An Open Letter to the Left from the Confused British Public

Dear The Left,

Thank you for your policy suggestions, which have been passed to the relevant departments. We are very grateful for all your hard work, however it would be appreciated if you could clarify some points.

We have been listening to your theories on the deficit and we are certainly interested in your theories.

As a member of the British Public, to tell you the truth, I’ve always thought of a country’s budget like that of a household’s, but thinking about it I see you have a point and that things are more complicated than that.

A deficit is someone else’s surplus, that makes sense, and if I could take out a loan at 3.5% over 10 years like the Government can I might consider borrowing a little more too. In general it had started making sense.

Of course, at the moment I’m not working as much as I’d like to and you might be able to help out with that. My kids need childcare and it sounds like you can offer what the Tories can’t. Personally it had started making sense.

You had me interested, but then you changed and started confusing me.

You have stopped saying that the deficit was nothing to worry about at the moment and that eliminating it in 5 years was a bad almost dangerous thing. Now you have started arguing that it needs to be eliminated in a single year.

Apparently, an unprecedented tax aimed at the assets of the wealthiest 10% of the country could eliminate this year’s deficit. I thought that would be a bad thing, a fiscal contraction or something.

I have to admit, I was only just coming round to the idea that the deficit didn’t need eliminating over five years, and here you are saying we can close it in one! Now it kinda seems like you don’t know what you’re talking about.

I found it hard to trust you after that, so I looked at your new idea a little more. It turns out your plan doesn’t even make sense on its own terms. Look at this graph. [1]

If you concede that eliminating the deficit is important and that to tackle it you need to tax 10% of the population in a totally new way (not even the best totally new way), why do you do such a dreadful job of tackling the deficit?

Why are you promoting a one off tax to tackle the deficit? I mean why use a one off slice of the public’s stock of wealth to tackle a problem, as you seem to concede it is now a problem, like the deficit, which is a flow?

We British Public are getting a lot of mixed signals: Some of them are making you look untrustworthy and those that aren’t are making you look stupid.

Once again, please accept our thanks for your suggestions. If you don’t hear back from us within two weeks please accept this as confirmation that your policy recommendations have been rejected.

Yours sincerely,

A Confused British Public


[1] I found the original here and altered it in paint, hell, I’m not Beau Bo D’Or, I’m just a member of the General British Public.


5 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Left from the Confused British Public

  1. I can think of a number of problems with this conceit, but the most obvious is the implication that ‘general British public’ and ‘the Left’ are mutually incompatible categories. Are leftwingers not part of the general public?

    There’s a rather silly, pessimistic and deeply conservative assumption that the great mass of people are basically right-wing simpletons, incapable of understanding left-wing arguments. And the left, meanwhile, is unnecessarily obscure and incapable of expressing itself clearly. Neither of these are true – and peddling such myths only damages the left (and, yes, it also damages the interests of the ‘general British public’ of which we are a part).

    1. I see a great deal in what you are saying. But… (I guess you saw that but coming)

      “The Left” and the “General Public” are not separate but there is obviously not a massive overlap, ~35% voted Tory after all. Likewise, a lot of economics is counter intuitive and I don’t think it is patronising to acknowledge that.

      My point is not to separate a “left” and a “public”, the public have made it quite clear that they would like more jobs and better working conditions, the left on the other hand have presented a mixed bag of remedies, some of which is mutually exclusive.

      The public are not simpleton and a great many blog posts here are inspired by conversations I have with “nonpolitical” friends (of course no one is really nonpolitical). Likewise, the Left can have direct and positive messages, but on some occasions the same people can say opposite things.

      I think all that is counter productive.

  2. Yes, the ‘simpletons’ comment was probably over-doing it – sorry about that.

    I think wider public attitudes are highly contradictory, as you acknowledge. I certainly believe there are grounds for hope, crucially because most working class people DO retain an attachment to certain expectations about the welfare state and the public sector. Levels of opposition to privatisation are significant, for example. There will be resentment at things we’ve become accustomed to being taken away.

    To some extent there’s mixed messages from the left, largely because the left is myriad and complex. But we certainly need to project clear messages and alternatives as powerfully as possible. I think that calls for tax justice – increasing taxes on the rich, collecting uncollected taxes, abandoning rise in VAT, etc – are an essential part of that. This is needed as well as dissecting the pro-cuts myths.

    1. Ah, don’t worry about apologising, I can be quite rude in comments without meaning it, water off a ducks back.

      “I think that calls for tax justice – increasing taxes on the rich, collecting uncollected taxes, abandoning rise in VAT, etc – are an essential part of that. This is needed as well as dissecting the pro-cuts myths.”

      There do need to be certain rally points for the left.

      But I think there’s a danger that good long term plans – tackling tax evasion and avoidance, taxing carbon emissions, strengthening the welfare state – are being confused with good short term plans to help us exit the recession in a way that produces jobs.

      The UK economy, which is full of hard working productive people (not scroungers) is running under capacity and getting it up to speed should be the number one priority. A strong economy can safeguard the welfare state and give people decent jobs to go to.

      Govt deficit spending can do that and I don’t care too much short term if the rich pay an unfairly low amount of tax while we exit recession if that boosts demand, because getting people back to work is what matters. At least that is how I see it.

      I appreciate the left is myriad and there is no one way to solve these problems, but I am concerned by the way some people, like the bloggers linked to, can hold contradictory opinions – I think it weakens our cause.

  3. There’s a conflation here between “the left” and New Labour.

    I don’t consider New Labour to be on “the left” anymore, it has left-wing members (in diminishing numbers) socialists and social democrats in the party membership, but not in the leadership which is still fully signed up to neo-liberalism. If the favourite David Miliband wins the leadership election do you forsee any major policy changes and the ditching of neo-liberalism? Because I don’t.

    And the left is not a monolith either, it is made up of disparate groups many of whom spend more time arguing with each other than the right.

    What I do see is a large percentage of the electorate, maybe even the majority, who are tending towards the left, their views may be inchoate and they may not be socialists but they are there and they are not represented by anyone at the moment.

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