Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The Tory Brexit squad just announced protecting landowner subsidies as an overriding Brexit priority!

Ten weeks after Brexit Theresa May's Brexit minister David Davis finally gave a speech to parliament to give details on his plan of action. His speech was widely derided as 15 minutes of pointless waffle because it contained far more sound bites, platitudes and vague aspirations than anything resembling a coherent strategy for leaving the EU without causing significant damage to the UK economy.

Jobs for the boys

His speech did contain a few interesting nuggets of information. One of them was that they have already built up an impressive 300 strong "jobs for the boys" force. It's not entirely certain what these hundreds of people have been doing all summer given the paucity of David Davies' speech, but I'm sure these wonderful unelected technocrats will do a great job of freeing us from the tyranny of the EU's evil army of unelected technocrats.

The austerity U-turn

When it comes to actual policy there really wasn't much to go on, but in the part where he spoke about maintaining economic stability there were a couple of interesting things. One of them is that the Tory Brexit squad have secured an agreement from the new chancellor Philip Hammond that structural and investment fund projects signed before Autumn statement would continue to be funded by the UK treasury after Brexit eventually goes ahead.

This is interesting because it's a 180° U-turn on the previous Tory position that austerity creates economic stability. For the last six years they endlessly chanted George Osborne's ridiculous austerity mantra that they have to ruthlessly slash spending on stuff like infrastructure projects, local government, emergency services and public sector wages in order to achieve economic stability. Now Davis is saying the precise opposite, that in order to achieve stability it's vital to not slash funding.

Whichever way you look at it it's an admission that they're wrong. Either Davis was wrong to seek assurances that agreed structural fund projects wouldn't be axed, or he's right that austerity at a time of economic instability is harmful (he is), which is proof that the last six years of Tory austerity has been needlessly destructive ideologically driven nonsense.

If austerity made any economic sense at all (it doesn't) then Davis and his Tory chums would have gleefully withdrawn funding from the structural fund investments. They didn't do it because they know, as they knew all along, that Osborne's austerity agenda was a socially and economically destructive con job.

Landowner subsidies

One of the only other bits of actual policy announcement in the speech was this bit of nonsense:
"Agriculture is a vital part of the economy, and the government will match the current level of annual payments that the sector receives through the direct payment scheme until 2020, providing certainty."
 Agriculture accounts of just 0.62% of the UK economy. It's obviously an important sector that employs several hundred thousands people, but it's utterly absurd that the Tories give landowners a special policy announcement when other sectors like manufacturing, science, education, health, retail, energy and transport get nothing at all to provide them a measure of "certainty" in the entire speech.

The idea that the EU direct payment scheme represents a subsidy for agriculture is a convenient fiction anyway. These payments are nothing more than taxpayer funded handouts to landowners. They come with no obligation to actually produce agricultural outputs at all. The more land you own the bigger the handout, that's just the way it works. Even landowners who leave their land barren and use it for nothing more than grouse shooting get piles of cash showered on them.

This direct payment scheme is just a way of using the tax system to extract wealth from those who have no large tracts of land to subsidise those who do.

It's just a method of further entrenching inequality by making the "have-nots" subsidise the haves, so no wonder the Tories are so fanatically in favour of it that they prioritise landowner subsidies so brazenly above blatantly much more important stuff like the manufacturing sector (no guarantees that they won't have to pay import and export tariffs on trade with the EU for example).

On the face of it it's extraordinary that the protection of such an unjust landowner subsidisation system is considered something that takes such priority over all of the various other sectors of the economy that didn't warrant any kind of reassurance in David Davis' speech, but then the landowner class are probably the most loyal Tory demographic of all so it's understandable if you look at it from the insular self-interested Tory perspective.

The Tories must have been inundated with calls from their wealthy landowner mates worrying about their taxpayer funded handouts coming to an end, so the Tory Brexit squad have decided to throw them a big juicy bone by promising that they'll still be getting their handouts come what may for the rest of us.

Just look at the fact that Paul Dacre (the editor of the rabidly anti-EU Daily Mail) has claimed an astonishing £460,000 in landowner subsidies for his country estates in Sussex and the Scottish Highlands since 2011. If he hadn't had guarantees from his Tory Brexiter chums that these vast handouts were going to continue, do you really think he would have pushed so strongly for Brexit?

The fact that the Tories see the placation of their land monopolist mates with vast taxpayer handouts as one of their absolutely core priorities in their Brexit "strategy" just goes to show how catastrophically unfit these people are to be negotiating on behalf of the British people.

That they've identified such a ridiculous thing as an overriding priority is compelling evidence that they're going to negotiate the whole thing on behalf of their financial backers (bankers, the landed gentry, corporate fat cats, tax-dodgers and private health corporations) and screw the consequences for the rest of us.

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