Thursday, April 24, 2008

Give them to the birds and bees

Bonusbarn is at home today due to his teachers being on strike. It’s hard not to be sympathetic. The government may have sound reasons and even good ones for its pay policy but I know exactly how long I’d be inclined to work for someone who gave me less than the inflation rate.

Instinct says the money has to be out there somewhere. Income tax, council tax, fuel tax – the present shower are hoovering up the dosh like none before, more and more each year, so where exactly is it going? Cost of everything seems to be going up and I’m really not spotting the benefits. (Actually I tell a lie. My car insurance has gone down, I learnt yesterday. Fourteen mostly accident free years with the same company pays dividends.)

Sweden’s taxes are high but there you do see the benefits. My 82-year-old, one-legged father-in-law can still live on his own on a farm with dignity and independence, in a way that would be impossible over here; and even in the middle of nowhere the roads are built like runways. (In fact the roads very often are runways – if you come across a straight 800m stretch of highway with surprisingly large parking spaces, just big enough for a Saab Grippen, there’s a reason. I assume they at least put up a notice, or something like that, to warn traffic; maybe someone standing with one of those stop/go lollipop signs.)

Where exactly do governments get the notion that they can reasonably pay people not enough, and expect them to be grateful for being on the front line of the government’s far-sighted policies?

During the war, of course, we famously all tightened the belts and loved it. Apparently. My parents are just about over it, but every now and then as I grew up they would say or do something truly jaw-dropping that made me remember they were children of rationing. To them it was normal. My own memories of public spending, or the lack of it, probably start with Thatcher, who wouldn’t spend anything on anything, hallucinating that The Market would sort it all out to everyone’s benefit. Are today’s leaders the heirs of Thatcher? Was she herself just an extension of the Blitz Spirit? Or was even that something that we Brits have been doing since time immemorial?

If Henry V had stinted on yew wood, we could all be speaking French ...


  1. I think it's pretty dumb of the government to try and give public sector workers below-inflation pay rises when food, fuel and petrol prices are rising fast. It's the people on those 'just about managing to keep head above water' salaries (I'd include voluntary sector workers in this, and, unless it's got dramtically better recently, people working in publishing) who are feeling this the most. It's not even about public services for a lot of people at the moment, it's about meeting mortgage payments and paying bills.

    And a lot of those people have got huge personal debts as well, as a deregulated financial services industry (we can blame Thatcher for *that*) has pushed cheap loans and credit onto them and now wants it back. Fortunately I am sufficiently anxious and sufficiently good at maths to throw all those letters straight in the bin, but I can well see why people don't.

    And I can well see why they're then pissed off at getting a pay rise that is basically a pay cut. I'd be on strike too.

    I find myself today in the surprising position of agreeing with the Archbishop of Canterbury on this topic. Whatever next?

  2. Ah, but where do you stand on roads used as runways? (Answer: not in the middle, ba-boom.)


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