Today, in the UK it is budget day and that means that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond will stand at the dispatch box in the House of Commons and tell the population how they will be taxed over the next year.
That is quite remarkable. He stands up and tells the people how much they owe their Government and although we may moan and groan all we say, more or less, is OK. Thank the Gods we have a strong Parliamentary system that scrutinises and argues on our behalf.
As part of my continuing series which develops my Manifesto for Government ( https://www.brovary.co.uk/2017/11/20/dont-vote-for-me ) today I want to ask why do we even need a Government?
Before my Government will raise any taxes, before I can ask you to give me any money, you need to be sure that you agree with the ways I am going to spend it. You need to be sure that I have a valid role in your life and we share priorities. We need to share and agree what your Government is there to do.
This is where I start.
We need a Government to support the population to coordinate itself.
Are you happy with that? I don’t want to tell you what to do, I don’t want to take you down paths you don’t want to go. All I want to do is help sixty million odd people coordinate the big things you can’t do individually.
The concept of state had been much debated and is built out of hundreds or even thousands of years of culture, initially from China, through the sub-continent of India and finally into Europe. I am not an historian, but it does seem to me that the definition of a State, the unit that requires government, came about through the desires and ambitions of kings, queens, fighters, and tyrants. The definition of a state was defined by their cruelty, the capability to maintain supply lines and secure the geographic barriers.
The commonality and unity of the people they ruled was of less interest to them than the capacity of the population to pay taxes to support the growing wealth of the ruler.
Times have changed. For most of the world, physical barriers have been circumvented, supply lines can be universal, but far more importantly taxes are no longer raised for the benefit of the ruler but for the benefit of the people who make up the State.
This has put pressure to define that cohesive unit we call a ‘country’.
Recently there has been a separation vote in Scotland and we are in the midst of a similar discussion in the Catalan region of Spain. Some Catalans clearly want to leave their union with Spain, others don’t, and the rest of Spain hasn’t yet had the chance to express an opinion. I have vowed not to write about Brexit, but the Irish boarder issue will soon become the key issue there. And then there is the annexation of Crimea by Russia. I will try and exercise some self-restraint and say little. The demand for Ukrainian independence was fully covered in my first novel, ‘The Masterful Manipulation of George Cove’ and with a fiancée living in Kiev I have strong opinions. However, and wherever you look the concept and unity of the State is under continual review.
What all these current situations illustrate is that Governments don’t have a feudal right to raise money for the King’s benefit. Governments need to be sure they carry their population with them highlighting the significant change in the role of Government.
The purpose of all this coordination is to help build a society that is becoming ‘happier’ and ‘wealthier’. These are subjective terms which require more immediate and more important discussion.
As anyone who has supported a football team and tried to agree among friends on the merits of the manager or team selection; for anyone who has belonged to a social or sports club, there is never full agreement on everything. That is the way of the world and one of the great joys of being human.
We all have different interests and priorities and what makes me happy is unlikely to do much for you. What makes me feel sufficiently wealthy to live happily, to you, could seem excessive or far too little. We will not agree, and we need to accept that.
Then, why even try to solve the problem? Because, as with everything in this world, doing nothing will leave everyone (apart from a very few who have taken power and authority by force – think Middle Ages) unhappy.
Philosophers have spent years pondering this question. As far back as the Eighteenth-century Jeremy Bentham defined as the ‘fundamental axiom’ of his philosophy the principle that “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” He also went on to espouse many of the principles that we would call very modern (i.e. the decriminalising of homosexual acts). Even with all its own conflicts I can see no reason to go any further than that and it should be a core principle of any Government.
This will never be achieved on a short-term basis. The only way forward is to avoid any discussion of where next year’s billions go but to gain a consensus on the country we want our children and their children to live in. Continuing the analogy in my earlier blog ( https://www.brovary.co.uk/2017/11/20/dont-vote-for-me ) we need agreement on the shape of ‘scoring a try’.