The famous Lucius Cassius, whom the Roman people used to regard as a very honest and wise judge, was in the habit of asking, time and again, “cui bono?” (“To whose benefit?”)’ Cicero.
In my opinion one of the best lenses through which to try to understand political party policy – including Tory policy – is the cui bono test. I wrote about this before here. Political rhetoric is one thing. But if you want to understand what the real agenda is, try asking ‘cui bono?’
It is hard, if not impossible, to find any economic or economy-impacting policy of the Tory Party that does not have the consequence that it benefits the very wealthy (top 1%) and big business. These are the same people who also contribute very significantly to Tory Party coffers, of course.
So consider the recent suggestion that Theresa May is now left leaning economically because she has recently said she rejects ‘the cult of selfish individualism’ and accepts that untrammelled free markets don’t necessarily deliver. That May is now economically left-leaning is a line that’s now even being repeated and endorsed by folk at The Guardian. The BBC says that May is now ‘targeting mainstream Britain‘.
Applying the ‘Cui Bono?’ Test
However, if one applies the cui bono test and look at who benefits from May’s proposed policies, the answer is exactly the same as it’s always been.
So, for example, consider the Tory policies that (i) those who own a £500k house should pay for their at home social care out of the value of their property (deducted when they die), (ii) that the winter fuel allowance should be means tested, and (iii) the removal of free school meals for all infants. These policies are being presented, even by supposedly impartial journalists, as being about ‘fairness’. In particular they’re presented as being about hitting the rich harder.
The argument is simple: why should we be providing the children of rich folk with free meals? Unfair! Why should a pensioner sitting on a half-million pound property have their social care paid for just like the most needy pensioners with no such nest-egg? Unfair! Why should rich people get handouts for their winter fuel? Unfair! See? The Tories really are redressing the balance in favour of the less well-off!
But who benefits most from such policies? Those who benefit most from the tax cuts such spending cuts will fund. And who are they? Those who pay the most £s in tax. The top 1% pay 27% of the total income tax take, we are often told (which sounds a lot until you realise just how much the top 1% make). The tax cuts the Tories favour will disproportionately benefit them. Indeed, a modest cut in tax at the top pours literally billions into the pockets of the most wealthy.
Who loses out? Middle class homeowners. These people may be described as ‘the rich’ but in truth they are paupers compared to those such policies are really designed to benefit. A pensioner sitting on a half million pound house will now be liable for up to a £400,000 bill for their social care. True enough, so will the billionaire who owns 2,000 such properties. But the billionaire won’t pay anymore than that middle class pensioner (assuming, reasonably, an upper cost limit of or below £400k). The bill is the same, no matter how wealthy you are. The billionaire class the Tory Party is funded and supported by are the real beneficiaries of such policies. Huge beneficiaries. At the cost of middle class folk.
Exactly the same was true of the introduction of university tuition fees (which, by the way, you don’t pay across much of Europe, including e.g. Germany). The justification was: why should the rich benefit from free education paid for by working class folk? But who really benefited from the policy? The really, really wealthy. For they pay the exact same amount for their university education as your local schoolteacher or GP (well, actually they pay significantly less, as they can afford to immediately pay the fee off and so incur no interest). The other major beneficiary was the financial services industry.
The same was also true of the switch, pushed particularly by Thatcher, from income tax to VAT, tax on cigarettes, booze, car tax, road tolls, poll tax, and so on. The latter sort of tax is flat rate – everyone pays the same amount no matter how wealthy they are. As a result of such taxation, the poorest 10% of the population (by income) now pay more tax as a percentage of income than does the top 10%.
Here’s another huge inequity introduced by such changes to how we pay for things. How much you pay will come down to a lottery. Get dementia? The Government may take most of the value of your home. Don’t get dementia – no charge! The Government’s proposal is, quite rightly, being called a tax on dementia.
Don’t be under any illusions – the Tory Party is not moving left economically. They are the same old Party – screwing the rest of us for the benefit of the most wealthy – that they’ve always been. Only the wealth they are now targeting most heavily is that of the middle classes.
This should all be bloody obvious, shouldn’t it?
Stephen Law is an English philosopher and Reader in Philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London. He also edits the philosophical journal Think, which is published by the Royal Institute of Philosophy and aimed at the general public.