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Notts student stands as MP

Most final year students think they have enough on their plate with dissertations, exams and job hunting. Matthew Butcher, however, is balancing his final year work with running as the Green candidate for Nottingham South. Having been involved in the Green Party for some time, when Matthew was offered the opportunity to stand as MP he jumped at the chance. Over the past weeks he’s been going out to all the areas of Nottingham south campaigning, getting people to fill in surveys on local and national issues; “a lot of what people are saying goes hand in hand with our policies.”

Matthew seems as far removed as possible from the stereotypical, politically apathetic, baked-bean-eating, daytime-television-watching student. “I think that the typical apathetic student is slightly over represented in Nottingham, but I don’t think anyone is that apathetic.” He argues that students, as a demographic, are likely to be concerned about things like climate change and international development, as well as the obvious concerns over tuition fees. “If people can convert that into a vote, but maybe more importantly than into a vote, into getting involved in action and campaigning for the things they believe in, it’s actually an incredibly empowering thing.”

The Green Party have never stood in Nottingham South before “largely because of Alan Simpson, who has been remarkably good for a Labour MP. He’s very strong on things like climate change and human rights, he was against the Iraq war, he’s against privatisation – but the fact is that he’s still been part of that party that has pushed all of these things through, and I think at some point you have to say that enough is enough. If Nottingham South voters are seriously supporting Alan Simpson and his principles then, to me, the sensible thing for them to do would be to vote Green, to actually stand up for those principles.”

Raising awareness about the party is a main priority. Matthew explains that there are many misconceptions about the Green Party, the main one being that they only stand for the environment and don’t have policies that address a wide range of social issues (“although obviously we are by far the best party when it comes to the environment”). The main three points the Greens are emphasising is their commitment to job creation, the NHS and elderly care. Matthew sounded almost surprised at how well his pledges had been received by the members of the public he’d talked to. “We have this terrible supposition that people only think about politics in terms of Labour and Conservative, or maybe if they’re middle class and disillusioned they might vote Lib Dem, but people think about things in a far deeper way than many politicians give them credit for. The Labour and Conservative parties have it very easy in a way because they want people to think in certain ways, but many people I’ve spoken to do actually agree with the Green Party policies.”

One policy that’s particularly relevant to the students of Nottingham is getting rid of tuition fees: “they discriminate against people from poorer backgrounds and create unnecessary debt”. The Green Party would propose to pay for this by raising corporation tax; Matthew personally finds the model proposed by the University and College Union particularly useful. “The good thing about that is you’d only raise it on the largest companies not on small companies, and they’re the ones who often benefit from graduates anyway so it is, I think, the fairest way of paying for tuition fees.”

While campaigning, Matthew has met many Nottingham South residents to talk about their concerns. He laughed as he said that in Lenton, “among the non-student population, the main issue is students!” The issues raised have ranged from everything from dog mess to getting the troops out of Afghanistan. In response to Matthew’s questionnaire, one man filled out every box, “Bring back hanging”. The Green Party is one of a very few parties who don’t class immigration as a problem, but Matthew believes this is not that radical. “No one – no one – has listed immigrants as a problem, not a single person.” A major issue for many Nottingham residents is what Matthew describes as an “affordable housing crisis”, with 16,000 people on the waiting list for affordable housing – “they’re the people that the Green Party is hopefully going to represent”.

This all sounds well and good, but the Green Party getting into power in the next election is of course impossible. Is there a chance that they might finally gain a seat in parliament? “I think that this is the first time that you asking a Green candidate that, in the history of the Green Party, that they can actually say yes! I think there’s a very good chance that we’ll have at least one, but possibly three, Green MPs in parliament next year. That is a really big step, there’s a lot of things that come with that; first of all the media might start taking the Green Party more seriously. The Green Party is growing in a really, really impressive way.”

Many people fail to see the point in voting for a party who will not win, seeing it as ‘throwing away’ a vote. Matthew argues against this; “The argument that ‘I’m not voting Green in case the Tories win’ is redundant now: Labour are the party who are replacing Trident, who are expanding Heathrow, who went to Iraq, who have seen inequality get worse under their rule. If you want a fairer, more equal society then I think you should vote Green. Democracy is all about voting for who you believe in. Greens in parliament, and a massive Green vote in this election, would make a huge difference, whereas a few extra votes to Labour or Conservative would make no difference. This country has been stuck in the same course of action for a very, very long time.”

