As a left-winger/liberal (in US parlance), I am naturally dismayed by most of the contents of the UK Independence Party manifesto. It seems to me like a ragtaggle bag of policies a la carte, in which the grand idea of Britain’s exit from the EU has been augmented by a host of other policy ideas that sound good on the doorstep but would spell disaster in practice. The best thing one can say about Ukip is that at least they are consistent in their awfulness.
But there is one policy ‘idea’ that I find truly grotesque and that is the notion of cutting foreign aid by more than £9 billion. This seems to be based upon the notion that since things are so bad at home, this is where our charity should begin. To avoid this turning into a huge piece of analysis, I will confine myself to making the observation that for a rich country like Britain, with our colonial legacy, both good and bad, pulling up the drawbridge and saying ‘nothing to do with us’ is a pretty reprehensible policy, one that hardly sits with how we like to think of our nation as a beacon of freedom and democracy.
It’s even more dismaying when one considers that even if we don’t want to give developing countries aid, we are quite happy (and will remain so for some time) to be dependent on their health workers to prop up the numbers of doctors and nurses in the NHS. But apparently the idea that depriving people of adequate health care in their own country might encourage them to become health tourists in Britain, (the very health tourism it says it wants to eliminate), hasn’t occurred to UKIP’s manifesto writers.
Be that as it may, admirers of Keynes like myself tend to regard the current sound and fury about debt and deficits with some despair, not least because we think the extremely slow recovery from recession witnessed over the last few years was entirely self-inflicted by the austerity drones. It needn’t have been so tough and even now, by any measure, Britain is a wealthy nation and £9 billion whilst a great deal of money, is not going to make us any more wealthy in a way that makes a difference to the national accounts. There are much bigger fish to fry. And in the meantime, who wants to save small change if it means getting a reputation for selfish nastiness? It feels like an argument over who had a starter when paying the bill for a group meal. It’s a plain fact that nobody like a skinflint, especially one who can afford it.
I’m reading the excellent ‘Economics: The Users Guide’ by Ha-Joon Chang and had just finished the chapter on poverty when the Ukip manifesto was published. Around 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day. People below this line are regarded as being below the critical minimum even for nutrition. One in five people in the world live in absolute poverty. Chang concludes:
“Who ends up being poor anymore also depends a lot on public intervention. Even to allow poor individuals to get out of poverty by their own efforts, we need to provide more equal childhood conditions (through better welfare provision and education), improve access to jobs by poor people (by reducing discrimination and ‘clubbiness’ at the top), and prevent the rich and powerful from rigging markets…..The world now produces enough to eliminate absolute poverty.”
I realise that there is a school of thought that says it is better to teach a man to be a fisherman than to give him free fish all the time. That’s probably true in the medium to long term. But starving him and then not teaching him the skill by reducing aid support isn’t just a dumb idea, it’s pretty inhumane. Ukip also said today they wanted the number of cabinet posts to return to the number they were in 1939. This inward looking, nasty, mean policy feels more of that time as well.