Shouldering the load
I was encouraged by the warning in The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Christmas message. Dr Williams cautioned of:
” the lasting sense that the most prosperous have yet to shoulder their load”
The alarm bells should be ringing across the political spectrum because Dr Williams is right. The Tories historically seen as the party of the rich should find as the sense of injustice grows, that support ebbs away from those squeezed between the loss of services and increased cost of living. The Lib Democrats look washed out and finished. Labour as the party of working people should be in a good position to benefit from the disaffection but needs to show courage and clarity of purpose.
Tony Blair was besotted with the super-rich and Gordon Brown’s actions suggest he at best shared Peter Mandelson’s relaxed approach. How Blair and Brown ever allowed these billionaires their obscene cushioning against taxation and responsibilities to continue under New Labour remains a running sore. But Labour needs to take heed of Dr Williams’s call for the burden to be shared if it’s to begin the journey back to Government.
Both Blair and Brown were enamoured with the United States where there’s a tradition of the wealthiest contributing voluntarily to the arts and foundations; Bill Gates has given away over £38bn. We simply haven’t seen anything like the scale of this philanthropy in the UK for years and we should not expect to. Britain is a country where inherited wealth is considered top of the heap, and the one thing these families have learnt is not to give it away; or pay their taxes.
If the prosperous are to shoulder their load, we are going to have to go after them. The tax loopholes have to be tightened and Labour needs to regain a steely determination to do so. I sincerely hope that Ed Milliband can rediscover the bravery that enabled him to throw his hat into the leadership ring in the first place.
The prize for boldness is huge. As Professor Philo in his Guardian article points out;
The total personal wealth in the UK is £9,000bn, a sum that dwarfs the national debt. It is mostly concentrated at the top, so the richest 10% own £4,000bn, with an average per household of £4m. The bottom half of our society own just 9%. The wealthiest hold the bulk of their money in property or pensions, and some in financial assets and objects such antiques and paintings.
A one-off tax of just 20% on the wealth of this group would pay the national debt and dramatically reduce the deficit, since interest payments on the debt are a large part of government spending. So that is what should be done. This tax of 20%, graduated so the very richest paid the most, would raise £800bn.
It shouldn’t surprise us that Britain’s wealthiest actually got richer during the global crash. Essentially if the bank lends to people without means of repayment to buy at inflated prices, the money doesn’t just disappear, the seller of the inflated leasehold still received the inflated payment. The banks didn’t lose as they were baled out by us. They were baled out by ordinary folk who pay taxes. And we know that the wealthy don’t pay taxes, but do benefit from bale outs.
I’m old fashioned. And yes I’m encouraged that the Archbishop of Canterbury is recognising the lasting sense that the most prosperous have yet to shoulder their load. But we need to get angry.