Sunday, January 30, 2022

The paradox of democracy

The current debate about whether the proposed National Insurance rise to improve funding for the NHS and for social care is a classic illustration of the paradox of democracy.

Whenever you propose spending money to tackle an urgent and serious problem you will nearly always meet with majority approval, usually overwhelming approval.

But whenever the time comes to propose to implement the specific tax rise to raise the large amount of money required to pay for it, you will ALWAYS find that the minority who do not agree with that spending will be joined by lots of people who don't like that particular method of raising the money or argue that "this is not the time" for a big rise in taxes - always enough that the tax rise is correctly seen as unpopular, usually enough that the majority in favour evaporates.

Every one of the last five Prime Ministers has been told by the press, by whoever was in opposition at the time, be his or her own backbenchers and by a majority in the opinion polls that it is time to act to provide more money for the NHS and to properly fund social care. Several have tried to do so - at least one of them losing her majority in the process.

All of those five prime ministers, including Boris Johnson, have been severely criticised in the press and by their opposition for not moving fast enough to do so.

But now that we are getting close to the point when this government is about to implement is proposals to raise money for the NHS and adult social care, the usual chorus of "It's not the right way" and "This is not the time" has started up, and the press with its' usual sad irresponsibility is talking of how unpopular the increase is - and stopped its' usual refrain of how much the NHS and adult social care need more money. 

Now I do not like any rise in taxes. And I do not regard the National Insurance rise as a perfect way to raise what is needed. In many ways the only reason I support it is because I think it is the one way of raising the funds that the NHS and adult social care need of which there is a cat in hell's chance that a government of any political persuasion will have the guts to actually implement.

But I accept that public services, especially the NHS, must be properly funded and that somehow we have to raise the money to do that. And furthermore, we really need something much better to fund adult social care than the sticking plaster of an extra 2% increase on council tax.

So although it will be probably be one of the most unpopular opinions I have ever dared write on this blog, especially just before fighting an election, I agree with the decision to go ahead with the rise in National Insurance contributions.

I don't like it, but we either do this, or we recognise that no government will ever have the courage to properly fund the NHS or adult social care. And that would be worse.

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