How high taxes killed our belief in helping others

Posted on January 08, 2013

When all factual and economic arguments have failed, Britain’s proponents of high taxes fall back upon philosophical justifications for their position. “Tax is the thing that makes us civilised”, they declare, “It brings us together as a society”.

Such arguments are dragged out to perform again and again, like those 1960s pop acts who were fleeced of their retirement pots by unscrupulous managers. Of course, there’s no actual evidence for them – that’s the point, they are declarations of conveniently unmeasurable truths.

But even such intangible claims are starting to look shaky. As the debate about cutting benefits for the better off intensifies, it is increasingly clear that high taxation has killed our national sense of helping others, of the well to do making sacrifices to help those less fortunate than themselves.

Just look at the row over Child Benefit. There was a time when people recognised that if they earned a good salary, they didn’t really need welfare to top up their income – whereas others who were barely getting by did.

Now, the letters pages and radio phone ins communicate a very different world view. Those who have been squeezed over and over again by successive Chancellors grabbing at their earnings, their savings, their pensions, their petrol bills and their pasties want something back in return. The idea that just because they might be earning £50,000 a year then they shouldn’t get Child Benefit enrages large numbers of people – the payment is one of the few things they get back from the large amounts they have to pay to the Exchequer.

That is a remarkable shift from the widespread sense of “middle class oblige” that once existed to the far less attractive sight of well-heeled parents defending their right to be welfare recipients.

But people who want to hang onto their payments cannot be blamed for feeling that way. It’s a natural reaction to want to get at least a bit back when you are shelling out a small fortune every year through constant, multiple taxation. It is our politicians, and particularly the high tax lobby, who are responsible for the near-total erosion of that sense of sacrifice for the greater good.

Of course it is an absurdity to pay welfare benefits to the well-off. It is a perverse interpretation of a welfare state that was intended as a safety net – particularly at a time when there are plenty of families who can only dream of earning £50,000 a year. Worse, it means cycling cash through a wasteful tax collection and benefits payment system, only to return some of it to the pocket where it originated.

The welfare bill must be brought down, and the just way to do that is to withdraw benefits from those who need them least. High taxation has driven out the sense of responsibility which would once have made that the obvious and natural thing to do for most Britons. Far from making us “civilised” or “bringing us together”, overfeeding the tax man has made us selfish. Taking more and more money from workers has made them grip what they have left all the tighter.

The moral case against high taxes must be made or – counter-intuitive as it may seem – the moral case for helping others will continue to fall on deaf ears.

Governor Gary Johnson goes crowd-surfing

Posted on October 03, 2012

It’s a depressing reflection on our nation’s politics that one of the reasons Ed Miliband’s well-delivered speech at Labour Conference is being feted by apparently stunned journalists is that he was able to make a speech without having it written down in front of him.

Across the pond, on the other hand, Gov Gary Johnson – the Libertarian Party Presidential candidate – has shown how to really break the mould when making a speech: Crowd-surfing…

“Don’t forget to bring your cheque book”: Virendra Sharma MP’s office breach Parliamentary rules

Posted on April 02, 2012

The way MPs use their taxpayer-funded expenses and facilities is an area the public are understandably concerned about. The MPs’ expenses scandal was a disinfecting burst of sunshine into some pretty dingy corners of Westminster and led to a welcome clear-out of some representatives of the people who saw the rules merely as recommendations.

One element of the rules which is long-standing and extremely clear is that MPs’ Parliamentary resources (staff time, computers etc) is explicitly and solely for use in their Parliamentary duties. As the Members’ Handbook puts it:

“These facilities and services are provided in order to assist Members in their parliamentary work. They should be used appropriately, in such a way as to ensure that the reputation of the House is not put at risk. They should not be used for party political campaigning or private business activity.

Apparently not all Members are so keen on this rule.

Last Wednesday, the following email was sent out by Julian Bell, researcher for Virendra Sharma MP, apparently to all members of their constituency Labour Party:

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: BELL, Julian <>
Date: 28 March 2012 13:48
Subject: Dr Onkar Sahota’s GLA Campaign Launch – This Saturday 7 untill 10 pm at the Dominion Centre, The Green, Southall, UB2 4BQ

Dear Member,

The Mayoral and GLA campaign has now entered the legal short stage and there are only 36 days to polling day on 3rd May. With their budget for millionaires and a Tory Councillor being suspended for a racist blog they really are the same old Tories. Tory Mayor Boris Johnson and Tory Deputy Mayor Richard Barnes are no different and there will be no better chance than now to kick them out of office.

