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Labour and the Conservatives are both wrong about income tax

27 January 2014

10:30 AM

27 January 2014

10:30 AM

Never interrupt your opponent when he is making a mistake. On the other hand, when your opponent has made a mistake try not to match him by making an equal blunder of your own.

That’s not how Westminster politics works, of course. For reasons that presumably make sense to the respective parties, Labour and the Conservatives have each managed to cock-up their tax policies. Specifically, they are both wrong on the politics of the 50% rate of income tax.

That is, the Tories should never have cut the rate of tax paid by those few Britons earning over £150,000 and Labour should not be promising to restore the 50% rate.

This is not an argument about finances but about signalling. The Tories may well be right that raising – or, rather, re-raising – the top rate of tax to 50 pence in the pound will not actually raise very much, if any, additional revenue. They may be right to think a lower rate of tax is both fairer and more efficient.

Be that as it may, making a tax cut for ‘millionaires’ one of their first items of business was a dreadful blunder. I suppose it is their good fortune that George Osborne’s mistake has been matched by Ed Balls’s commitment to bring back the 50p rate. Happy days! Dumbness everywhere!

Both parties, then, have contrived to adopt policies that confirm some of the most negative stereotypes voters attach to Labour and the Conservatives. Labour will tax and spend; the Tories’ instincts are always to ask what’s best for the wealthiest Britons. Heckuva job.

Nor does it matter very much that very few people will ever be taxed at 50% on any portion of their earnings. It is not so much that this has an impact on your finances but, rather, that it sends an unmistakeable signal about priorities and instincts. We know where Labour and the Tories stand and we don’t much like the look of either of them.

So here we have it. If Labour will raise taxes for them, perhaps they’ll also raise my taxes? As for the Conservatives, well, what else will they do for their rich chums (many of them probably old school chums too)? You should probably want to confound negative stereotypes, not reinforce them.

Perception matters. The Tories and Labour seem to have forgotten that as part of some grand bargain of Mutually Assured Stupidity.

But that doesn’t seem to be the way politics at Westminster works these days. Rum.


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