Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Progressive Disenfranchisement

I've had a fair amount to say recently about political cross-dressing, mainly in relation to David Cameron's attempts to re-occupy the centre ground and, in some circumstances, to triangulate his policies to the left of Tony Blair.

The one aspect of this I've not touched on so far, however, is the attempt by the Liberal Democrats to steal the Tories clothes by posing as tax cutters and abandoning their credentials as a progressive party by ditching the 50p top rate of tax.

Let me be honest about my own position. I believe in redistributive taxation, and furthermore I believe that people like me who are on decent incomes ought, in general, to pay a bigger proportion of those incomes in tax. "From each according to his means, to each according to his need" seems to me a basic ethical Christian principle that should underpin the way we do politics.

But no mainstream party is now advocating this sort of taxation system in any real sense. Even the Lib Dems, petrified that the rise of Cameron will deprive them of votes in Middle England, cannot any longer bring themselves to argue that people earning £100,000 a year or more should pay slightly more tax than those of us earning £30,000.

What this means is that whole swathes of opinion on the progressive left of politics are steadily becoming more and more disenfranchised, accelerating the process that begun under New Labour as a result of Blair's abandonment of anything resembling democratic socialism.

It's still not too late for Labour to do something about that before the next election - see post below - but what about the Lib Dems?

Well, sadly, I have seen nothing over the past three months to make me think I was in any way mistaken in my initial assessment of Charles Kennedy's overthrow as party leader and his replacement by Ming Campbell: that it was a mistake the party would come to regret.

From being the nice party in British politics, the one which actually seemed to stand for something rather than bending with every wind, they have now ditched both their leader and their most distinctive policy in what I believe will prove a vain attempt to counter the Cameron threat.

We read this weekend that Mr Kennedy himself regrets not standing in the leadership election which he triggered. I'll bet he does - with his popularity among the party grassroots, he would have won hands down.

Yet as Kennedy surmised and as a recent post on Jonathan Calder's Liberal England blog confirms, strenuous efforts were made by senior party figures such as Lord Steel to ensure an uncontested coronation for Ming Campbell.

Although Chris Huhne and Simon Hughes did their best to prevent that outcome, the end result of all these stupid machinations was that the party ended up with a leader far less popular than the one they had - and no more effective in the House of Commons for all that - and with policies far less distinctive or attractive than the ones on which they fought the last two elections.

Is it any wonder that some of us are considering voting Tory?

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RedEye said...

If you believed the LDs were the nice party pre-Ming, you've obviously never seen them in local government. They're the dirtiest fighters of the lot.

Ellee Seymour said...

Only considering ....

G Eagle Esq said...

Dear Paul

It must be a sign of the mid-life Crisis when I find myself muttering in pseudo=German and not merely enjoying Redeye's comments agreeing with them


Interessant !!

1. Have you considered :

1.1 the distortions and extra administrative costs of having higher tax rates, both to the Revenue and to the Taxpayer

1.2 even with just one flat rate of income tax, rich earners would pay more tax than poor earners - 10% of £100,000 is more than 10% of £1,000

1.3 a flat tax would be cheaper and I think (contrary to your views) fairer to administer

2. Do we not have a major problem with ever increasing interference and control by the State in our Lives ... and you seem to support the State taxing us even more heavily

3. are you assuming that, if the State seizes even more of the Citizenry's wealth, this will produce a better Society - I am curious as to where this "belief" comes from (it does not seem to come from the Bible)

So viele Fragen ... so wenige Zeit

Wo ist das Spell-Checker ?

Alles Gute

Your obedient servant

G Eagle

David Gladwin said...

I've long advocated a flat rate of income tax, with increased indirect taxation to discourage eco-unfriendly consumption, although I can't see any party seizing hold of this one in the current climate (if that's not an unfortunate choice of word).

But the fact that seems to escape many people (and presumably this is intentional) is that employees already pay National Insurance at 11 per cent on earnings between £5,044 and £33,540.

So, besides adopting a flat rate of income tax, I'd like to see a party daring to admit that the basic rate of tax in the UK is 33 per cent, and then doing away with the whole NI charade. This in itself would achieve considerable administrative savings for both Government and employers.

Joe Otten said...

"From each according to his means, to each according to his need" seems to me a basic ethical Christian principle

Ah Christian Socialism, whatever happened to that?

That there ought to be a party of the (old) left: yes. That it ought to be the Lib Dems: no.

RedEye said...

Re. G Eagle, I think we've already had one previous agreement over at the other place.

If a flat tax includes (as most of its advocates like Irwin Stelzer recommend) a zero rate for those earning under £12,000, then it would be a great improvement for those currently on tax credits. No more form-filling, no more Inland Revenue overpaying them, ignoring them when they're told about this, and then demanding all the money back in one fell swoop (making many poorer families dependent on Red Cross food parcels), just the beautiful simplicity of being taken out of tax and NI altogether. No longer would factory workers have to overcome their natural desire to do overtime, in case the micro-managed punitive means-testing associated with tax credits means they end up worse off.

And, as Frank Field once said, what makes people think that the working-classes like paying tax?

The problem with the 50% tax band advocated by the LDs was that it wouldn't have brought in much extra revenue, and alienated not just those already earning £100,000 but also many on lower incomes who aspired to earn £100,000. That said, it was probably the local income tax more than the 50% rate which led to them sustaining a net loss of two seats against the Tories.

There is, meanwhile, no way a Labour Party which wants to keep winning elections could adopt a 50% rate, when it would just remind people of Healey's 83% and 98% rates, punitive and self-defeating when they drove many affluent and professional people out of the country. Apart from the election of Blair in 94, and the abolition of Clause 4 in 95, the pledge not to increase the higher rate of tax to more than 40% was a key moment in making Middle England realise that Labour really had changed.

As irony would have it, the affluent professionals (and pensioners) are now furious about something which used to be uncontroversial, ie council tax (largely due to unfunded mandates and a cut in the precept).

Anonymous said...

"I believe in redistributive taxation, and furthermore I believe that people like me who are on decent incomes ought, in general, to pay a bigger proportion of those incomes in tax."

And you're considering voting Tory?


Paul Linford said...

Anonymous - see recent post on political cross-dressing.

My argument is that none of the parties are genuinely advocating a progressive tax system, but David Cameron, alone of the three party leaders, is actually happy for it to be known that he believes in redistribution.

There are two possible justifications for voting Dave that arise from this:

1. None of the parties will introduce a progressive taxation system, but Dave is at least saying the right things.
2. Dave's desire to reach out across the centre ground to voters on the left may actually result in his policies ending up to the left of Blair (and Campbell) who are more concerned with appealing to voters on the right.

But I stress: I am only considering...

G Eagle Esq said...

Micah 6 - What does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly before your God

Dear Redeye

Your comments are worth repeating - for those who supply such red-cross parcels, it is dismaying to be able to do so little for so few of the poor folk & their children, who find themselves in a mess, because of our tax/benefits system

I have the honour to remain your obedient servant and
Kind regards

G Eagle