One of the reasons I guess I have been blogging less (apart from running out of things about which to be grumpy) is that I’m tweeting more. Twitter is a wonderful medium, and is particularly useful when it passes you on to influential articles and thoughtful blogs. The odd witticism can lighten the day, too. However, I worry that it might lead to people thinking that the subtleties of political and social discourse can be covered in 140 characters. Some recent examples:
Tax evasion and avoidance. The Corbynites apparently believe that there is £120bn of tax being evaded, avoided or just left uncollected: if this were diligently collected, then any hole in government finances could easily be filled. This is a vast amount of money (total government spending on everything is just over £700bn). I suspect what we have here is genuinely avoided tax (illegal, but not, I suspect, very much – the largest estimate I’ve seen comes from HMRC who think there may be £34bn out there in total); genuinely evaded tax (legal, and so not collectible but we could change the law – and close overseas bolt-holes – to make Amazon & Starbucks pay their whack) and administrative losses (some of which are scandalous – a former head of HM Customs and Excise was given to cutting sweetheart deals over executive lunches). Three things, each controversial and arguable, and none explicable in 140 characters.
Another tweet-fest of Corbynism comes when his association with racists and tyrants from around the world is defended – see my earlier blog. The defence mounted here is that in the search for peace, one must talk to people we disagree with, an opinion normally associated with a photo of the anti-Christ Tony Blair talking to Mubarak or Ghadaffi. He obvious point – that Blair’s job required him to meet heads of unpleasant governments, but Corbyn was under no such obligation – is probably too subtle for the wisdom of the smart phone.
Then there’s welfare reform, with the public’s estimate of welfare fraud being 27% of the total as against the government’s view that it is less than 1%. I think the problem here is that there are people who might be able to get out and find a job who can legitimately claim benefit. Stephen Hawking and David Blunkett could, after all, and they would not be ‘welfare cheats’. This creates a difference between ‘welfare fraud’ – people defrauding and lying – and George Osborne’s idea of ‘skivers’ – those who could work harder, but don’t as they can legitimately claim benefits. This idea becomes more powerful when associated with the common idea that there are families with three generations who have not worked due to a culture of worklessness. This is believed not just by the right (Iain Duncan Smith – though the claim has disappeared from his web-site) but also by the left (I remember community workers telling me a similar tale in Sheffield in the 1990s – “there’s no-one in this street who has a job” they would say, ignoring the white vans and rep-mobiles that littered the verge). Only problem is that it’s not true. Three problems, each separate, each responsive to different measures, none doable in 140 characters.
Or look at the refugee/migrant issue. We’re told that many voters are against immigration, or the current volumes of immigration. But again, it’s a number of issues. There are EU workers, who have the legal right to come here. If you want to stop this, we’ll have to leave the EU; and even if we do, the negotiations might allow free movement, or at least allow those already here to stay. The idea that they’ll be put off by tinkering with social security entitlements is fanciful. Then there are skilled workers from abroad, keeping the wheels of industry, finance and agriculture turning. Then we have genuine refugees, fleeing tyrannies, and who do have, in the fullest and most immediate understanding of the word, “a well-founded fear of persecution”. These people should be settled here quickly and compassionately. Then there are a larger group who simply want to come to a better life – a country with social peace, uncorrupt police, decent social services, efficient transport and so on. The way forward here – and I know this is an almost undoable job – is to ensure that their home countries provide the basics of a decent life. Sometimes the various categories mix together, certainly in UKIP rhetoric, and sometimes in reality, as in the ‘problem’ of those in the ‘jungle’ outside Calais. You may agree with me that about 5,000 people – a small football crowd – should be able to be dealt with swiftly by the government, either granting asylum or repatriation. But again, we have a complex issue being represented as either a ‘swarm’ of humanity coming to swamp our economy and social services, or a heartless government resisting a humanitarian crisis. You’re either for or against migration, it seems, and all of it in 140 characters.
So I’ll keep tweeting, and reading tweets, but I won’t think I’ve found the answers.