs looking after their own interests.
    Not that that ever happens(!).

  • Christopher Haigh 25th Jul '15 - 12:58pm

    @simon mcgraph- ‘the recent budget increased taxes for the rich’
    – how did this happen ‘cos you must be very disappointed. I know the tax on insurance premiums went up from 6 to 9.5%, but even us common people have got to pay insurance premiums !

  • The “commons” party does not conjure up the image you are trying to present. Neither does the free air party. I’m afraid a lot of this is hot air.

  • As others have said the party of “the commons” will not run. Also I am not sure that all liberals would agree that we “fight against the abolishment of collective rights in favour of private property”. Support for private property has always been strong in Liberalism. I have never seen Liberalism as being on the side of collectivism. Liberalism is about freedom, freedom for everyone. It is about people having control over their own lives. It sees the role of the state as controlling power and enabling people to control their own lives. It is not about people doing well at the cost of others doing poorly. It is not about the freedom of the few and the many being restricted. Liberalism applies to all. Liberalism is concerned about the well-being of everyone, while allowing everyone to control their own lives. It is about protecting people from being exploited.

    So maybe there is an alternative – Liberalism is concerned about the well-being of everyone, while allowing everyone to control their own lives so long as they don’t impinge on the freedom of others.

  • David Cooper 26th Jul '15 - 12:02am

    @people who vote for the Tories or Labour ‘intuitively know’ what they are voting for

    George, good analysis of the problem we face, but I disagree with your conclusion. The “commons” as you mean it is a technical term from Economics, and has no popular resonance. Besides, we must seek the best outcome both where resources are in common or private.

    In economic terms, surely we need to be seen the party that stands for an enterprise economy rather then one that preserves the accumulated wealth of the already rich. Radical measures such as moving taxes onto property, e.g. land value tax, and reducing taxes on work and business profits make sense in that context.

  • @ David
    Enterprise sounds better – possibly only because Commons is a non-starter.
    But we DO need a simple slogan, mantra, intuitive image or whatever. Better than ‘helping everyone get on in life’ would be good – which we can understand but doesn’t resonate as important as it is too vague.

  • As someone who dabbles in local history and having seen many an old legal document, I can see that the term “Commons” comes from common land which is often described as “Commonhold”. However even in the days when only “Freeholders” had the right to vote, there were Freeholders and there were Freeholders. Some holding a lot more land (and thus a louder voice) than the rest. Have a look at some C19th Poll Books and you will get the idea.

    I think that we must stand for the individual who wants to be allowed to get on with their lives and in business that means the SME sector. They form the backbone of the British economy which is why I was impressed with the answer that Tim Farron gave to me at the East Midlands hustings at which I asked “What message can the Liberal Democrats give to encourage the SME sector to support the party”. His answer (11min 44s) demonstrated to me that he actually does get small business https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXWtriiLvG8 . This may well be due to his experience in his constituency which is in some ways similar to South Holland & the Deepings – probably more sheep and a greater degree of tourism but predominately agricultural. Norman’s answer also offered much as well particularly on education.

    The Land Value Tax thoughts will need a lot of careful explanation to those farmers and horticultural businesses as the badge itself would be a cause for concern (with agricultural land values at record highs). I have to confess it is not an area I know about myself, but it is one that I will investigate closely.

    “Backing Individual Spirit, Enterprise & Progress” perhaps?

  • @ David Cooper
    “In economic terms, surely we need to be seen the party that stands for an enterprise economy”

    @ John Bland
    ‘“Backing Individual Spirit, Enterprise & Progress” perhaps?’

    I understand why people think that being the party of the small business is liberal. However there seems to have been an increase in the number of people starting their own business, but who would prefer to be employed. I believe that the majority of people do not wish to be self-employed and we need an economic message for them as well. Perhaps there is no simple economic message for us because we are concerned with everyone’s economic well-being. We need to run the economy so that it is easy for those who wish to start their own business and it is easy for others to find employment and where it is difficult provide the personalised support each individual needs to realize their choice.

  • @Michael BG I agree that there have been cases where people who have been employed become “consultants” often doing pretty much the same work at the same premises but without the mutual obligation to provide work and to do it that is one of the key legal pointers to employment. The driver behind this is of course employers national insurance contributions (or the saving thereof), We also have Zero hours contracts which does offer the mutual obligation, but is very one sided.

    However there are many people who choose self employment providing services to the general public or to other firms in the supply trade. Electricians, Plumbers, Builders, Farmers,Shopkeepers, Publicans, Website designers for example. They supply to the public or to others in the supply trade. By definition they are self employed in those roles (particularly when supplying to the general public). At the start of 2014 there were an estimated 5.2 million businesses in the UK, Out of this number 99.3% were small firms and 3.3 million were sole traders. Stats from http://www.fsb.org.uk/stats That’s an army that could make a difference in elections.

  • @ John Bland
    I think you missed my point. I was not saying we should not support small businesses or those who are self-employed or those who wish to run their own business. I was saying that it is a small section of the electorate. 5.1 million is only 11% of the total electorate of 46.5 million. Therefore it is vital to run the economy for the whole 100%, including the 89% who are not running their own business.

  • Peter Watson 28th Jul '15 - 8:01am

    @John Bland “At the start of 2014 there were an estimated 5.2 million businesses in the UK, Out of this number 99.3% were small firms and 3.3 million were sole traders.”
    Do we have statistics to show how many of these are in the sort of “disguised employment” that IR35 was set up to tax more fairly (or penalise, depending on your outlook). I have worked with many people (and been one) who work as “contractors, “consultants”, “temporary workers”, “agency staff”, etc. and who own a business because it is more tax-efficient to be a limited company than PAYE, but whose 9-5 day is indistinguishable from the employees who sit beside them. Effectively, they have swapped a number of employment rights (paid leave, protection from unfair dismissal, etc.) for a larger nett salary, but it might be the tax payer (IR35) that is subsidising this rather than the “employer”.
    This raises an interesting dilemma since despite such people being notionally “small businesses” they are not entrepreneurial enterprises and probably benefit more from the sort of policies that benefit their big company “employers”.

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