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The Tory “mafia” of Surrey do not require Goodfella-types to go door to door, harassing residents like a traditional protection-racket. The protection has already been purchased, by virtue of postcode. According to BBC News and other outlets, Surrey Council’s intended referendum on raising council tax by 15% to fund social care has been abandoned, amid a quagmire of intrigue and alleged backroom deals with allied Tory government.

In the interests of disclosure, I should probably admit I’m a resident of Surrey. Nor shall I deny I’m immensely relieved the 15% hike is apparently off the table. When news circulated that Surrey planned to lash all residents with three times the government’s proposed increase to council tax, I was very anxious. I accept I live in a borough far wealthier than most, and some may well see residents as fair game for that reason alone. But to assume there aren’t people struggling financially in Surrey, is a mistake. Yes, the leafy county has a far larger proportion of wealthy sorts and political classes than most, but that’s definitely of little comfort to those who don’t fit that niche. And despite a rather large contingent of privileged caucasians who support the Tories and UKIP, there are also a sparse few of us behind ‘enemy lines’ who identify with liberal and socialist politics.

Backroom deals

Any personal relief at escaping the hike is very much tempered by sense that the positive result was achieved by nefarious means. And quite possibly at the expense of areas without the same network of Tory “mafia”.

The Guardian reported that David Hodge, leader of Surrey Council, was secretly recorded speaking to Conservative colleagues about personal meetings with communities secretary, Sajid Javid, and chancellor Phillip Hammond. He is quoted as saying they reached a “gentleman’s agreement”. Hodge would not disclose terms of the deal, only that it undermined any necessity to increase council tax by as much as 15%. He even added he had “something in writing”.

Both Javid and Hammond denied any hint of a ‘sweetheart deal’ for the affluent borough. Jeremy Corbyn was quick to pounce upon the issue, ambushing Theresa May the next day in parliament, physically brandishing damning text messages from the Surrey leader to the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). Texts in which Hodge states the “numbers are acceptable” to cancel the referendum, and that he wants to “kill it off”. Unsurprisingly, Corbyn’s pertinent challenge was scarcely reported by the mainstream and right-wing press. (Much like the acutely significant election results in Northern Ireland.)

The mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, also commented:

“It would be absolutely disgraceful if it were proven the government had bought off their political friends at the expense of poorer cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Birmingham, which have been hit far harder by cuts in funding.”

In the same article, The Guardian also stated:

“After six hours of refusing to comment, the DCLG admitted it had confirmed to Surrey county council that it could take part in a trial allowing the council to retain business rates to fund social care from 2018. It insisted this did not amount to a special deal.”

It might seem highly questionable that this pilot scheme suddenly materialised to justify the alleged ‘backroom deal’ for Surrey’s social care. And even if the scheme will be made available to all cities and boroughs, as the government now claims, it stands to reason that businesses in affluent areas will raise considerably more revenue than poorer ones. Hardly fair at all.

Don’t look at that, look at this

Many may well be outraged. But as is often the case in modern politics, I can’t help but feel we’re being misdirected; wrangling over a symptom rather than a cause. Of course it’s wrong if Surrey are in fact being given preferential funding, but what’s really abominable is that a society already battered by bludgeoning austerity is being asked to foot the bill at all.

Unlike other forms of tax, council tax affects just about everyone without exception, even the very poorest. Everyone has to live somewhere. It’s perhaps reasonable for those well-off to contribute more, but council tax is not means tested (like income tax). It takes zero account of a family or individual’s personal situation, only where they happen to live. The costs will be felt far more keenly by the unemployed and those on low incomes.

Poverty.org.uk has stated:

“The UK has a higher proportion of its population in relative low income than most other EU countries: of the 27 EU countries, only four have a higher rate than the UK. More than half of all low-income households are paying full Council Tax, noticeably higher than in the mid-1990s.”

Many in the UK have paid taxes the entirety of their lives, and only now approach an age where social care becomes a consideration. A greedy and supposedly “austere” government now demand they pay more, just in case the worst should happen. But even then, any retired or elderly citizen who owns their home and/or has savings over a certain amount will be denied support any way. It happened to my late mum. She’d owned her modest two-bed flat in East London, and as a result, was denied financial support. It was simply expectation that she’d have to sell up in order to pay for the nursing care. She died in April 2014, coincidentally, at a privately run nursing home in Surrey. In the end, even an exorbitant price tag didn’t make a difference – she died as a direct result of grievously negligent and failing social care in this country.

Leading by example

In February 2016, MPs were awarded a 1.3% pay rise. Only the year before, they’d awarded themselves a whopping 10% pay rise, increasing their salary from £67,060 to £74,000. Then in December 2016, they were awarded yet another 1.4%. As of April 2017, their basic salary is a grandiose £76,011, or 275% of the median UK full-time worker’s salary. Even that figure takes no account of additional earnings, such as Boris Johnson’s former £275,000-a-year salary writing for The Telegraph. Perhaps when our country is in such desperate need, spiralling towards an old-age and social care crisis, our politicians should lead by example?

Hammond’s Spring Budget targets the disabled, the young, the self-employed, small businesses, students, and the unemployed. In fact, pretty much everyone but the corporations, whom the Tories love so much. They believe an elite core of rich people is enough to define a nation as ‘successful’.

In that regard, it’s curious how much capitalism has come to resemble the demonised pitfalls of communism. Whichever the political system, power seems to inevitably corrupt.

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