And on the outcome of the next election? “If the Tories get in it’s going to be absolutely disastrous. It’s going to mean public service cuts, privatisation, I genuinely think it’s going to mean a creeping privatisation of the NHS, climate change efforts will be minimised. I would predict that society will become less equal, even more so, under the Conservatives. Although inequality under Labour has got worse, which is a really shameful indictment of the Labour years, they at least to some extent slowed down the growth in inequality, but under the Conservatives… I could go on for days about how bad it will be. [laughs] All in all I think it will be massively problematic. I would prefer a Labour government.” For students, it would be very likely to mean higher tuition fees. “Nottingham University, luckily or unluckily, is not going to be one of the worst hit if the tuition fees – I read a Times survey that said 82% of students at Nottingham are from the top three ‘social classes’, it’s a rich university with rich students and rich parents. Under a Conservative government it’s people from the poorest backgrounds, with lower incomes or parents who didn’t go to university, who will suffer; they’re going to be less likely to go to university because they’re not going to want to fork out ten thousand pounds a year to do an English course at Nottingham university, why would they?”

And what if Labour get in? “Then we’ll see everything I’ve just described, but slightly slower. Some people in that party have got their hearts in the right place, but the direction that the Labour party is going in is incredibly worrying. Rather than spending £75bn on replacing nuclear weapons, the Green Party would spend it on the NHS. Rather than giving airline companies and airports what is essentially a £10bn tax subsidy every year, we’d scrap that and put it into things like the NHS. And on top of that we want to have a more progressive tax system, we want to have a 50% top rate tax for people who are earning of £100,000, we want to have the 10p tax rate brought back so that those who have the lowest income pay less tax, those who have the highest pay more. We want to really protect public services.”

And so what’s ahead for Matthew if he doesn’t wrest Nottingham South from Labour’s grasp? “Right now obviously I’ve got a huge amount of passion for what I’m doing and what I’m standing for, but if for some reason I don’t get voted in, I think it’s a good idea to get some life experience and to learn other things and also to get to know communities better. I’m going to work on an organic farm in Italy for a month, and then I’m going to come back and face the real world! I just don’t have time to think about graduating at the moment, but I’d like to get involved in community work, do more work at the Crocus Café, and help with the new Lenton arts centre.”

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Lucy Hayes

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29 Comments on this post.
  • M
    12 April 2010 at 00:25
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    Certainly won’t be getting my vote.

    Green Party still ranting on about privatisation? Do me a favour.

    I’d consider voting Green if they’re economics weren’t so needlessly left wing.

    A party full of Waitrose-shopping champagne socialists.

    Hardly respectable.

  • Matthew Butcher
    12 April 2010 at 14:48
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    I’ve only ever shopped in Waitrose once- I bought a chive plant for 15p and it’s thriving in the garden.

    If you’d like to know more about why privatisation is costly and inefficient and how we are going to bring back PUBLIC services you will see it in our manifesto which is released on Thursday.

    Thanks for the Comment

  • F
    12 April 2010 at 23:39
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    well I’ll vote for you! I agree absolutely that the Conservatives getting power again would be even worse than Labour hanging onto it – and obviously the lack of funding into education over the last decade has done you no favours M, if your grammar is anything to go by

  • rob
    13 April 2010 at 12:15
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    Mr. Butcher – do you support Open Borders and the free unrestricted movement of all peoples?

  • James
    13 April 2010 at 22:31
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    While I almost certainly won’t vote for you (both on philsophical grounds and because I don’t want to take votes away from Lillian who is fighting a very tough battle aainst the Tories) I have to say I sympathise with many of your views-certainly on privatisation, social services and taxation. I’m less convinced on climate change and the economy, (though I’m by no means a climate change denier I don’t see the point of unilateral action which would harm our economy and reduce our place at the negotating table) I understand where you’re coming from and would certainly put down the Greens as my second party if AV or STV comes in.

    Good luck!

  • James
    13 April 2010 at 22:32
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    Also, F, lack of funding? That would be the massively increased spending on unviersities and schools would it. You know, all those new buildings and extra cash?

  • Alison
    15 April 2010 at 14:39
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    Fair play to Matthew for getting involved and standing as a candidate, but there’s no way I can take the Green Party seriously. Their manifesto promises pensions, health, education and welfare spending at rates which would more than double current government spending. There’s no mention of how they would pay for this (apart from the ludicrous “scrap Trident” which wouldn’t even be enough for 10% of what they want to spend), but I imagine it would be massively, eye-stingingly higher taxes. At levels which would make even Labour blush.
    Oh well, at least they’ve got rid of their ridiculous “Citizen’s Allowance” idea.

  • Ben
    15 April 2010 at 17:36
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    This party is a sad testament to the persistence of a single issue party which tacitly promotes a socialist ideal. However all of that would be excusable except for the complete lack of any economic credibility whatsoever. The green party would scrap tuition fees not in favour of the workable graduate tax but increasing corporation tax. They would forsake all modicum of a national security strategy by scrapping the job creating upgrade to trident and hey would penalise the already forgotten and neglected upper middle class with their 50% tax on income over 100000. These are sensationalist nonsense policies. If the greens wanted serious credibility they should cost their promises more effectively and take stock of the economic misery their hypothetical socialist republic would inflict on a debt burdened country. Bashing bankers is particularly vogue at this time but it should not for the basis of a programme which appears to have been cooked up under the worst excesses of the late 70’s trade union atrocities.

