I tend to agree with Alun Davies that â€œPeople would be happy to vote for a penny on income tax to help fund the Welsh NHSâ€�; opinion polls have consistently suggested that there is a general willingness to pay more tax in order to have a properly-funded NHS (although there is also some evidence that that doesn’t always translate into a willingness to vote for a party which proposes exactly that). But the â€˜conclusionâ€™ which he, like several other politicians before him, has drawn (some sort of hypothecated tax increase specifically for the NHS) is one of the daftest and most unworkable policies ever suggested.
Firstly, a hypothecated tax which only pays for part of the NHS does not protect the NHS from cuts. Future governments can always point to the extra revenue from the â€˜newâ€™ tax and say that the whole of â€˜that revenueâ€™ is still going into the NHS, but it can only be â€˜extraâ€™ if the whole of the previous budget is protected in real terms for the indefinite future. And that represents a tying of government hands to which no government could or should ever agree, as well as potentially fossilising the way in which funds are spent from that original budget.
But secondly, and more importantly, far from being the radical approach claimed, it is in fact an acceptance of the basic premise of â€˜austerityâ€™, which is that government spending depends on first raising funds through taxation. The blind acceptance of that mantra is what leads the Labour Party in general to a position in which its argument is, in effect, that Labour austerity will be kinder and fairer than Tory austerity; it does not expose the premise of the policy for the lie that it is.
In fairness, of course, the situation in Wales is different. As a non-sovereign devolved parliament, the Assembly is obliged to produce a balanced budget, in the same way as the local authorities to which it is equivalent in this sense. Without the powers of a sovereign government, the Assembly cannot break free of austerity â€“ the best it can do is to â€œameliorate Tory policyâ€� â€“ exactly what Alun is arguing that Labour should not be doing. The really radical argument would be to demand that Wales break free of those constraints which â€˜devolutionâ€™ places on it. I remember another Alun Davies who used to argue along similar lines â€“ I wonder what became of him?