In order to do just that and to launch Dr Onkar Sahota’s campaign for Ealing and Hillingdon we are holding a campaign launch and fundraising meeting this Saturday 31st March at 7 pm at the Dominion Centre, The Green, Southall, UB2 4BQ. Please come along and give Onkar your support. Bring along other Party members and enjoy an evening of politics, food, drink and socialising. Don’t forget to bring your cheque book.

Best wishes,
Steve Pound MP
John McDonnell MP
Virendra Sharma MP
Cllr Julian Bell
Cllr Mo Khursheed

As you can see, it is from a Parliamentary email account, written by a Parliamentary researcher and yet is a highly partisan invitation to a party political election campaign event, which doubles as a party fundraiser. There can be no doubt this is a breach of the very clear rules of the House of Commons.I’ve always thought the MPs’ expenses scandal was unlikely to be the last we would see of MPs abusing their position – but I didn’t necessarily expect it to start again so soon. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is unlikely to be very pleased about this, I suspect.

The curse of the Miliband Mix-up, episode 329

Posted on February 13, 2012

This blog has long followed the Great Mili Mix-up, the tendency of even the most accomplished commentators to mix up David and Ed Miliband, almost as if the universe itself is trying to set right the error made when the wrong brother was elected Labour leader. So far it’s struck the BBC website, the Today Programme, the Telegraph, the Mirror and even Google Image Search.

The latest in this longstanding tradition is City AM, who illustrate the findings of today’s Voice of the City poll with the wrong Miliband:

The poll finding illustrated with David’s photo reads “69% Disapprove of Ed Miliband’s performance during the NHS reform debate”.

It’s hardly City AM’s fault that the Opposition Leader is apparently one of Britain’s most forgettable men – or were the picture desk just trying to imply a solution to the problem?


Jowell’s office goes off message on the NHS

Posted on February 08, 2012

Labour are running a concerted “Drop the Bill” campaign against the Health and Social Care Bill. In today’s PMQs, David Cameron cast it as an attempt to save Ed Miliband’s leadership rather than save the NHS, which it may be, but nonetheless it’s a big issue for Labour on the attack and a potential weak point in the Government’s armour.

The left have long been good at raising a Twitter mob for online attack campaigns, but in Tessa Jowell’s office it’s gone a bit wrong today.

Tessa’s political adviser Jessica Asato tweeted this morning, calling on people to “back the Bill” to “save the NHS“. Slightly off message for a Labour campaign trying to , err, sink the Bill which they claim will destroy the NHS.

She’s since ‘fessed up to the error – but it’s not exactly a shining highpoint for Ed’s flagship campaign…

Ed Miliband struck by the curse of the anti-mojo

Posted on January 10, 2012

The success or failure of political campaigns rests on a lot of different factors. Many of them are solid things – do you raise enough money? Do your team work harder than the other side? Are your ideas coherent?

But there is another factor which is just as important, or potentially even more important. There’s not really a specific word in English for it, so let’s call it mojo.

When you’ve got mojo, you’re unstoppable. Everything you say comes out well, everything you do is well received, and you just seem naturally destined to win. Everything you touch turns to gold. Barack Obama had mojo in the 2008 Presidential election campaign.

Of course there are material things supporting this – the hard work is still being put in, the good team still need to be there and you still need to fundraise – but there’s an element of magic about it as well. Some politicians are touched with it for their whole careers – Tony Blair, for example – some people will get it at a crucial time only for it to vanish later, while others may see it crop up intermittently through their whole lives.

It’s when you have the opposite of mojo that things get really interesting.

I’m not talking about a simple absence of it – the vast majority of politicians are, for the vast majority of their careers, lacking it and instead forced to rely on hard bloody work alone.

I’m talking about when you are in active possession of anti-mojo. When you’ve got the Black Spot. When you’re cursed.

