Do I mind paying my taxes? Not too much as the country would fall apart without them.
But I do mind when Chris Grayling arranges a ferry deal with a company that had no ferries at all and is then forced to bung £33m of my tax – well, not all mine exactly – to the Channel Tunnel in compensation over his ferry deal with the ferry-less company.
I don’t mind paying tax too much, but I do mind when a huge chunk of my tax ends up going to endless outsourcing companies in Grayling-style nod-and-a-wink deals.
So much of our public realm is now privately operated, with vital services being handed over to super-sized corporations such as Interserve, Capita, Carillion and Serco (where do these corporations find such mildly sinister names?) that end up in trouble.
Interserve is the latest private company doing public work to go into administration. It is always a shock when a massive company fails; and it is even more of a shock when that company repairs motorways, tarts up bus stations, cleans out sewers, runs the so-called welfare to work programmes – and attempts to provide probation services in England and Wales (under another dodgy, and failing, privatisation deal arranged by Chris Grayling in an earlier political life).
The logic for private companies taking over our public realm was originally a Conservative idea, further embraced by New Labour, then given another spin by David Cameron’s coalition government.
I still don’t mind paying taxes but I’d rather so much of my money didn’t go to massive corporations, intent on gobbling up the public realm. The NHS seems a good place to spend my taxes, but even some of that money now goes to private companies doing public work.
In health, the coalition’s logic with its Health and Social Care Act was that it could accelerate patient choice by using competition (an abracadabra word to free-marketeers).
This wasn’t new but, as the independent health funding charity the King’s Fund observed at the time, the concern was that the NHS reforms “would result in much great involvement of for-profit companies in the NHS”.
Foolish, I know, but in some dusty corner of my mind there sits the notion that the taxes you stump up go directly to the government to pay for running important services. Somewhere along the way, private companies got their wide shoulders through the door, and now we have a public/private partnership that’s too knotty and complicated for one man sitting on a ledge to understand.
I don’t mind paying my taxes, but were they better spent in the past? Jeremy Corbyn thinks so and wants to bring nationalisation back. I wouldn’t mind paying my taxes to a Labour government either, so long as untold billions weren’t wasted in complicated state buy-back deals and compensation to private companies doing public work.
Don’t let any of this give you the impression that we should be listening to the TaxPayers’ Alliance. For all their grassroots, man-and-woman-of-the-people posturing, that group appears to be part of a worldwide right-wing network in support of free-market capitalism.
And that’s fine if you’re upfront about it, but pretending to be a people’s movement when, as the Guardian reported last November, the alliance receives funds from US-based donors suggests a lack of honesty.
Added to that, Who Funds You? – a UK campaign for transparency in think-tanks – gives its lowest rating for transparency to the alliance.
Still, I don’t mind paying taxes – especially if the alternative is keeping company with right-wing groups that want to chip away at the state; or what’s left of it.