    I have heard matthew talk and he is erudite and engaging. I only wish he was not representing such laughable idealists. The country has to reach deep, students and all, to pay for the financial recovery. Anything else is fiscal lunacy.

  • roflcopter
    16 April 2010 at 00:24
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    Whats his experience? – that’s what I want to know.

    Karni? Any other SRS?

  • x
    16 April 2010 at 11:06
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    “penalise the already forgotten and neglected upper middle class with their 50% tax on income over 100000.”

    yeah, i’m sure it’s a hard struggle on a £100,000 a year salary…

  • Adam
    16 April 2010 at 11:19
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    Alison: The manifesto is quite well costed, and has been independently checked by several independent economists including David Blanchflower, a top Labour economist who was the only one on the Monetary Policy Committee to see the recession coming. The Green Party would cut a lot more besides Trident, just not from frontline public services like the NHS. They want to curtail road building, stop handouts to the aviation industry, reduce defense budget, ID cards, unnecessary rises to prison costs…. there are more. They would raise tax on top earners/those in expensive houses but not at a ‘stinging’ rate, however their taxation includes a new band for low earners – their plan is re-distributive, there’s no denying it, but then there are lots of citizens in our country who can’t make ends meet.

    Ben: You see it as tactical, The Green Party see the interleaving aspects of their social and environmental policies as making a lot of sense. You won’t enjoy their policies if you don’t believe in fulfilling our environmental obligations and creating a re-distributive ‘socialist’ economy. The Socialist Workers party would scoff at the suggestion that The Green Party are socialist: they do have some socialist principles, however, and are not afraid to admit it. Labour once had socialist principles, too; gone are those days.

  • Adam
    16 April 2010 at 11:29
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    Also: Not building Trident would not sacrifice British jobs under The Green Party’s manifesto pledges. The Green Party have a very extensive job creation plan. Using some of the same money that would be saved from Trident etc., they would look to create jobs building the new ‘green’ infrastructure that’s desperately needed (in terms of energy transport, housing etc.); these would be skilled jobs that would be more varied than those generated by Trident, and their results wouldn’t sit in the ocean decaying and unused for decades.

  • Dave Jackson
    16 April 2010 at 11:33
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    @x – People have the right to earn what the free market economy will pay for them. One of the reasons many salaries need to be high is ‘because’ of the excessive level of taxation levied upon them. People earning high wages are criticised, used as scapegoats and taxed to the hilt, and companies need to pay them more just to stop them leaving the country.

    I’m sick of this perception that above some arbitrary amount, people don’t ‘need’ the money anymore, so the state might as well just take it in taxation. That isn’t how a good economy works I’m afraid. People have a right to the money they earn, without the worry that the government will take more than half of it through income tax, NI, capital gains, VAT, inheritance tax, speed cameras, etc. That’s true whether you’re in the top or bottom bands of taxation.

    Tax exists to pay for public services and to ensure the survival of the ship of state. It is not a punishment for people who have the sheer cheek to try and earn more money, nor is it a tool with which we can conduct social engineering.

  • Dave Jackson
    16 April 2010 at 11:37
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    @Adam – Governments should ‘not’ create jobs. They should create good economic conditions which allow private industry to create jobs.

    Government has ‘created’ enough jobs already, and the only result is the squeezing of private industry (ie the ‘productive bit’ of the economy) to fund the public sector (ie the ‘unproductive bit’).

  • Adam
    16 April 2010 at 11:43
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    Dave Jackson: Of course ‘create jobs’ is just rhetoric for some form of fiscal stimulus to create good economic conditions in which certain jobs will (hopefully) flourish. Picky semantics, sure, but it’s important to note. I don’t think anyone can doubt that internalising fossil fuel free energy production wouldn’t create decent sustainable jobs. It requires subsidies to happen quick enough (environmentally).

  • Adam
    16 April 2010 at 11:47
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    Also: On your first points in reply to X, Dave, the amount that The Green Party want from high earners isn’t arbitrary, and isn’t for no reason, it’s so we can afford the public services and tax reductions for the bottom percentile who didn’t have the same opportunities in life and who are living in poverty. You might not agree with this form of re-distribution, but you can’t say that it’s arbitrary.

  • Dave Jackson
    16 April 2010 at 12:15
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    Hi Adam, my views on environmentalism would probably be quite a bit in contrast to yours, so I won’t open that particular can of worms here!

    What I would ask is this – What would you say to concerns that while a Robin Hood-esque system of taxation may be a laudable aim in many respects, all it does is convince those responsible for wealth generation to leave the country in search of a state more amenable to business and the private sector? These people are a loss to the economy because not only are they not providing their services in British business, they aren’t purchasing goods or services either.

    It’s a simple example, but we’ve already seen it this year in the Premier League – it’s no great surprise that so many big players are leaving the country for foreign shores. Not only is the Euro stronger, but their levels of tax are far more friendly to them. In the long run, it is we that lose out in this situation.