You won’t find politicians who have had anti-mojo for their whole lives. If they did, their careers would never have got off the ground in the first place. Instead, it strikes one day, and can prove impossible to shake off.

These unlucky souls are in real trouble. They can have the money, the team, the elbow grease, even the ideas, but everything they touch goes horribly wrong. Bungles are made. Fate intervenes to destroy the best-laid plans (remember Gordon Brown’s literally car crash poster unveiling?).

If it was a patch of bad luck alone, it might be possible to keep your head down and wait for it to pass. In ordinary life, I suspect this happens to most people at one time or another and they survive. As a political leader that’s almost never possible.

Instead, the problem becomes self-reinforcing. Your misfortune, incompetence and absurdity become a media and social theme. After the first obvious incidents occur, people start looking out for them. You swiftly become the laughing stock of the lobby, and then of the public. When this happens, the prognosis is almost always terminal. Needless to say, this is the political comms person’s nightmare – how do you manage the reputation of someone the Universe appears to have taken a dislike to?

Ed Miliband may well have reached this point in the last week. Never the most naturally comfortable or suave politician, his slow handling of the Diane Abbott furore swiftly developed into an out and out collapse in respect through his “Blackbusters” tweet.

Today, you can see the results. When for whatever reason he kept lobby journalists waiting for over half an hour for his much-trailed (and much rewritten) 6th relaunch speech, they went public and started taking the mick out of him on Twitter. (See here, here, here, here, here and here for examples). Then the BBC accidentally captioned him as “David Miliband”.

It’s not just that he’s a leader in the Twitter age – it’s that his anti-mojo has got so bad that the lobby don’t respect or fear him. When it feels natural to the nation’s political press that they can mock you in public, you’ve got a serious problem. When you lose respect to a degree that even the ordinary politeness any Briton would show to a stranger isn’t accorded to you, then that is incredibly hard to overcome.

It’s safe to say Ed Miliband was not born to be a man touched for all his days by the magic of political mojo, but there was a chance he could have been one of those politicians known for achieving through hard work what had not been gifted to him by sheer pazazz. Instead, he’s become infected by a truly severe case of anti-mojo. 2012 is barely two weeks old, but his leadership is already in serious, serious trouble.

A time for Eurosceptics to become the positive voice

Posted on December 12, 2011

The reaction of pro-EU voices to David Cameron’s refusal to support fiscal union has been very revealing.

It has been revealing in that it has demonstrated clearly that the tiny pro-EU rump left in this country are actually happy with the idea that unelected EU officials should be able to overrule democratically elected Governments to dictate how member states’ financial affairs are run.

It has been very revealing that the EU establishment clearly never intended for vetoes to be used, and in fact is happy to circumvent them – ie that they have been a smokescreen all along.

It has also revealed what many of us have been saying in and around Westminster for some time – voters are sick of seeing British leaders roll over to have their tummy tickled at the EU negotiating table. Voters overwhelmingly agree with David Cameron on this one, and he’ll gain from that. Paddy Ashdown, by contrast, must be counting himself lucky that he’s no longer accountable to the electorate, so he can safely run round town shouting the EU’s message.

Most revealing of all, in my view, is the stark demonstration that the pro-EU side of British politics deeply and fundamentally lack faith in the abilities and potential of modern Britain. Without the protective wing of Mother Brussels and her trade barriers to shelter us, we are surely lost, they claim. Not for a second do they mull the idea that Britain has the capability to stand on its own two feet.

When they talk of retaining British “influence”, they mean that we can only retain influence in a reputational sense by sacrificing it in a practical sense. They mean that only by giving up our actual control over how we run our economy, our criminal justice system, our food production, our trading relationships and much more can we retain the cosy feeling of attending EU leaders’ banquets.

This is an insidious and depressing philosophy – talking Britain down, and automatically assuming that British scientists, entrepreneurs, business people and ordinary workers can never make their own way in the world. To use a 1970s term, they want a return to managing the nation’s decline.

For far too long the EU’s cheerleaders have been able to portray themselves as being on the sunny side of the street. They loved to make out that they were the friendly, positive optimists who saw sunny uplands in Britain’s future.

