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Fearing the Worst – Giving Polly a Good Fisking

Polly Toynbee speaks at the October 2005 Labou...

Polly Toynbee, with her mouth in gear

Polly Toynbee was churning out incoherent ramblings again last week. Unlike mine, though, she gets paid for hers. As Guido suggests, perhaps she’s got financial worries on her mind, like so many in the real world beyond the Grauniad offices. (Was it coincidence that this came out hours after her husband was told he’d be out of a job?)

Where Cameron and Osborne have been most successful is in frightening people … However, fear can be useful politically. Cameron’s government has skilfully created a hate campaign directed at the public sector. The release by Eric Pickles this week of all the spending data from his department and its quangos was admirable openness – but mainly a crafty assault on everything spent by public servants. Anecdotes work. People are easily persuaded that the handful of civil servants paid more than the prime minister are typical and that Indian head massages are the norm.

Yes, Polly, anecdotes can be powerful things, which must explain why, having piously cited David Cameron’s efforts, you serve up this:

… the public sector can be lax, but where is a comparison with lavish corporate hospitality at Wimbledon, Twickenham or the grand prix all paid for from peoples’ pension funds? A public employees’ £539 group awayday to Blackpool Pleasure Beach is less than the champagne bill for a public company’s beano at the races.


Well the difference, Polly (which socialists never seem to grasp) is that we have no choice but to contribute to public sector spending, which is why people get more worked up about it. As for the private sector, by and large, if you think that (say) BT is wasting money then you can change suppliers … or you may tolerate it if you find that their charges still provide ‘value for money’ … not a term that people tend to use when considering their taxes.

Income Data Services records it time and again: graduates entering public service will be less well off than those in the private sector, despite pensions.

Hmm. Perhaps you need to ask your colleague Ben Goldacre about that one, seeing as he pointed out earlier this year that “this is one of those interesting areas where anybody who makes a firm statement is wrong, because there is not sufficient evidence to make a confident assertion in either direction”.

Never mind that benefit fraud is only 0.7% of the benefit bill, Cameron’s crackdown smears all claimants by association. The tax evasion bill is at least £70bn, according to Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK, and the IMF puts it higher. But HM Revenue and Customs has had to cut one in eight staff, with more to go.

Yes, Richard “Tax Avoidance is Immoral” Murphy included that assertion in a paper produced by a public services union which concluded – lo and behold – that more potential union recruits staff were required in HMRC to tackle tax evasion. Furthermore the £70bn figure was based on a questionable and sweeping assumption that translated HMRC’s own figures specifically for VAT losses into a total tax loss figure.

Cameron has performed a political conjuring trick of some brilliance in diverting voters’ wrath from the gamblers of high finance to public servants’ excess. By persuading people it was public spending not the bankers’ crash that wrecked the economy, he has won the narrative so far – no mean feat.

The economy was heading for a fall – the credit crunch was the pin that popped the bubble. There’s no shortage of people blaming the bankers. Typically, though, Polly cannot draw the distinction between the economy and the public finances. Gordon Brown was spending more than he had long before the recession – since 2001, after he abandoned the Conservatives’ spending plans that he initially followed.

UK Government Spending vs Income

Public spending – not all public servants’ spending, as many service personnel will testify – has been out of control for too long. The biggest “conjuring trick” was not Cameron’s, but that of Gordon Brown getting away with it for ten years. All the Coalition has done is exposed how the trick was done – and it wasn’t half as clever as everyone – Polly included – thought it was.

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2 responses to “Fearing the Worst – Giving Polly a Good Fisking

  1. ERM August 20, 2010 at 10:04 am

    So since 2001 public service spending has always exceeded income? Wish I could live like that. So much for Gordon Brown ‘the Prudent Chancellor’. Those figures shpould be tatooed on Polly’s arm to remined her of the real facts every time she opens her mouth to issue yet another piece of stupidity.

  2. anon August 20, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Very nice, but someone appears to have done a good job with PS on that pic.

    Here’s the original…

    Feel free to update.

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