I hope it will not seem unreasonable to the reader that, when faced with notifications about significant hikes in our Council Tax, I engaged in correspondence with the local authority. I was always careful to address my letters to the individual who first communicated with us about the imminent additional charge.
There have been some unwavering characteristics to these exchanges.
Firstly, the official who wrote to me, announcing the increased tax-charge never, ever writes back. It is always some subordinate lackey who gets that job. Secondly, the response always arrives some time after one had given up on any reasonable expectation of a reply. Thirdly, the response wholly fails to respond to any point one had previously made, and the subordinate status of the respondent means (inevitably) that they don’t actually have the authority to deal with any substantive point anyway.
You can see where this is going. None of this seems accidental, because it is invariably the way that things pan out.
Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, the respondent never ever justifies the tax charge in relation to a particular set of circumstances, or objective criteria that one might at least have a hope of understanding and appreciating. No, the justification is in relation to the individuals, or committees further up the food-chain, who actually made the decision.
That, apparently, is all the justification required. The department handling the practicalities of the increased tax-charge are simply ‘following orders’, relayed to it by an anonymous team of officials, who were, presumably, simply ‘following orders’ delivered by some cabal of local politicians a bit further up the food chain. And so on. We heard a great deal about ‘following orders’ in the Nuremberg Trials, and recent news from the Ukraine suggests that we are no less skeptical about the ‘just following orders’ line of argument.
(I even wrote to Mark Drakeford, AM, enclosing copies of the correspondence and asking if this was, genuinely, the kind of thing which embodied a democratic process. That didn’t even merit a response from a lackey.)
There is a clear message, wound like DNA throughout this debacle: the absence of accountability.
This is remarkable, because the pushback, when one raises concerns, is that the policy (on doubling, tripling and even quadrupling the Council Tax charge for miscreants like me) is the product of a ‘democratic process’. We have ‘democratically-elected’ politicians, so how can I possibly gripe about the outcome? Thus goes a sentiment I have regularly encountered.
There are obvious answers to such an assertion. Firstly, the democratic process may be better than many alternatives, but it is certainly not perfect: one can have democratically-elected idiots, who have simply learned to game the system. Left-wing memes on social media invariably portray Boris and his minions in this way, and it seems improbable that the Tories have cornered the market in idiocy. Secondly, the ‘mere fact’ that we have democratically-elected party leaders (and parties) doesn’t guarantee a perfect trickle down of all that lovely democracy throughout a system made up of imperfect human-beings, interest groups, toxic management and the kinds of cultural defects that, someway down the line lead to public outrage, with officials looking nervously into the camera, and stating that ‘lessons must be learned’.
Thirdly, this doesn’t feel like democracy. On the receiving end, the impact is so arbitrary and clearly inequitable that it feels like someone who has acquired power is exerting that power through edict. Nobody consulted me, the taxpayer, the person directly affected by whatever passed for a decision process. Nobody sought to take my circumstances (or those of others like me) into consideration. Nobody has actually asked whether or not I can afford the tax-hike, or paused long enough to determine whether some objective basis for assessing affordability would be a nice idea.
On the receiving end, this feels as if ‘democracy’ is a buzzword bandied about by those who wish to maintain their particular status quo, whilst keeping the rest of us in check: “There, there, little taxpayer. Calm yourself. It’s democratic, so it must be OK.”