Myleene Klass had a bit of a go at Ed Miliband last night when she appeared next to the Labour leader on The Agenda. She was very cross about what she described as a ‘sexy tax that says let’s take from the rich and give it to the poor’, which is of course Labour’s mansion tax.
Apart from a rather awkward bit when she started pointing at a glass of water and said ‘you can’t just point at things and tax them!’, Klass has a point about the ‘sexy tax’ (which would be a great Labour theme tune, adapted from Justin Timberlake’s ‘Sexy Back’, in which the party could tell voters that they’ve ‘got a sexy tax, them other parties don’t know how to act’ and then threaten to tax anyone who misbehaves and so on and so forth).
It is indeed a tax designed primarily to be attractive to voters, to be electorally sexy. It appeals to a bash-the-rich sentiment in some quarters of the electorate, that suggests that somehow because you own a house worth more than £2 million, you must be punished. Klass pointed out that some of those paying the tax might not be filthy rich anyway:
‘Have you seen what amount of money can get you? Often it’s a like a garage.’
This is what Ed Miliband thought of that point:
He might not think that Klass is worth listening to, but his own party’s Mayoral hopefuls don’t like the tax for the same reasons. Tessa Jowell is worried about people who are ‘asset-rich and income-poor’ and has warned about the ‘perverse effects’ of the tax. Diane Abbott and David Lammy think it is a ‘tax on London’ and worry that it will catch ‘not the sort of people who should be caught’ by the measure. Those people might not be living in garages, but they also don’t need to be living in a hefty pile or be stinking rich to get hit.
When all of that’s said and done, though, Klass isn’t really the greatest ambassador that the anti-mansion tax movement could hope for. Few voters would imagine she and other celebrities will seriously suffer if she does have to pay an annual charge on her property. Instead, it’s the ‘grannies who’ve lived in these houses for years and years’ that Jowell, Lammy and Abbott worry about who are quite normal Londoners (and who could choose not to vote Labour in 2016, which is also what worries those candidates) who will not like this tax at all, who will sway the argument, not celebrities pointing at glasses.
P.S. Mansion tax supporters will complain that many of the arguments about forcing grannies to pay an annual charge on their properties worth more than £2 million are the same ones that are applied to the so-called ‘bedroom tax’. Inconveniently, I agree with them: that benefit cut is a silly one and poorly designed. It essentially changed the terms of tenancy for people living in social housing who had a legal right (introduced by Margaret Thatcher) to stay in their home for life and penalised them even if they were trying to move but couldn’t find anywhere. A more sensible reform is the government’s changes to security of tenure which allows councils and housing associations to offer tenancies that last a certain number of years to new tenants, thereby ensuring that they can make the best use of family-sized homes and avoid the underoccupancy problem that the ‘bedroom tax’ crudely addresses.
But the ‘bedroom tax’ being bad doesn’t mean the mansion tax is automatically good: it is perfectly possible for both to be poorly-designed.