There's an election on the way. I don't know if you'd noticed, but whatever - you definitely know now, so let's carry on. During an election campaign, we can usually expect notable figures to crop up in the news, offering their opinions on who you and I should be voting for. Take 2010, for instance. Gary Barlow told us we should be voting Conservative, and so did Michael Caine - although that event, if I remember rightly, was largely just an advertisement for the DVD release of Harry Brown.
The reason these two gentlemen told the public to go with the Tories was very simple - they wanted a change, a real change. Specifically, a change in their tax bill. Call me cynical, but I reckon that whenever public individuals make a comment on the political issues of the day, we should all take a moment to consider their possible motivation. Mr. Barlow and Mr. Caine were probably peeved about the 50% tax rate for high earners when they backed the Tories, right?
That's all in the past, anyhow. Let's skip back to the present. Well, wouldn't you know it - the same thing is happening all over again! It all kicked off, of course, with Myleene-gate. Why on earth would a wealthy celebrity oppose a property tax on the country's most expensive homes? It had nothing to do with Grandma and Granddad getting hurled out onto the kerb, for sure.
The last week brought us a couple more widely reported interventions that weren't quite as noble as their perpetrators intended. Had you heard of Stefano Pessina before last week? Me neither. He's the head of Boots, the company that fleeces you whenever you need a last-minute gift for a female relative. (Sorry, Mum.) Mr. Pessina hurled himself into the national spotlight the other day when he told us all that an Ed Miliband government would be disastrous for the country. Now, I'm as happy as the next person to hear the views of someone who doesn't live in the UK, or pay tax in the UK, on the future of the UK. But personally, I'm not sure that a man with a Monaco-based fortune in the billions - and who works for a company with a track record of relocating to tax havens - can provide the best critique on Labour's theory of predatory capitalism. In the same vein, can a former Labour health minister with significant private healthcare interests really be trusted when he talks about Labour's plans to reform the NHS?
The last example I have for you really does take the biscuit. Recently, Labour have been making noises about lowering student tuition fees to £6,000. Seeing as the £9,000 fees have deterred many students from going to university, this seems like a decent way to invest in our future - preparing for the knowledge economy, or whatever the saying is. Anyway - you'll never guess who came out and said that such a policy would be 'implausible.' Yes, you're right - it was university vice-chancellors themselves! That jolly group of money-grabbers who gobble up increased salaries year on year, while students bear a mountain of debt and university staff see pay rises that aren't even above the inflation rate. Why on Earth would these people want to see less money from students pouring into their institutions? (Floella Benjamin, Chancellor of the University of Exeter, is exempt from this criticism - she is lovely, and hugs students when they graduate.)
It doesn't help Labour when all sorts of people are slinging mud at their policies from various angles. It creates the impression that the party is proposing things that people wholeheartedly reject. However, do the majority of people agree that the NHS shouldn't be overrun by private contractors? Do they think the rich should pay more tax on their incomes and their wealth? Do they think that students have far too high a debt burden? My guess is that the general answer to those three questions is yes, yes and yes (with my degree of certainty decreasing as I go down the list).
The people who like to portray Labour as living in cloud-cuckoo land are the sort of people who'd take a financial hit from a Labour administration. They're some of the richest people in the country, and they're squealing at the thought of seeing some of their advantages go swirling down the plughole. Labour's policies, in a whole bunch of different areas, aren't perfect, but they're coming under attack from people with ulterior, selfish motives. These attacks are reproduced and amplified by the right-wing media in this country, which has its own reasons for wanting to keep Labour out of office. The headline 'Business Leaders Attack Miliband' is always so much more effective than 'Business Leaders Dodge Billions In Tax, Year After Year, Including The Sort Of People Who Run Large Media Outlets Like The One That Probably Produces This Right-Wing Newspaper.'
I'm not saying that you should take Labour's words on its own policies as the gospel truth - it's a political party, after all. I'm not saying that they've laid a six-pack of golden eggs that will fix everything that's wrong with this country. What I do think is that, whenever you hear someone on the news attacking Labour policy, you should stop and ask, 'Who are you and why don't you agree with Labour?' More often than not at the moment, the answer you'll get is, 'I'm an extremely wealthy individual and I don't want to see my wallet getting lighter.'