Hart of the Matter
In this secular age in Britain it is difficult to
commit anything which is still considered to be blasphemy by the general
populace, rather than by the adherents of a particular religion, but recent
events have served to provide a new opening for blasphemers.
All you have to do is to suggest that a mysterious and
ill-defined entity known as ‘The Will of the People’ should be in any way
questioned. This Will of the People has apparently been identified in the
Referendum of June 23, in which we collectively decided we wanted out of
The issue might seem of minor importance in the
day-to-day lives of Haverhill residents, except that the process of referendum
could very soon be particularly relevant to us.
The Government has yet to make clear whether it is
going to extend the current cap on local authority spending down to the level
of town and parish councils. If it does, any attempt to raise council tax by more
than two per cent in any year would trigger a referendum in the parish.
So far, the cap on spending imposed on county and
borough or district councils since the days of Margaret Thatcher has resulted
in – as well as a housing crisis - massive cuts in services, many of which have
been picked up in a small way by town or parish councils as a sort of safety
The consequence is that residents have not felt the
cuts as significantly as they might have done, but they have noticed a dramatic
increase in the element of their town council tax which is charged by town
and/or parish councils in larger villages.
This has annoyed many and has resulted in them
electing protest candidates in the form of Independents, small local parties,
or in our case UKIP.
UKIP councillors are particularly fond of the idea of
referendums in theory because, after all, they just won the big one. But faced
with the reality of running local councils they may be having to adjust their
Take the issue of Haverhill’s sad-looking Corn Exchange.
The idea of securing this as a public building has been something of a UKIP
flagship, launched in opposition to the previous Labour administration’s aims
to create a youth hub, first at the Burton Centre and then, when they lost out
on that to St Nicholas Hospice, at the old magistrates court.
Exactly where we are in any negotiations over that
building are a closely guarded secret, but it is obvious that any effort by the
town council to save it and turn it into something useful would run a long way into
Put that along with the current series of planned
council tax rises to cover the transitional money which should have come from
the Government to our town council but which somehow found its way - of its own
accord, apparently - into St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s trouser pockets, and
you have a recipe for a large funding hole if the possible cap is to be
Last week’s town council meeting was inquiring about
how the referendum process would work, because, faced with a choice between
what the town clerk described as ‘significant’ cutbacks in the budget and the
challenge of breaking the two per cent limit, if it comes in, they preferred
However, they were in for a shock. The rules of the
referendum process are curious to say the least. Firstly, you have to include
the cost of the referendum in your budgeting, which is about two per cent. So,
if you were aiming for four per cent, it makes it automatically six per cent.
But if you lose the referendum you don’t get that money
back, so you are now not only two per cent down, but four per cent, and your
‘significant’ cuts are likely to become ‘severe’.
Even so, UKIP members thought Haverhill people might
still wear the increase if they knew it was to provide a wonderful asset in the
form of a saved and refurbished Corn Exchange. Others were more sceptical,
maybe with good reason.
But the clincher came from the town clerk who
explained that the council would not be able to phrase the question in the
referendum. The Government does that, and you can bet your boots it would be
something along the lines of: ‘Would you like to have your council tax
increased by six, (seven, eight, nine, whatever) per cent?’
So I think we can all say that we know in advance what
the result of such a referendum would be. Now the question is, in such a case
would the Will of the People be right?
Is it – and look away now because here comes the
blasphemy – possible for the Will of the People to be wrong?
When faced with such difficult philosophical questions
it can help to look back through history for answers. The financial crash of
2007-8 is nearly a decade away now, but its seismic effect is still gathering
strength in political terms.
It was the biggest financial disaster since 1929, when
the world was in a serious state of inequality already, after the way Germany
had been ground down in the wake of the First World War. In that tinder-like
atmosphere the fire of politics took hold a lot more quickly.
Within four years we saw two utterly different approaches
to the Great Depression. In America, where even the richest had been reduced to
living in shanty towns and tents, there was an ‘all in it together’ feeling,
very different from the hypocritical one George Osborne claimed.
The Will of the People brought in a president who
invested massively in infrastructure projects – Rooseveldt’s New Deal. It
worked, so one might say the Will of the People was right.
In Germany, where some rich people were still doing
well, but the majority had been completely left behind by the surviving elite,
the Will of the People elected an outsider to clean the whole thing up, a
little-known crowd-pleaser called Adolf Hitler.
If you watch footage of his rallies there is no
denying what the Will of the People was in Germany in the 1930s. Could it be
that it was wrong? Could it be that someone should have stood up against the
Will of the People? And could it be that because someone didn’t – at least not
successfully – that millions died?
To return to the American model, perhaps if a number
of bankers had been living in tents and shanty towns around the City of London
– or in prison - in 2010, we would not be where we are today.