10 December 2006

Such a lot can happen in a week.

Is it hypocritical to be a wealthy egalitarian? Will green taxes make any real difference in combating climate change? How clever is Gordon Brown in raising taxes and amazingly (for a media that talks of the 'high tax burden') getting criticised for not raising them enough? Why is the media universal in calling the UK a 'high tax' country anyway, when they offer no justification for the statement? How do the Tories get away with 'ethnic prejudice' in criticising Gordon Brown for being a Scot? And finally, did the bloggers4labour meet-up happen last night?

These were just some of the questions I wanted to answer this week but have not found the time to.

In short I would answer them as follows;

No it is not hypocritical to argue that state schools need better funding and then send your own kids to private school. In fact it makes perfect sense. The reason you would send your kids private is BECAUSE state schools are poorly funded. It would be stupid and meaningless to do anything else (if you can afford it, then you should send them private if you follow the logic). And to those cowards and hypocrites on the right who criticise Polly Toynbee for doing just this - criticising with cowardly indirect language (as Boris Johnson did when he suggested "'some' would call Polly a hypocrite") they are being particularly disingenuous. Of course Boris knows only too well, a wealthy man such as himself cannot criticise anyone else for being wealthy. If we follow the right's logic on this (they also criticised Polly for having a home in Italy), then none of us in the West can argue to alleviate poverty in Africa unless we first give all our money to Oxfam. This of course is a ridiculous argument. The truth of these right-wing tactics is that, if you cannot fault the left-wing argument then the next best thing is to try to discredit the arguer and this is what they have resorted to with Polly (and Michael Moore in the US). It is a pretty low tactic, but then people like Melanie Phillips, Boris Johnson, Peter Hitchens, Tim Worstall etc. would not worry too much about that, as Zoe Williams pointed out 'it is like watching a dog slide on it's belly in frustration' - 'funny in a sick sort of way'.

So onwards to taxation - green taxes change behaviour a little when it comes to the in-elastic demand for energy, but it is probably more effective to change the culture by incentives rather than punitive measures. As for the UK being 'high tax', the evidence both historical and in comparison with other countries suggests that we are in fact quite a low tax economy. In fact as Ben at Web OF Contradictions' argued a while ago, how do you define 'high tax' in a country as wealthy as ours anyway. This idea of a 'tax burden' is a very lop sided phrase to use when most people get fantastic value for money for their tax contribution. Services they would not otherwise be able to afford. If you earn less than the median average of £23k (or even the mean average of £30k) then without question you would be better off if taxes related to income went up. Which is probably why, around 60% of voters have always voted for parties they perceive will increase tax. If it wasn't for the electoral system we would have had tax increasing governments to reflect this. The media of course - paint a very different picture of people's views on tax and public expenditure, but the Tories know they will have to hide their cutbacks to win extra votes - hence the vacuous 'sunshine' Dave.

Gordon Brown definitely made a very clever move in raising another £2bn in tax and getting criticised for not raising taxes enough - very clever indeed in this media climate.

I would criticise Brown for a lot of things (as readers of my blog will know) but the one thing I would never do, is resort to a cheap shot at his ethnicity. The Tories and Cameron are being as prejudiced over this, as was their racist campaign in the 2005 general election, 'are you thinking what we are thinking'. No, we are thinking 'what a bunch of racist idiots' - as the actions of the Tories' candidates and members seem to demonstrate very clearly.

Finally, was there a meet-up last night? Sorry I missed it comrades, still recovering from the office party the night before.


  1. On the Polly Toynbee thing. I see your logic, but what about all the other reasons not to send one's children to private school, like not wanting them to grow into arrogant, viscious brutes with horrible accents (or, more likely these days, pretend cockney accents)?

  2. "No it is not hypocritical to argue that state schools need better funding and then send your own kids to private school."


    I quite agree that that - stated as you have above - is not hypocritical. The problem is that that is not what Polly spends her time arguing.

    She spends her time complaining about the middle classes using private schools:

    "But if aspiring parents knew their child would join a critical mass with enough children from other aspiring families to guarantee a viable top stream, then they would worry less about missing their first choice. Where some schools have five children applying for every place, most parents will be disappointed anyway. What is needed is a banding system, with a lottery, if necessary, for places in each band; that would ensure every anxious family ends up with a reasonably good school. This is not levelling down; self-interest requires the law to ensure a fair entry system that does better for all."

    That IS hypocritical.

    It is also hypocritical to demand that everyone's earnings are made public then refuse to do so yourself.

  3. bob: "what about all the other reasons not to send one's children to private school".

    Well bob, overall, I'd rather take the risk that my kids might end up privileged idiots, as long as it drastically reduces their chances of living miserable low status lives. And unfortunately the evidence shows that private school children do get better chances in life.

    Pedant: There is nothing hypocritical in your quote from Polly. She states 'if' there was a 'critical mass' 'then [parents] would worry less' about state schools.

    It is clear from your quote that Polly thinks that without change, aspiring parents ARE RIGHT to worry about state schools. Which backs up her own actions.

    I think it would have been hypocritical for Polly to send her kids to a 'good' comprehensive by buying into a good catchment area than by sending them private. And of course she is not going to send them to a failing comprehensive. What informed parent would wish that on their children if they had the means and know-how to avoid it? Also the sacrifice would serve no purpose - it would not advance a change in policy.

    As for Polly's earnings, she is quite prepared to reveal her earnings as long as others do so as well. Perfectly reasonable.

    I think you misunderstand what hypocrisy means.

  4. It is hypocritical to support the Comprehensive state school system yet send your children to a private school that excludes children of limited means!

    The problems with state schools are based upon poor discipline and poor teaching rather than a lack of resources.

    I bet teachers in the private sector can be sacked far more quicly than their state sector cousins for poor performance!