Sunday, October 29, 2006

Tax the Rich

A good slogan, isn’t it? Trips of the tongue. It’s about time we made more of it. Here’s why.

This past week has seen the LibDems hit the headlines for our green tax policies. Well done, Richmond, for getting a positive press for their plans for variable residents parking permits (here in Oxford charges for parking outside your home – of the flat-rate variety – are an imposition of the Tory County Council). And over this weekend, many a kagooled activist up and down the country will have been spotted persuading an unwary public to join our green tax switch. A success it was too, by all accounts.

The decision to run the campaign now, days ahead of the publication of the aptly-named Stern report, was a master-stroke of timing. And I’m sure we’re all proud to be in a party which continues to put the environmental agenda at the heart of our identity. It’s the right thing to do – but it’s not enough.

Media coverage, like the planet itself, is hotting up, but in that feeding-frenzy, we’re not going to be the main beneficiaries. The dour and the flighty alike are rushing to paint themselves green – and we might wonder what the country’s done to deserve such a ghoulish Halloween spectacle. That aside, there’s no doubt Messrs Brown and Cameron both want to be seen to be keen to be green. The Tories have called off their mythic exploration for clear blue water, but now all three major parties seem to be ready to splash around the same, suitably stagnant, green water. And when that happens, I doubt we’re going to be written up as the pyranhas in the pond. It’s more likely that we’ll get drowned out in the stampede to watch the bigger fish.

It seems to be an ineluctable law of politics that we can’t be the electoral winners in a tripartite consensus. We might scream and shout that our policies are a deeper shade of verdant than the other lots’ – and that they are, sure enough. But that alone won’t make us distinctive: the party that’s greener than the other two while, at the same time, not disappearing into loonydom is hardly a no-brainer of a USP.

What we already have and what continues to mark us out from the other two parties is our commitment to progressive taxation. Just as we’re proud of our green identity, we should boast that we remain the only big party willing to be honest about how much good services cost. We’re the opposite to the archetypal cynic: we know the cost of everything, but we equally know their value.

This is not one more plea to return to an upper rate of 50% income tax – that debate’s done and dusted, and there’s no need to fight yesterday’s battles. After all, the detail’s there in the Tax Commission proposals – those with really high incomes will be paying their fair share. But we must make that explicable to everyone so that it’s clear that, as Ming puts it, we’re a left of centre party. Tax as a means of redistribution is a mark of our fight for social justice.

Without green tax policies, they’re wouldn’t be a world to inhabit. Without redistributive tax policies, they’re wouldn’t be a society worth inhabiting. So let’s get both messages across in the coming months and years.

1 comment:

Tristan said...

The problem with 'tax the rich' as a slogan is it starts to sound like class warfare, something the Liberals always stayed clear of for very good reasons.

I'd prefer to talk of not taxing the poor and ensuring the poor have opportunity, that is far more valuable than simply taxing the rich (we've been doing that for years and it hasn't helped much... mainly because we've been taxing the poor too)

Redistribution is tricky too, it needs to be done in a manner which promotes ambition and encourages self reliance. Redistribution for its own sake is harmful.

Of course, the tax proposals which were passed are highly redistributive, and through lifting the poorest out of income tax and through removing loopholes for the rich.