Governments are rubbish, so why would we vote for more?

Proof that governments are rubbish – during 1978’s ‘winter of discontent’
‘the government’ found it couldn’t even manage the
bin collections


Let’s not beat about the bush. Governments are rubbish at running anything.

And yet whenever anything goes wrong, we say the Government should fix it.

How much has to go wrong before we face up to the fact that there’s a limit to the probable competence of any five-year term elected body?

It’s also worth remembering that when the UK government owned the railways, the water supply and a lot of manufacturing, all of it was run really badly.

Trains were dirty, late and dangerous; cars were rubbish and they rusted really quickly; and water supplies were through ancient pipes that kept cracking and leaking more than they carried to your tap.

When water was privatised in the UK in 1989, the (publicly owned) industry was £5bn in debt. In public ownership, that deficit would have continued to be subsidised through tax revenues.

Which was why – at the height of nationalised industries – the top rate of tax was 19 shillings in the £ (95%). On top of which – and you will scarcely believe this if you’re under 50 – there was a thing called purchase tax which at one point literally doubled the price of goods. Starting out at 33%, it rose to 66%, and then – yes! – 100%.

How important is a government, anyway? Belgium went nine months without one after its 2007 election. Then in 2010 it began an even longer period – 535 days; 20 months – government-free while the politicians fought about who would form a coalition.

Still, life went on. Twice, Bill Clinton allowed the mechanism of government to close down when a Republican-controlled Congress wouldn’t pass his budget.

In fact, American Presidents have shut down the US government 12 times since Jimmy Carter asked his Attorney General if he could legitimately do so. Turned out he could. (Carter’s question revolved around something called the Anti-Deficiency Act – we’re not going there, but you can if you want to)

Mostly it’s just been for a day or so. But Clinton did it for 21 days across Christmas and New Year ’95/’96. Obama let it roll for 16 days in Sept/Oct 2013.

The fact is that ‘government’ is really carried out by the Civil Service or whatever equivalent any particular country has. The politicians rarely ‘run’ anything. They come in with a set of political aims, and then the civil servants either try to enact them, or tell the Ministers why they can’t have what they want.

There are exceptions. Theresa May is apparently a quite terrifying boss, and expects her will to be done. Education Secretaries frequently pick fights with the education establishment. It rarely ends well.

Sometimes a Health Secretary tries to bring some order to the NHS. That never ends well, which is why the NHS budget has increased – at today’s prices – to 35 times the cost of its budget at launch (1948).

Let’s look at that another way. Based on its launch budget of £500m, and taking into account the change in value of the £ since then, the NHS budget today would be £17.6bn. Population, though, has risen by 28%. A 28% rise in the budget would put it at £22.5bn.

In fact, it’s £140bn, which is more than six times greater.

The really phenomenal growth in NHS spending came under the last Labour government, which introduced incomprehensible (to the lay-person) bureaucracy and management structures. They inherited an NHS costing the taxpayer £44.5bn. Thirteen years later it was £121bn.

And that’s what governments do. They run things really badly, and they use your tax money to do it. When they run into problems, they throw money at them – your money.

So why would you vote for even more government? Maybe it’s a thought to tuck in the back of your mind for when June 23rd comes around.

How to calculate old money at today’s prices


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