  • Ben
    16 April 2010 at 16:14
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    @x – you may take the view particularly popular in certain quarters of the population that those people in that earnings bracket will just be okay. However, what you perhaps fail to note is that they comprise a great deal of the ‘taxation backbone’ of our economy. Whilst the super-rich may have the time, resources and incentive to place large amounts of money in tax-avoiding accounts overseas and other fiscal dodges, the upper middle class and indeed much of the middle class provide the largest tax-gather for our economy. Penalising this group by neglecting them, alienating their interests and placing an even higher tax burden on their heads may not place them under strain of not getting by but it does victimise them in two ways. The first is that you switch them off, disengage those who comprise much of the effective power base in industry, finance and other white collar professions. A hostile middle class does no favours to smooth governance! The second is that they cannot be used as whipping boys for the system. Tax hikes of this kind are politically motivated incentives to those on lower incomes not fiscally responsible policies. If increasing prosperity amongst all is the aim of the greens, they should think carefully before making even relatively low prosperity so unattractive.

  • Ben
    16 April 2010 at 16:23
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    @Adam – You are quite right the days of Labours socialism are long gone and with good reason, the 70’s demonstrated the ugly horror of rampant trade unions with their bullying tactics, unreasonable demands and lack of democratic balloting and we are seeing a frightening increase in their irresponsible behaviour again today under a Labour government. I count myself a liberal first and foremost and to that end I wish to see as little big government intervention as possible.

    As regards Trident, it is a folly beyond the measure of a modern democracy to suggest that in a world of increasing nuclear proliferation amongst rogue states that we should abandon or not upgrade our nuclear deterrent. I believe it should most certainly be scaled back, made more efficient and discarded in a world where all powers disarmed but that is not this world. Many I think would join me in expressing deep concern that any party wishing to be taken seriously would wish to so comprehensively forsake our national security in the name of jobs. Domestic economy must not be improved at the expense of our ability to preserve our nation. This may be unpopular amongst hard left pacifists and it is the luxury of the political fringes to vent about such ideas but it is the burden of this country that we must be able to ensure our security in an increasingly not decreasingly dangerous world.

  • Lucy Hayes
    16 April 2010 at 16:25
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    @Dave – I think x’s point was more that, in a country where the average full time wage is around £24,000 a year, Ben sounded somewhat melodramatic describing the upper middle classes as “neglected”.

    Also, I’ve heard a lot of people use the argument that the high earners will leave if taxes are raised – obviously this is all hypothetical as the Greens aren’t going to gain power any time soon – but do you really think this will happen on a large scale? Of course some of the very highest earners, like the footballers you mention, may wish to, but I can’t really imagine a mass migration of the upper middle class. Even at the taxation rates of the Greens, surely the high earners would retain enough income to lead a very comfortable life. I know they could retain more of that income elsewhere, but I can’t imagine being angry enough to leave the country – then again, I definitely don’t earn over £100k a year, and also I quite like living in England, so perhaps I’m naive!

  • Ben
    16 April 2010 at 16:28
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    Finally (Sorry to go on) the idea of a sustainable economy and a ‘green’ economy is a wonderful one with which few would strongly disagree. It is also now the concern of ALL major parties. The green party was a relevant protest lobby at a time when major parties where relatively unconcerned with this area of policy. The fact that it has clung on into an era of increasing environmental awareness by diversifying into socialism only lends credibility to those who associate environmental concern with hard-left policies which, in the modern world, is an image we could all do without.

  • Dave Jackson
    16 April 2010 at 17:23
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    @Lucy – I think claiming that the upper-middle classes were neglected wouldn’t be the appropriate word either way! If there’s one thing which progressive parties don’t do, it’s neglect the high earners, haha! I am always very wary of being judgemental of others’ income and how it relates to their lifestyle though, which is why I picked up on the point. It’s their money in the end, after all.

    We’ve heard a lot about non-doms in recent years too – Lord Ashcroft perhaps being one of the more prominent figures in the last year. To a great degree you’re right – what damage can the tiny minority of these individuals do? I think I see it more as a very visual representation of the damage it does to business. It may not be easy for an individual to leave their country over tax issues, but businesses are always going to go where conditions are best to make money, and the most talented individuals are often those who are ‘most’ capable of economic migrancy.

    In 2009 a survey by McIntyre Hudson found that 89% of small/medium sized businesses believe that the UK is going to fall victim to a ‘brain drain’ in the coming years. More than 70% said that if it was practical to do so (as obviously these are small companies, not multinational conglomerates) they would move their entire businesses overseas if the UK didn’t fix its tax system. 20% said that they would not have started their business at all under today’s tax regime.

    These businesses are where the money is coming from and constitute the foundation of our economy. Yet they have argued in this, and many similar polls, that not only are talented employees leaving and causing a brain drain, but that those who are staying here are being encouraged to work less by a system which kills aspirations.

