Usually, if I see an article about the economic policies of the Liberal Democrats, I wonder if there's a single person in the world who reads it. Or maybe some people are gripped by this sort of thing. They get into work and shout: "Bloody hell, have you seen the news? Apparently a senior Lib Dem treasury spokesman confided to a commentator that the commitment to raising VAT on cotton buds could cost votes in the heavy earwax constituencies of Accrington and Bolton."
This is what puts people off politics, as it has no bearing on the real world. If you know even the name of the Liberal Democrat economic spokesman, that isn't clever. It's wrong, just as you shouldn't know the name of everyone whose ever refereed an FA Cup final. And if you do, you must have one of those syndromes they make Hollywood films about.
But there is something interesting in the reaction to the Liberal proposal to give an extra £25 a week to pensioners over the age of 75. Surely any normal person would consider that reasonable, no more controversial than if they'd said: "Furthermore, if elected, we will not run anyone over with a cattle truck. That is a pledge we intend to keep with the British people."
But instead Labour and the Tories have both screamed about how much this will cost. What a miserable bunch. If they'd been around when scientists announced they'd found a cure for smallpox, they'd have said: "Oh bloody marvellous, and who's going to have to fork out for that? Me, I suppose."
The accounts you hear about ancient civilisations would be different if there had been someone there from New Labour or the Tories. You'd read: "The elders of the village, once they were too frail to hunt or to carry logs, would sit on the brow of a hill and offer their wisdom to all who sought it. Until one young man from Central Office said, 'Oi, how much is this costing, having them sat up there like that?' So from then on the elders either sold their wigwam to pay for residential care, or sat shivering in a buffalo skin because they couldn't afford to turn on the heating, and everyone was much happier because now the figures added up."
But this is the response, from Labour or Tory, to any proposal. If they were asked to comment on the annual conference of al-Qa'ida they'd say: "This talk of holy Jihad is all very well but how much is it going to cost? We can all make promises of eternal glory but their figures just don't add up."
As both major parties are now convinced in the righteousness of the free market, they're desperate to "reform" pensions, as they can't bear making payments to non-productive units such as people who are 90. If they could prove there's an afterlife, they'd scrap pensions altogether and replace them with a loan scheme.
And yet even the top demand from the National Pensioners Convention is for a weekly pension of £105.45 a week, plus a supplement for older pensioners. And none of the spokesmen who've condemned the proposal to meet this has mentioned that the average annual pension for company directors is currently £169,000. And one pension, paid out by GlaxoSmithKline, is £929,000. At the very least he should be made to go up the Post Office to collect his weekly 19 grand, so he can grumble: "Twenty-five minutes I had to wait for my chauffeur this morning. Then he wouldn't let me on at first as I couldn't find my Ferrari pass."
The trouble is the Lib Dems are trying to play it the way Labour used to, saying they'll pay for pension rises "by cutting waste". But this never sounds convincing, as they can't have found new waste that no one else has noticed. You might as well say: "We've found a stack of empty lemonade bottles at the Department of Trade and Industry. We'll get 8p deposit refunded on each one and well, it all adds up." Why don't they come out with it and say: "To start with we're having that Glaxo bloke's pension. He can't need it and that will pay for the £25 rise for 40,000 pensioners for a year so that will get us going."
The analysts who demand pension reforms claim it's in all our interests for state pensions to be kept down or scrapped. One of them, condemning the Liberal Democrat plans yesterday, suggested the poor benefit from lower taxes because the wealthy would rather give £200 "directly to a person or family in need" than to the Government to redistribute it for them. And as we know, that's exactly what happened. When Margaret Thatcher made the richest 1 per cent of Britain £6bn a year wealthier through tax cuts, they immediately took the whole lot down to a park and gave it all to tramps.
One outcome of this situation is that pensioners have become one of the most militant wings of British society, continually arguing and demonstrating for a decent state pension. Which is a marvellous image, especially if, instead of shouting "what do we want", they shout "now what did we come out here for?". And when they get to Trafalgar Square, someone climbs on to a platform with a megaphone and says: "Brothers, sisters, comrades, I keep thinking it's Tuesday."
- More about:
- Liberal Democrat Party