As far as I can make out, even bankers are in favour of nationalisation provided that it nationalises them and saves their bacon. I am not fanatically in favour of it, although I accept the point made earlier by my hon. Friend Colin Challen-who is no longer present-that it would probably be a good idea to keep the east coast main line in the public sector rather than handing it back to the collection of incompetents who were running it before.
It is not just the TaxPayers' Alliance that is advocating cuts in services. Reform, which portrays itself as another influential Tory pressure group, advocates penalising pensioners for the banking crisis by abolishing the winter fuel allowance, free television licences and concessionary bus fares, and ending retirement pensions, council tax and housing benefit, widows' and war widows' pensions, carer's allowance and disability living allowance for people receiving considerably less than average pay. It is also urging the Tories to impose the same eligibility threshold for maternity pay and child benefit, and to scrap the employer-supported child care scheme, the health in pregnancy grant, the Healthy Start scheme, the Sure Start maternity grant and the education maintenance allowance.
We should beware the Tories' claims to have changed. Their supporters and paymasters have not changed. The people who will be paying for their forthcoming advertising blitz have not changed. We should resist their attacks on pay and pensions. This crisis was not caused by the potential cost of pensions for postal workers or teachers. It has not come about because social workers or nurses or bank clerks are overpaid, or because refuse collectors or shop assistants or factory workers or people gritting roads today are not working hard enough. It has come about because the overpaid bankers and their auditors could not distinguish between an asset and a liability, and the famous rating agencies could not have spotted a wrong 'un even if they had been trying.
I believe in accountability and responsibility. The banking industry and its hangers-on caused the crisis. They should have to meet the bulk of the cost of clearing it up. It is simple. It is the "polluter pays" principle. The bankers polluted the world economy. The bankers should have to pay for clearing up their pollution. Therefore, I welcome the new top rate of income tax and the bankers bonus tax. I support the proposal for a tax on all international financial transactions. I urge the Prime Minister to continue to press for a Tobin tax in collaboration with his French and German counterparts and, hopefully, shame the Americans into accepting it.
The only way we can get out of this recession and create a fairer and more equal society is if the bankers meet their fair share of the costs that they have imposed on the rest of us. The bankers have shown no signs of reining back on their excessive rewards. If the self-rewarding excess of the bankers continues while everyone else has to tighten their belts, it will lead to bitterness and social unrest. As the bankers and their public relations machines deploy their wealth and influence to scapegoat others for the consequences of the banking crisis, we are already seeing a major campaign to lay the blame on hard-working people providing vital public services. Once that sort of irrationality takes hold, once scapegoating becomes acceptable, there is no knowing where it will end. It could set loose forces that set one part of the country against another, one generation against another. It could risk giving right-wing extremists such as the British National party a hell-sent opportunity to promote petty nationalism and the politics of race and religion.
I believe deeply that our response to the recession that the bankers have created will not just determine the future of public finances. It will determine whether the second decade of the new millennium is faced by our people united in the pursuit of fairness and prosperity, or whether we are to be torn apart by strife that could threaten our very democracy.
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