    Instead of thinking about the super-wealthy who form such a small minority, when contemplating tax hikes we should think about those who aspire to social mobility, only to be told that the only reward for working hard is a higher level of taxation. If we want equality (as the greens seem to!) – we should really be encouraging people to climb up, instead of dragging people down. I’m lucky – thanks to the social mobility afforded by the grammar schools and polytechnics, and the economic liberalisation of the Thatcher years, my parents were able to take the family out of the working class. I just hope parties which seem to want similar kinds of social mobility today don’t stunt it by killing off our aspirations.

    Wow that’s a really long comment. Sorry! I’m in politics overdrive with the general election coming up – forgive me!

  • James
    16 April 2010 at 18:02
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    @Dave Jackson,

    Interesting comment there mate, let me take you up on one or two. No their isn’t some arbratory amount where people have earned enough money but there is an amount where they’ve earned enough to be comfortable and to be able to be taxed at a higher level without the threat of poverty or an real issues.

    Now we also have to pay for public services, we have to pay for healthcare, police, defense, inferstructure etc. etc. etc. In an ideal world these would all be cheap and affordable-but they’re not and the money to pay for them has to come out of general taxation. So long as you accept these services as needing to exist you must accept we need to pay for them, correct?

    So the real question is; who do we get this money off? Do we adopt a flat tax and tax everyone totally equally or do we do graduated tax where those who can afford to be taxed without hardship (and while still earning more than those below them) are taxed more than those lower on the income scale.

    The average person in the UK earns slightly less than £15,000 if we remove the very highest earners who schew the statistics-if we where to tax them at the same rate as the highest earners while still mantain our current services they’d be facing a 35% tax bill, which is evidently unaffordable for these families. Meanwhile higher earners would be barley affected-is that sensible?

    It seems to make far more sense that those at the top pay more-they earn more, can afford it and have benfitted massively from the state while those at the bottom have a lighter pay load.

    Also, I just noticed a few of your comments and will address them breifly; People leaving for other countries. Simple question-where. The US? Many of the larger service sector states (NY for example) have similar tax policies to ourselves and arn’t part of the Eurozones. Europe? As high taxes as we have? The third world? Unlikely as they don’t have the levels of education which we do. China? Do you want to know the trouble buisnesses can find themselves in there?

    It’d be ideal to run a low tax state but again we have to be able to mix that with out public servies, welfare state and so forth. Britians strongest suit currently is the city, experience, foreign investment and education. These are not attractive attributes which go away if corperation tax increases slightly particually with many other states raising tax rates and struggling with similar defects.

    Now, the brain drain. This would be the braindrain which reached its high in 1987 (source: Jenkins, Thatcher and Sons) when Thatcher massively cut tax. Britian has always had a ‘brain drain’ to abroad-out biggest assets has been our education for the last 30 or so years. It has actually fallen recently under Labour as the universities have picked up and while I’m on the point, you appear to be idealising the 60s and 70s as a time of social mobility… wasn’t that when we had a highest tax rate of 67%? Don’t get me started on Grammar Schools boosting social mobility or Thatcher doing so…

  • Dave Jackson
    16 April 2010 at 18:57
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    Hi James,

    I’ll try and deal with each point in turn.

    Firstly – let’s not be disingenuous here. A flat tax does not tax everybody ‘totally equally’ when it comes to real money changing hands – the rich will still pay more, and the poor will still pay less. However, I can acknowledge that we aren’t changing from a progressive system anytime soon, and so arguing against ‘that’ is essentially pissing into the prevailing wind of political opinion. I’m not wedded to the idea of a flat tax (and i’m not sure why you have brought it up unless you’re trying to create a straw man) – i just wanted to make clear that if you want the rich to pay more, then a flat tax does that too.

    I’m not saying that we live in an ideal world either – I don’t think that by keeping taxes down we suddenly make everything alright with the world. Taxes are a balancing act. The point I am making is that there is a limit to how far you can go before you start discouraging people to earn. I’m no economics expert. I’m just going on what businesses themselves say, which is that current economic conditions in the UK stultify entrepreneurial skill and make it difficult for small and medium sized businesses to grow.

    Britain is home to big business. We still have massive representation in the heavy building materials sector through businesses like Tarmac and Aggregate Industries. BAE is the largest arms manufacturer in the world, and it’s based in Britain – QinetiQ is also making a hell of a lot of money in both military and civil products. Shockingly, there is some business in this country outside of the City. That isn’t even to take into account the many small and medium sized businesses which have a choice between making do with crippling taxation and regulations, or simply folding and finding a job in the public sector (let’s not forget – this is the unproductive bit of the economy).

    Education isn’t a ‘suit’, it’s a tool to acheive an end, and it certainly ‘can’ go away if companies stop offering internships and work experience because they haven’t got the manpower to look after people trying to learn how to do the job. It can go away if graduate schemes and apprenticeships dry up because companies can’t afford it.

    One of our other strong suits is ‘experience’ – in what, exactly? Seems a bit vague.

