Friday, December 02, 2011

Referism at work

Although there have been local experiments in putting council tax rises to a democratic vote via referendums, in each case that this was done, taxpayers voted down the increases. Unsurprisingly, the experiment has not been repeated.

However, that has not stopped the local paper in Brighton arranging its own referendum on a 3.5 percent increase in council tax proposed by the Green council.

And, with the results now in, the vast majority of the 2,800 people who voted (68 percent) opted for a freeze. Only 21 percent backed the Greens' proposal, and even fewer (11 percent) went for a five percent increase and a lessened impact on council services.

With such a low voting rate, this is hardly representative, and the poll has been carried out without any knowledge of the proposed budget, which has yet to be published, but the result is entirely consistent with earlier referendums. Whenever people have been given a choice of lower taxation – even at the cost of service cuts – they opt for the lower taxation.

Were we dealing with an honest system, this would put all local councils on the spot. None of them have any specific mandate from increasing taxes and none take the opportunity of asking. Instead, year-on-year, we have largely unrepresentative officials present their demands, backed by increasingly draconian collection strategies.

One would like to think, at the very least, councillors might change their language, as far too glibly they refer to those who refuse to pay the ever-increasing imposts as "tax dodgers". Some indeed may be, but many others are protesting at the entirely undemocratic money-grab which is little more than licensed theft.

If, of course, those same councillors were sure of their ground, they would put their annual tax levels to the vote, thus embodying the essence of Referism - except that they would largely find they have no popular support.

It cannot be said often enough, therefore, that until councils put their annual demands to the popular vote, they have no mandate for their taxes, and stand as unconvicted thieves, who have manipulated the law in their favour. Despite being cloaked in the language of entitlement, their demands have no legitimacy whatsoever.