Taxpayers’ money becomes pork when it is used by politicians to ‘buy’ votes amongst their constituents.
In the run up to polling day there are strict laws that prevent candidates from “treating” electors. In the eighteenth century there were many cases of would-be representatives inviting voters to taverns for free beer and roasted meats. Today’s prospective parliamentary candidates have to be careful about treating a potential constituent to something as innocent as half-a-shandy during the official election campaign.
But if controls are strict during the few weeks before election time there are plenty of opportunities for incumbent politicians to ‘buy’ some votes over preceding years.
‘Pork barrel’ politics is an American expression for how politicians use taxpayers’ money to buy support amongst their electorates. Senators from agricultural states will only approve a spending bill if their farmers get an extra subsidy for growing maize. A representative from a navy port will only back a defence review if he gets a guarantee that no jobs will be lost in his backyard.
Unfortunately pork production isn’t just a left-of-centre problem. ‘Big business conservatives’ are also guilty of pigging out. US commentator Andrew Sullivan has correctly noted how fiscally unconservative George W Bush “has spent like a drunken liberal Democrat”. Sullivan:
“He has failed to grapple with entitlement reform, as he once promised. He has larded up the tax code with endless breaks for corporate special interests; pork has metastasised; and he has tainted the cause of tax relief by concentrating too much of it on the wealthy."
Porky New Labour
The problem of pork takes on different forms in the British political system but it is at least as big a problem.
There are three main ways in which Tony Blair has used government expenditure to build up Labour’s natural constituencies:
- A review of the funding formula for local authorities saw money redistributed from Tory councils in the south to Labour councils in the north.
- A big increase in public sector employment. After eight years in office New Labour had created 500,000 new government sector jobs. One-in-five jobs are now found in Labour’s bloated civil service bureaucracy.
- Dr David Green of Civitas has written about Britain becoming “a nation of supplicants”. Green:
"In 1951, less than four per cent of the population received national assistance or unemployment benefit. In 1971, it was still only eight per cent. In 2004, the proportion of the working-age population dependent on key benefits was 18 per cent. According to the Government's Family Resources Survey, 30 per cent of households received half or more of their income from the state in 2002-03. Among households over pension age, the proportion was 60 per cent. The real story is that we have taken huge strides on the road to becoming a nation of supplicants."