A few notes on responses to previous columns. Anita in Australia found the use of thalidomide babies as metaphor in a quote from Kieron Gillen to be extremely offensive, and decided to tell me instead of Kieron. Let me just say now that neither of us intended to imply that victims of the thalidomide outrage are Vines fans. Hope that's cleared that up. And for the several creatures who complained that in their perception I somehow equated American neo-conservatives with Nazis last week; you're retarded. You are intellectually diseased animals who represent everything the human race has to overcome. Even junkies like Rush Limbaugh laugh at you people. Oh, and pre-emptively -- whenever I use the word "retarded," I get a dozen shrill emails from sensitive students using university connection time. Get fucking jobs.
This week, however, I find myself sympathetic to those in higher education. The British government has finally found a way to confound the remaining few people who thought they'd voted a Labour government into place.
A very short, clumsy precis of how things are supposed to work. We pay taxes. The government takes part in market activity. The taxes and emolument are paid into a common treasury, called the Treasury. The Treasury is used to pay for what people need. I imagine most people are still with me, because roads don't just appear in the night and fire departments aren't operated by slot-machine. Most of the people I just lost are the American libertarians who believe taxes are the only thing between them and owning rocketships, the heavy anarchists who presumably think the future is breatharian, and the serious tribalists who intend to trade food for wicker baskets what they made themselves. People who like electricity are, by and large, still on the same page.
Now, I depart from the pack on the other side. I'm an English Socialist. This means I believe in telescreens, thoughtcrime and other things doubleplusgood. Cradle-to-grave healthcare. A mixed economy. And a free high-quality education system. I do not believe that we give education on a transactional basis.
However, our Chancellor, Gordon Brown, played this past weekend right into the old stereotype of a tight-fisted Scotsman with a white-knuckle grip on the purse-strings. He literally said that university education should not be free and that if we are giving our children higher education then they should pay the money back. This is referred to as "top-up fees." Several thousand pounds per student.
Now, since we still pay an income tax rate that makes Americans blanch, I somehow fail to believe the Treasury is a big box full of fresh air.
I'm happy to pay tax. I'd like to pay less, because some months it's hard to find the scratch to pay for new vats of boiling oil to pour on the peasants from my battlements. But I'm happy to pay. Because it means the firemen will come when I call, it means I'll get treated when I'm sick, and because it means that our children will receive the education necessary to, we live in hope, make better choices in their adulthood.
A fee of several thousand notes is the difference between people from poor backgrounds being educated in the massed knowledge of the world, and being taught out to say "would you like fries with that?"
I didn't go to university. I'm not especially smart. But I'm happy to continue paying my tax so that people cleverer than I am can go on to actualise their gift. And, as a professional writer and a man who's been out in the world a long time, I can remind you that a Treasury is a common wealth, not banditry, and it's there to be spent for a common good.
Or did you like the idea of yet another generation looking up at the night sky and seeing nothing but the dull septic glow of McDonalds logos?
(I appreciate that my American readers likely didn't understand a word of the above, aside from the digs at libertarians. I don't care, because I got paid for it anyway. And I'm going to spend the money on Communism.)