    I believe at one point the top band of taxpayers were paying 98% on that particular income in the 70s, can’t remember where I read it. Why do I idealise that period (or indeed grammar schools and Thatcherism) – totally anecdotal evidence, which I have already retold. These things are the reason why I’m here. And the reason why I will keep progressing is because I want to work hard and earn more money. The only thing that will stop me is this nagging feeling that the more I earn, and the more successful I become, the more I will be penalised by the government. The NUS Blueprint is a joke of similar proportions, where they advocate charging people more for their degrees based on the jobs they acquire following their degree, essentially punishing people for working hard and making a success out of their opportunities.

    On a fundamental level, I do not believe that this is something that a successful economy can be based on. I do not know exact tax rates for other states in the EU or the USA – I will trust that you are not being disingenuous when you say that they charge equal levels of taxation and are not good to move businesses to. I’m not sure, but the businesses that I’ve seen polled would seem to disagree with you when it comes to where it is worth starting your business these days.

    The current situation we’re in is deplorable. We have an aging population, a huge public debt and a public sector pensions deficit which I think my grandchildren will be paying off. And what you’re essentially telling me is that tax and spend is still the best way to move forward, instead of a dramatic decrease in the size and scope of the state’s responsibilities. There’s only so far you can squeeze the middle and upper-middle classes to keep that policy going, and when they give, nobody is going to be ‘comfortable’.

  • Ben
    16 April 2010 at 19:00
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    Im afraid that raises another unpopular point which is that social mobility only works if there is a clear delineation of what is being moved between. Social mobility in terms of net income is only measured effectively by reference to the general rate of affluence. I.e. the economic influences of increasing the size of the middle class are only felt relative to the whole. The recession has taught us a valuable lesson by re-adjusting (extremely uncomfortably) Britons ridiculously inflated housing market and levels of personal debt. Perhaps the green’s university policy fails to identify that what is required now is something akin to this with education. I would be interested to hear Matthew’s views on the increasingly desperate cries of academics that universities cannot handle so many student. I agree with breaking down financial barriers to higher education but what needs to happen is a massive reduction in the number of university places, a return to a system of polytechnics abolished on a whim of change and a re-instatement of better quality graduates. If for example 20% of this country’s school leavers went to university with another 20% studying at polytechnics subsidised by industry, you would remove two problems. Firstly you would alleviate the ridiculous proposals of the labour government to turn higher education into some form of completely non-acedemic job training by recognising that vocational qualifications are not the same as academic ones, that both are valuable and that under a system of polytechnics and universities we used t have that distinction. Secondly by slashing student numbers you would re-instate academic standards lowered and lowered again as government dumbs down school exams to doctor improved grades. It would be a better financed, potentially free system educating a reasonable percentage of the population in certain disciplines and a polytechnic system designed to meet other needs and with other motives educating a reasonable percentage of the population in certain other disciplines. You increase private investment in polytechnics where the needs of industry are met most effectively. You also protect the academic integrity of universities by ensuring that staff are not overstretched and under-financed.

    My question to Matt Butcher is what does he favour this government’s approach of simply devaluing degrees by increasing the number of people receiving them or does his free university policy include improving the quality of education, not simply its accessibility?

  • James
    16 April 2010 at 21:02
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    I brought up the fair tax as it was the only commonly mooted soloution to the current income tax system-if you have a different soloution to the problem then I’d like to hear it otherwise it appears to be criticism for criticisms sake.

    Personally I feel that economic conditions in Britian have not been particually hard on buisness over the past 10 years or so and I don’t feel that has changed massively over the past 2 or 3. We did, after all, have a record period of growth from 95-2007 (dispite a ‘tax and spend government) and managed to avoid the recession in 2001 which affected America and Japan so badly. Compare this to the monesterist and economically liberal years of the 80’s and early 90’s and we see a clear difference; we had recessions in 81, 88, 91 and 94 and a lower growth rate overall than in the 70’s. This does not appear to me to be a particually conductive way of going forward.

    Education is a ‘suit’-a uneducated populance is not attractive to buisnessmen and investors. Britian is not going to attract the industries and buisnesses which are currently moving to China and India because we don’t have the cheap labour or natural resources to attract them-instead we must look towards out other advantages and a highly educated population with good skills and abilities gives high tech industry and buisness a reason to move here. Don’t kid yourself that should we lower taxes all sorts of smaller buisnesses will move here (I’m talking about industry etc. small service buisnesses will survive so long as theirs a demand.)

    As for experience, I was using that as a euphmism for both prestige and trust. One of Britians strongest areas politically and economically is our history-we’re generally a trusted nation. We have a triple A credit rating (Which must be protected by bringing down the defect), old firms which people feel they can trust with their money and the city which is one of the worlds oldest fiscal centres. It may sound very wishy washy but these things do count and we must protect them.

