We don’t want to all be in it together

5th April, 2012 9:39 am

Nearly two weeks on and the Budget is still niggling. George Osborne doesn’t just walk out into the political motorway without looking left and right and Britain doesn’t spend weeks debating pasties as if we’re all in Carry On Class War. And yet, here we are and the only explanation I can come up with is the 50 per cent tax rate and its links back into the debate about welfare and “responsibility”.

The fiscal arguments for the 50p rate are as slight as those for the household benefit cap: on the OBR scoring, neither of them add up to half of one per cent of Britain’s deficit this year. Both have been justified by the idea that solidarity runs from the very richest to those on the furthest periphery of society: when everyone is suffering from say, higher VAT and lower tax credits, these measures are supposed to show that no one has escaped without a bit of pain.

Except the political debate hasn’t been dominated by what the majority are losing in higher taxes and lower spending – it has been dominated precisely by the policies that have no impact on the majority. Instead, we have already paid an extra £7 billion a year in tax because of George Osborne’s policy decisions and done so while giving him a better rating on the economy than his Labour opponents. The extra taxes announced in this Budget are a shadow of those announced earlier in the Coalition’s lifetime and no one will get a smaller cheque this month than they did last. Part of the explanation for the Treasury’s poor tactics in announcing them must have been an assumption that, looking at that scorecard, they’ve persuaded the country to swallow much more bitter tasting medicine and without complaint.

Cross-breeding allusions we could say this is the curious case of the goose that didn’t hiss when it was plucked: while benefit caps and 50p rates produced cacophonies, tax rises have been met with relative silence. However badly people thought the Government was doing it, a consistent 55 to 60 per cent of us thought that cutting spending to reduce the deficit was “necessary” and I suspect a similar score would be found if a similar question made reference to the tax rises that took place in 2011.

The big change this month was cutting the 50p rate and no one on the Government side was able to make the case that reducing the 50p rate was an urgent necessity, even if they could argue it was in the UK’s long term economic interests. Outside the fortifications of that necessity argument, George Osborne suddenly looked exposed and vulnerable.

While the fiscal cases are marginal, this does suggest that there might be a more interesting political case for both the 50p rate and the benefit cap policies. They aren’t proof that we are all in this together, they are proof that we are still in charge. The we here is the bulk of the population on five figure salaries and not dependent on benefits. Despite the forced choices of a global economy and a national debt, this is still our show. And what could better prove who is in charge than demonstrating the ability to bloody mindedly pursue a decision, creating a huge outcry, even when it doesn’t raise us a great deal of money?

That’s not a glorious justification for either policy. But when the world economy makes people feel they aren’t in control, maybe proofs of this kind are needed for the majority to tolerate enough income inequality for some growth and enough tax for some social justice. And by suggesting that we are not, in fact, in charge, George Osborne’s Budget has let us off the hook: if we aren’t running this place, we can moan about pasties and not feel the slightest bit conflicted about it.

This post was originally published on thecentreground.com


  • Comment Europe Featured Labour Leave has no confidence in David Cameron’s EU renegotiation

    Labour Leave has no confidence in David Cameron’s EU renegotiation

    The Labour campaign to leave the European Union has been launched. ‘Labour Leave’ is a Labour campaign, run by, staffed by and funded by Labour members. We would like to invite all Labour members, trade unionists, supporters, socialist societies and affiliates to join our campaign to secure a ‘leave’ vote in the coming referendum on our EU membership. The Labour Party does not have a single view on our membership of the EU and the Labour Party isn’t united behind […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Austerity is damaging women’s mental health. Labour must act to improve it

    Austerity is damaging women’s mental health. Labour must act to improve it

    Women experience mental health differently to men. They suffer higher rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And the factors that cause these are likely to get worse because of the government’s austerity agenda. So if Labour is to continue being the party that works for women, we must focus on mental health provision, or risk losing ground in our fight for gender equality. The Mental Health Foundation highlights how women are twice as likely to experience anxiety. […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Jeremy Corbyn: “Tory conference was a feast of spin and deception”

    Jeremy Corbyn: “Tory conference was a feast of spin and deception”

    The Conservative Conference in Manchester proved that the party were still “the same old Tories”, according to Jeremy Corbyn. During a speech in Glasgow tonight, where he will also set out his support for “decent” businesses who support their employees, Corbyn will call out the Tories’ “fake claims to support equality” and say that ministers’ speeches “let the mask slip” to reveal the party’s true colours. He will also say that David Cameron’s “crude personal attacks” on Corbyn show that […]

    Read more →
  • News Sadiq edges ahead in close early London Mayor poll

    Sadiq edges ahead in close early London Mayor poll

    Sadiq Khan is ahead of Zac Goldsmith by 51% to 49% in the first YouGov poll for the Evening Standard since both were confirmed as their party’s candidates. It is also the first time that Khan has been ahead of Goldsmith in a head-to-head polled by YouGov (other pollsters have shown him with leads previously). A Khan/Goldsmith run-off in June revealed a tie, while Goldsmith edged it in July and August polling – suggesting that early momentum may have shifted […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Corbyn to set out pro-“decent business” agenda in Glasgow speech

    Corbyn to set out pro-“decent business” agenda in Glasgow speech

    Jeremy Corbyn will tonight praise ethical and responsible businesses, in a speech at a Scottish Labour fundraiser in Glasgow. He will praise employers who “respect their workers” and “don’t lock out trade unions”. It is one of the first signs of what a Labour pro-business agenda under Corbyn might looks like, as he outlines the kind of business practice he thinks the party “should celebrate”. He will also criticise the fallout from 2008’s financial crisis, which he says was caused […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends