Cash for grouse scandal, Tory Britain is a plutocrats' paradise
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Wed Apr 30 13:48:27 BST 2014
This cash for grouse scandal shows how Britain
has become a plutocrats' paradise
We subsidise the landed gentry and their
shotguns. While the poor are plunged into brutal
insecurity, the rich are untroubled
Guardian, Monday 28 April 2014 20.30 BST
So now you might have to buy your own crutches,
but you'll get your shotgun subsidised by the
state. A few days after it was revealed that an
group is considering charging patients for the
crutches, walking sticks and neck braces it
issues, we discovered that David Cameron has
intervened to keep the cost of gun licences
frozen at £50: a price that hasn't changed since 2001.
The police are furious: it costs them £196 to
conduct the background checks required to ensure
shotguns are issued only to the kind of dangerous
lunatics who use them for mowing down pheasants,
rather than to the common or garden variety. As a
result they sorry, we
£17m a year, by subsidising the pursuits of the exceedingly rich.
Land and Business Association the armed wing of
the Conservative party complains that it's
simply not fair to pass on the full cost of the
licence to the owners of shotguns; unlike, say,
the owners of passports or driving licences, who
are charged on the basis of full cost recovery.
Three days later on Friday the government
announced it would
the subsidy it provides for grouse moors from £30
per hectare to £56. Yes, you read that right: the
British government subsidises grouse moors, which
are owned by 1% of the 1% and used by people who are scarcely less rich.
While the poor are being forced out of their
homes through government cuts, it is raising the
payments across hundreds of thousands of
hectares that some owners use to burn and cut
the land (helping to cause floods downstream),
shoot or poison hen harriers and other predators,
and scar the hills with roads and shooting butts.
While the rest of us can go to the devil, the
interests of the very rich are ringfenced.
Before examining the wider picture, let's stick
with the shooting theme for a moment, and take a
look at the remarkable shape-shifting properties
of that emblem of Downton Abbey Britain: the
pheasant. Through a series of magnificent legal
manoeuvres it can become whatever the nation's wealthy want it to be.
When pheasants are reared, they are classed as
livestock: that means the people who raise them
are exempt from some payments of value added tax
and certain forms of planning control, on the
grounds that they are producing food.
But as soon as they're released they are classed
as wild animals. Otherwise you wouldn't be
allowed to shoot them. But if you want to
re-capture the survivors at the end of the
shooting season to use as breeding stock, they
cease to be wild and become livestock again,
because you aren't allowed to catch wild birds with nets.
If, however, pheasants cause damage to
neighbouring gardens, or to cars, or to the
people travelling in those cars, the person who
released them bears no liability, because for
this purpose they are classed as wild animals
even if, at the time, they are being rounded up as legal livestock.
The pheasant's properties of metamorphosis should
be a rich field of study for biologists: even the
Greek myths mentioned no animal that mutated so
often. In the treatment of pheasant and grouse
shoots we see in microcosm what is happening in
the country as a whole. Legally, fiscally and
politically, the very rich are protected from the
forces afflicting everyone else.
For example, earlier this year Richard Murphy of
Tax Research UK
the ways in which the chancellor, George Osborne,
had changed the tax regime for the largest
corporations, and calculated that these
concessions would cost the exchequer between £5bn
and £10bn a year over the next six years.
At the higher end of his estimate, that money
could have prevented all the benefit cuts
overseen by the Department for Work and Pensions.
But to call on the government to make rational
and progressive fiscal decisions, as many of us
do, is to misunderstand what it is attempting. It
is not seeking to save the country from fiscal
ruin there are many ways of doing that without
cutting essential services. It is re-engineering
the United Kingdom as a plutocrats' paradise, in
which the rich are scarcely troubled by laws or
taxes, while the poor are plunged into a brutal
world of casual labour, insecurity and legal restraint.
There are a dozen ways in which it could have
discharged the deficit without inflicting cuts in
social security or other essential public
services. It could have introduced land value
taxation. Or it could have unlocked the deeply
regressive banding of council tax which,
Ian Jack showed last month, ensures that the
Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, who
a double penthouse in One Hyde Park for £136m,
pays less in tax for that property than do the
owners of a £200,000 house in Blackburn.
If even a flat council tax were applied in
other words, if everyone paid tax at the same
rate Akhmetov might contribute around £2m a
year to the exchequer, rather than £1,353. If
council tax were progressive in other words if
those with the most expensive homes paid
proportionately more he might be charged £4m or
£5m. Such taxes would also have the additional
benefit of suppressing house prices.
Or the government could have levied a Robin Hood
tax on financial transactions which, according
for Public Policy Research, would raise £20bn a
year at a rate of just 0.01%. Or, instead of
bamboozling the public and surreptitiously
turning the UK into a new tax haven, it could
have taken real action to prevent tax avoidance,
saving perhaps tens of billions.
But governments almost everywhere, beholden to
donors and newspaper proprietors, unchallenged by
either opposition parties or their cowed and
passive electorates, are not seeking to prevent
the resurgence of patrimonial capitalism,
which we have recently heard so much, but to
hasten it. They are creating a world in which the
rich may live by their own rules.
So back we go to the hazy days of Edwardian
England: a society dominated by rentiers, in
which the city centres are set aside for those
with tremendous wealth and the countryside is
reserved for their bloodsports. As the queues
lengthen at the foodbanks, our money is used to
subsidise grouse and shotguns. That is all you
need to know about how and by whom we are governed.
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