Time for a brief, and serious, political digression. We’ve just had the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, focusing on the government’s spending plans. There will, to everyone’s surprise, for now be no cuts to tax credits. And this after all those arguments we’ve heard from sections of the press. Tax credits – a disincentive to full-time work if you’re part-time, or to bettering yourself if you’re in a poorly paid job. The implicit assumption that people on any kind of benefit lack aspiration. Pain is good for you.
Are these arguments suddenly no longer valid?
The New York Review of Books has the text of an intriguing conversation between the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, Marilynne Robinson, and President Obama. Robinson has the following in response to Obama asking her whether politically she’s just ‘in the mix like everyone else’.
Well, if I’m going to be honest, I think that there are some political candidacies that are much more humane in their implications and consequences than others. I mean, if suddenly poles were to be reversed and what I see as humanistic came up on the other side, there I’d be.
Basing myself on that ‘humanistic’ principle, I wondered – if the government can abandon one core policy, how about one or two others?
Free schools, for example, much-loved by middle-class parents who worry about poor performance in existing local schools. Much better to incentivise recruitment in existing local schools, so that the good and great teachers schools need can be more readily recruited.
Junior doctors: if the government has lost their support, they’ve also lost the BMA, and much of the rest of the health service. So let’s have a rethink there too.
Social care: councils will now have the ability to levy an extra 2% to support social care, but while useful this is hardly a joined-up policy to allow the much wider provision of care in the community we need to take pressure off hospitals.
Reductions in housing benefit: Osborne’s announced further cuts in the autumn statement. House prices rise, housing benefit is cut. New flats rise above the old streets of Vauxhall. Hard for old communities to survive. And new communities, new identities can take decades to establish.
And another policy which is closely associated with George Osborne:
Infrastructure: scrap HS2 and invest in a nationwide infrastructure, not just a link which will take a decade to reach Birmingham, longer Manchester, and longer still anywhere else. We need transport links which benefit the whole country, and brought in over a much shorter period. What about the North-East, East Anglia, Cornwall… and Scotland, if the Scots hang around for long enough?
And there are of course a few other policies….