    The fatc is that under our current system, the more you earn and the more sucessful you are the better off you are. Forget about this idea that the government penalises you-if you earn over the 50% tax limit your still earning more than those below it. Yes you may pay out more but you keep more money as well. The graduate tax idea makes sense to me-currently you pay the same no matter how much use the degree is to you or your future. It makes sense that if you do well out of the service which the state provides then you should give slightly more back. If set at the right level, you rightly note that tax is about moderation, it should provide a fair way of funding universities.

    Your evidence appears totally anacdotal-hard facts tell us that for most the Thatcherite era was not one of prosperity and that most Grammar Schools currently running hinder social mobility. Maybe, once, that system worked but we know that it currently doesn’t. Just because you happen to have benefited dosn’t mean that there arn’t whole regions which didn’t. Oh and on the foreign tax rates, in the US it depends which state you go too and I believe Germany and France have very similar tax rates…

    The current situation is indeed worrying but on two of your issues I’m not sure what we do, unless we start killing off anyone over 50 who isn’t productive or try to force a massive spike in the birthrate (or increase immigration massively). Tax and spend is not currently the soloution, no, we all know that massive cuts will be made (of around 17% or so) but at the same time simply tryin to return to the old state wont work either-after all the state actually grew under Thatcher! Instead we need to try to cut and reform the state while keeping key elements opartional and not risking the recovery. What I’m arguing for is a sensible drawback-some taxes may have to rise, certain services may have to be cut but it has to be pragmatic. Trying to cut taxes and cut the deficet is just foolish.

  • Dave Jackson
    16 April 2010 at 22:50
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    I wasn’t suggesting a ‘solution to the current income tax system’, beyond pointing out that continually squeezing the ‘haves’ is not a long term solution, and criticising the current political zeitgeist for cultivating this mindset that the moderately wealthy should continually pay more and more to fill the gap created by government excesses.

    I don’t know how you can possibly criticise the Conservative record on recessions when your own party has managed to top every single one of them. If we’re going to argue that the 2009 recession was due to global factors, let us at least concede that, at the very least, the 1990 recession was also due to global issues.

    I see economics from a purely laymans perspective, but anybody who would look at the late 1970s and then try and criticise Thatcher’s handling of the economy has a very selective (and rose-tinted, almost literally) memory. Growth was down, as far as I’m aware, because of the selling of most of government industry. I can’t think of any sane human being who would point to the 70s and describe them as in any way better than the 80s. Perhaps you really needed to smell the unburied corpses to realise just how much the Labour party had ballsed up the country Thatcher inherited.

    As for prosperity and social mobility, well, under Labour half of us would probably still be living in council houses. I know nothing about a recession in 1988 – as far as I can find, we had a growth rate of about 4.5% in that year. I’d be interested to see the ‘hard facts’ you have to show that social mobility didn’t happen under Thatcher, although I would point out that she did inherit the comprehensive system, so it’s hard to blame her.

    The country was told that comprehensives meant ‘grammar schools for all’. What they got was ‘secondary moderns for all’, with the highest quality of education reserved only for the people who could afford to go private. Even then, the Tories had assisted places to ensure that academically bright pupils, even if they couldn’t afford it, could fully use their potential by going to a top level private school. But nooo – Labour made a very quick job of getting rid of that once they came into power in 1997. Don’t try and claim to me that Labour is interested in social mobility – by abolishing academic selection, and abolishing assisted places, they’ve just been fulfilling populist demands to the detriment of our most talented (but less wealthy) students, actually widening the gap between rich and poor.

    I’m not surprised you’re keen on the graduate tax. Make no bones about it – it penalises people who work hard. What you’re saying is that if I work hard in my course and get a first, do loads of work experience and internships in my spare time, and get a good job in a particular industry, I should pay more for my ‘degree’ (which, last I checked, is exactly the same degree as any other politics student receives) than a politics student who bums around for three years, doesn’t do any extra-curricular work, gets a third and ends up in a terrible job.

    Not only is the plan simply idiotic, but it is the exact antithesis of what a university education should be about. It doesn’t just punish success, it rewards failure by saying that if you don’t give a toss about your degree and dont do the work, at least you will end up paying less for it.

    I pay for the same degree, and the same service as everybody else who does my subject. The government isn’t granting me a service out of the goodness of its heart here – I don’t know about you, but most of us are paying a pretty penny for it. It’s not about moderation, it’s about an absolute joke of a policy which (thank god) has been totally ignored by every single political party (even the crazy ones).

    People who are in the 50% tax band will earn more, obviously, but it will be a small amount more when you take all taxation into account. 50% of it’s gone, then you’re talking NI, VAT, council tax, etc. Eventually so much of the money you are earning over that level is gone that you wonder why you worked hard enough in the first place to get the extra pay. ‘That’ is the point that I’m making. You’ll be hard pressed to find ‘anybody’ earning over that bracket (besides champagne socialists) who don’t see this as an excessive penalty imposed on them simply for trying to earn more money.

    The difference here (and I suspect it will not be reconciled) is that I do not believe that, in any way, the current system of British politics is meritocratic. Indeed, I think it is the opposite of a meritocracy.

