Not a month ago, I had written about Daniel Moylan’s comment in the London Evening Standard where he described Ken Livingston as “schizophrenic”. Hot on Moylan’s heals we have our glorious leader, David Cameron, in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph describe speaking opposite Ed Miliband as
What a charming utterance from our Prime Minister. To his credit – and probably on the behest of his advisors – he did apologise, although one really would not expect such comments from a skilled orator with a first class honours degree from Oxford to begin with.
If one were cynical – and when it comes to politics, I always am – his comment could be seen as drawing attention to himself and the associated Sunday Telegraph interview, which contains nice fuzzy items about finally kicking seven-shades-of-bonus out of over-paid corporate execs. Yes, ok, that is a very appealing notion at the moment: when most people are struggling, it is absolutely obscene that a small minority of people should be paid seven-figure bonuses. Massive corporate bonuses, however iniquitous, are small compared to the real wealth gap: the Sunday Times “Rich List” top 10 entries have a combined worth of almost £90bn; the OECD notes that the top 1% of earners took a 7.1% share of total income in 1970 but in 2005 were taking a staggering 14.3% (really think about that for a moment, 1% of people taking 14.3% of total income, year-on-year); and I suspect these figures will be dwarfed against the assets held by those stashing most of their doubloons off-shore, or in more inventive investments like third-world arms deals.
Looking back to Big Dave’s “Tourette’s” comment and his public-pleasing proposals on bonuses, are they perhaps to divert attention from a far more important issue? Well, it turns out Nicolas Sarkozy is currently pushing rather hard for a European-wide financial transaction tax and Cameron has said unless the rest of the world joins in, he will not play ball.
This is a real pity, since four-out-of-five people in the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy think the financial sector has a responsibility to clean up its own mess and support for a financial transaction tax in the UK is 65%. The Robin Hood Tax campaign advocates a tax on certain financial transactions such as bonds, shares, forex and derivatives transfers of around 0.05%; they estimate if their financial transaction tax were to be applied globally, it would raise £250bn per annum and in the UK alone £20bn per annum. Interestingly, one of the earliest proponents of using financial transaction taxes to control speculation seems to have been John Maynard Keynes in 1936.
Sums in the region of £20bn per annum can make real improvements in peoples’ lives, especially when you compare it to George Osborne’s 2010 announcement that he intended to cut £18bn from the welfare budget by 2014-15.
So why would a Prime Minister not be chomping at the bit to enact such a tiny tax on financial transactions that are almost wholly used for speculation and trading? It would be very popular with the electorate and would immediately improve the Chancellor’s situation. Well, that is for the reader to decide but for a moment, lets take a look at the scale of these sort of financial instruments. On foreign-exchange trading alone there is a global daily trading volume of around $4tr – that is $4,000,000,000,000 traded every day – with UK Sterling comprising roughly 13% of that trading volume. To put that into perspective, the UK annual GDP is in the region of $2.25tr. If one calculates the potential tax revenue from forex alone, it suggests the figures from the Robin Hood Tax campaign are very much a conservative estimate of potential revenue. Now, forex – and I would assume derivatives and bond trading – are what you call “OTC” or “over-the-counter” markets; that means that there is no central exchange nor global record of transactions, instead transactions are made between individual institutions or parties (which also implies there is no single market price, only what others are willing to offer you). Can you imagine that an industry with daily trading volumes measured in trillions of dollars will be particularly happy with their affairs being subject to the very much tighter scrutiny involved in administering the financial transaction tax? I certainly cannot.
That is all speculation though, except from fact that David Cameron used a definition of mental illness as an insult. That is twice in as many months a Conservative politician has done so and is a bit of a poor show. At least Cameron had the good grace to apologise, Mr Moylan has not.
In a wider context, definitions connected to mental health are pervasively misused or misattributed. How many times have you heard people employ phrases such as “the shops were absolutely manic today” or “the football today was depressing” in general conversation? When I was a child, it was common to hear the stem “schizo” – derived from schizophrenia – used as a derogative. “Psycho” has even made it into film titles, quite whether it refers to psychopathy or psychosis still escapes me. To those at the sharp end of mental illness, terms such as mania, depression, schizophrenia and psychosis have very real and specific meanings. For example, mania has fuck-all to do with the town centre being busy.
To date, I have never heard serious illnesses such as cancer, pneumonia or coronary heart disease used in a similar context. Why is it then considered acceptable to use definitions of mental illness as an insult?