Magazine article The Spectator

Gordon's Great Con

Magazine article The Spectator

Gordon's Great Con

Article excerpt

Aspiring actors are, by tradition, advised by their mentors never to work with children or animals. Budding politicians, on the other hand, should be advised at all costs to avoid pensioners. They make lousy photo opportunities and they have a tendency to fuss over irritatingly small amounts of money. On the other hand, it doesn't look good when old folk get sent to jail as a result of government policy. This is exactly the embarrassment now facing Tony Blair's administration. Up and down the land, leathery ladies in silly hats are vowing that they would sooner do time in Holloway than fork out for another hefty rise in council tax.

The government has been lucky to get this far without provoking a popular revolt against council tax. According to a survey of proposed council budgets conducted by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, council taxpayers face an increase in bills this year of 5.7 per cent. This, as has been widely reported, is equivalent to four times the government's official inflation figure. Yet, as a measure of how homeowners have been progressively milked by the present government, it turns out that this is the smallest percentage since New Labour came to power.

It is little wonder that pensioners everywhere are waving their sticks and shaking beneath their Burberry hats. How is it, they ask quite reasonably, that the cost of running public services rises so much faster each year than the inflation indices on which the increases in their pensions and benefits are based? There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the government's new inflation index, the Index of Consumer Prices (ICP), is a fraud. The notion that the cost of living is currently rising at only 1.4 per cent per year is risible. It is only possible to arrive at this figure by excluding from the index the goods and services that are rising sharply in price, and concentrating on those that are not. The ICP takes into account movements in the prices of all manner of novelties and gizmos, which are of little interest to pensioners but which have a tendency to fall rapidly in price as they make the transformation from rich man's toy to teenager's fashion accessory. Yet it excludes what is surely a more fundamental element of the cost of living: all housing costs. The plumber who demands £100 just to alight from his Transit, the greedy slot-meter for a pensioner's gas fire and the rent on a retirement bungalow are now all officially deemed to be luxuries beyond the scope of the inflation index.

So, too, are council tax bills themselves. …

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