Contrast that to their message today:

“Suez seems mild in comparison. What sort of nation is it that rejoices in its own defeat?” – Labourlist

“At a time of economic crisis, we have made it more attractive for investors to go to northern Europe.” – Paddy Ashdown

“A Britain which leaves the EU would be considered irrelevant by Washington and will be considered a pygmy in the world.” – Nick Clegg

“In a world in which the influences of the old powers is diminishing by the day, Britain’s prime minister has attacked his closest partners and left our country weaker and more isolated” – Chris Davies MEP

There are plenty more bits of negativity where those came from, too. The peculiar and rare strain of politics that is Euro-enthusiasm is now essentially united around the core belief that Britain is a basket case. That’s not an idea which will set the electorate on fire with enthusiasm.

It is time to seize properly on this issue, and for eurosceptics to become the voice of positivity.

Where those who believe in integration see only weakness, we see great potential in Britain. Where they want protectionism, even at the cost of our economic health and starving bellies in the Third World, we want free trade and new enterprise. Where they look to secure a bed in the Little European retirement home, slowly dwindling away with the rest of the EU’s outdated economies, we want to reach out to trade with the whole world – India, China, Brazil and others.

When you talk to voters about the great issues of the day, they want to know what the future will look like for their children. Would they rather hear someone say “we think they’re done for, so we’ll give up their democratic rights in order to buy a seat in a declining economic bloc”, or “we’ll have faith in them to innovate and trade with the whole world”? The Lib Dems’ reluctance to collapse the Coalition and face an election rather answers that.

Taxpayer-funded striking union sponsors Ice Hockey team

Posted on November 17, 2011

The Trade Unions are large-scale consumers of taxpayers’ money. They eat tens of millions of pounds on the supposed basis that they are strapped for cash and ordinary taxpayers somehow have a responsibility to pay for their political campaigning and fat cat bosses. In 2009/10 their subsidies totalled a remarkable £85.8 million of taxpayers’ money.

But are they really so hard-up that they need the public to be forced to bolster their funding?

The GMB, for one, apparently has plenty of cash going spare. It turns out that they sponsor their own, err, Ice Hockey team – the Nottingham Panthers. Or, to give them their full and official title the GMB Nottingham Panthers.

What public good does it serve for the GMB to splash cash in this way? For that matter, how does it serve their members to dish out sports sponsorhip?

If they can afford to become the name and shirt sponsor for a sports team, then they clearly don’t need so much support from the ordinary taxpayers of this country.

Of course, in return for their subsidy from hard-working taxpayers, the GMB is repaying us by going on strike on 30th November.

Any GMB members unsure to do with this extra day off need not worry, though – they can always go to see their pet team the GMB Nottingham Panthers play away against Cardiff Devils on the same day…

The Ed/David Media Mili-Mix-Up Part III

Posted on July 18, 2011

Despite the big impact he’s generally recognised to have made on the hacking issue over the last fortnight, it seems Ed Miliband is still having some serious recognition issues even among the political media. After the Today Programme and the internet itself mixed him up with his brother David, and the Telegraph did the same, the effect is spreading.

Guido picked up on the Daily Mirror’s Mili-mixup:

Now the BBC website has managed to follow suit in their live coverage of  PMQs:

This is quite funny, but it leaves Labour with a serious question: if even now, at the height of his performance, journalists mix up Ed Miliband with David Miliband what hope is there that the public know who he is?

Ed Miliband trapped in a Final Destination film

Posted on July 01, 2011

In the Final Destination films, whenever someone cheats death the universe immediately starts trying to correct their lucky escape by killing them off. It know seems increasingly likely that this is happening to Ed Miliband – fate clearly never meant him to become Labour leader, he beat David by accident and now the universe is trying to set its mistake right.

A few weeks ago the Today Programme mixed the two up, and I noted that no less an authority than the internet has no idea who Ed is. Yesterday, the Independent revealed that millions of voters shown a photo of Ed would identify it as David Miliband.

Now even the Telegraph has started doing it, reporting in its coverage of the Inverclyde by-election that:

The Labour leader, David Miliband echoed Mr McKenzie’s sentiments and went further saying that the Labour win showed how disillusioned the public were about the coalition government’s handling of the economy.

How long can it be before the forces of fate and nature set right this mistake and put David Miliband in charge? When will Ed reach his Final Destination?