    Just to clarify, I’m not saying that the aging population is a problem, more than the fact that this government has no plans to deal with it. Nor do they have any solid plans to address our current account deficit, or the public sector pensions black hole. Eventually the combined weight of these crises-waiting-to-happen will hit us, and no legion of NHS managers or public sector accountants will be able to generate the wealth needed to get us out of it.

  • James
    17 April 2010 at 08:30
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    The 2009 recession was, as you’ve noted, mainly down to global factors, the 1990 recession was an interesting mix of the result of Lawson ‘doping’ the economy in 1987 to ensure a geneal election win (Something all chancellors do, of course) and of global factors.

    Please don’t think I idealise the 70’s, they wern’t a bad decade and much of what Thatcher did, as much as I disagree with elements of it, was nescarry-for example the early Trade Union legislation. To simply blame her actions as being nesscary because of a Labour government is false though-the lead up to the stagflation of the 1970’s was down to both Labour and Tory governments from the 60’s onwards-remember it was Heath who first brought in pay constraints!

    As for 1988 I may have got my date wrong slightly, I’m trying to remember it from memory and in particular Ian Gilmours excellent Dancing With Dogma-it might have been a year later.

    As for Grammar Schools, in principle I support that sstem but in practice they simply don’t work due to a number of factors; the amount of tutoring richer students get to train them for the test, the 11 plus which happens far too early, the issues with discrimination within the 11+ against dyslexic and disabled pupils, the general elitism which pervades the grammar school system, the inevitable poor quality of secondary moderns and so forth. I simply don’t see why good education should be the preserve of the more intellegent (or those who are judged more intellegent by a test). The assisted places scheme is similar but it was found that a majority of places went to those who where close to affording the anyways-who knew te system and could get their children into it. A far bigger issue with modern education in the social problems that surround it-if a child dosn’t know the value of education he won’t do well, even if he gets to a grammar school. To really improve state education we need to tackle the social factors.

    If you do do well, and I have no doubt that you will, then even under the NUS’s proposals you’ll do better than the student who gets a third. Yes you may pay more (but not an exorberent cost) but you will have gained far more from your degree from him. We are both, of course, currently doing subsidisdising others degrees through doing politics. Either way sucess is still rewarded.

    Of course you won’t find many people over that bracket who like the level of tax they’re paying but you’ll find very few who would like to return to under that bracket and who don’t want to keep earning more. IF you earn over the 50% tax bracket you will still be better off than under it, perhaps less better off than you would have been when taxes where slightly lower but still better off. Thats why its set at that threshold-so we can encourage people to want to achieve more while paying for essental services.

    Oh, and I agree that British politics is not currently meritocratic-you only have to look at the leadership of all three parties (and many of the perspective candidates) to see that.

    Whats your soloution then?

  • Robert Howard
    30 April 2010 at 10:31
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    Great to see this piece about Matthew generating some discussion about Nottingham South. I know Matthew to be a hardworking community activist and enjoy talking politics with him and I share many of his views. As far as I am concerned, Alan Simpson has been the perfect MP, even allowing for his opposition to PR. I will be voting for Lilian Greenwood and the Labour Party in Nottingham South because their approach to dealing with the financial mess created by the banks and, yes, free market politicians (of which Brown was one until the crisis) appears the least flawed. However, IF we have a hung parliament, I would like all the parties to try and reach a consensus of sorts on a long-term plan which protects the less well-off and vulnerable in our society.

    Being an OAP and community activist of sorts in Lenton, the biggest issue I have with students is their lack of involvement in local political activity. I know Matthew would like to be a councillor one day, but the only opposition the Labour Party faces in Lenton is from its own members. I suspect there are other students who want to go into politics, so why don’t they get involved in Lenton. I would like to see some student city councillors representing other parts of Nottingham (in Dunkirk and Lenton ward, Labour has two excellent prospective city council candidates, Sarah Piper and exisiting city councillor Dave Trimble).

    Us ‘oldies’ and students in Lenton have a lot in common: it’s a great place to live; we both suffer at the hands of governments fixating on ‘hardworking families’ and find ourselves being treated unfairly. I say ‘yes’ to free education and ‘no’ to means tested benefits — they should be universal and clawed back from the better off by means of progessive taxation, with the better-off paying higher rates of income tax. It really is that simple if you overcome any fear you might have of offending corporate capitalism.

    Go for it Matthew! I like the Green Party’s policies, but you have to get yourself a party on the ground if you want to win the big one, so I hope you find the time and energy to mount a campaign to win a seat on Nottingham City Council in May 2011 and that lots of students and others in the community. After the general election, the political map of England may be about to change and, if it does, I want Lilian Greenwood there to help ensure that the interests of the less well-off and vulnerable are advanced, not just protected, because she already has an excellent track record when it comes to fighting for single families, low-paid workers and against all kinds of social injustice.

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