One of the things that struck me about the land value tax is how it cuts across a lot of political ideology. Capitalists that favour it do so because it leaves private industry otherwise unhindered. Socialist supporters see it’s progressive nature. Environmentalists value it’s recognition that the natural world is bounded and thus private decisions on its use have wider consequences.
Yet, at the mention of it most political commentators dismiss it as politically unacceptable. Capitalists who oppose it do so as land is considered the most fundamental of private property and thus consider LVT to be a wealth tax. Socialist opposition dislike the indirect nature of it (which in the short term leads to ‘unprogressiveness’ – for example pensioners living in expensive plots of land.) Environmentalists can be offended by the idea that control over nature can be bought and sold (and the government paid off). The result is that support for LVT is across, rather than along party lines, and so it never becomes a feature of any party manifesto. Thus, no one has heard of it and no one can support it with their ballot.
Which leads me to my second bugbear of modern life – the political party itself. Having lived through two governments so far (One Tory and one Labour), the only thing I really remember about either is sleaze, which is pretty sad.
The latest expenses row focussed a lot of minds on what people were doing in our name (and with our money!), but I fear that the truly radical solution has been missed because it requires us to step outside of the confines of the party ideologies that we have grown up in. It may also require us to relinquish power we have attained through participation in the party structure. However, ultimately the power we regain as citizens is worth the price. In my mind there are several reasons why parties are a dead weight on our politics:
1) The main goal of any political party is to acquire power for itself
The original reason for wanting that power is irrelevant, although a party will use that motivation as justification for anything immoral it may do. To a party, the ends justify the means, for without power, it has no reason to exist.
2) Your MP is not primarily accountable to your constituency
A parliamentary candidate typically relies on brand recognition to get elected. If he/she does not have any of their own (ie being famous already), they need the parties to get them elected (consider how many times you have voted for someone because of their party – did you even know what they looked like before you voted them? Did you hear them state their values or ask them questions about how they intended to represent you?). This means that before even trying to convince the electorate to support them, they need to convince a party to do so. This leads to MPs effectively becoming slave voters for the party leadership (they don’t call the vote organisers ‘whips’ for nothing you know!), instead of your representative in government.
3) Political discourse is limited
Similarly to the LVT situation, the presence of political parties limits topics of discussion to what the parties want to talk about.
4) All but swing voters are disenfranchised
Lets face it, your vote probably doesn’t matter. In order to influence who forms the next government you have to live in certain ‘unstable’ locations. Even then, you have to be willing to reduce your choice to two parties (whichever two the pendulum swings between where you are).
5) Policy convergence
An extension of reason 4. If you’re not a swing a voter, you’ll find that the party won’t campaign on a platform you can support, because they need to convince the enfranchised swing voter to vote for them, not safe-seat losers like you. In any case the place to establish the platform of a government is at the ballot box – not the party conference.
6) Parties do the strangest things
I mean, come on! Don’t tell me that given the choice, you’d want Gordon Brown as PM. I don’t care what party you support, that’s the second sign of madness!
The only question I have left, is how is the transition to a partyless landscape to be achieved. The only thing I’m sure of is that it’s not going to be as hard as we imagine it would be. We didn’t even have parties until the 1700s. We’ve managed without them before, and we’ll do it again, and I’m sure we’ll look back and wonder why we ever had them.
Next time, some thoughts on our money and why it cannot possibly work as it is.