Sunday, 27 July 2014

Are the Greens the only party willing to talk honestly about taxes?

People with wealth of over £3million should pay a wealth tax of between 1% and 2% according to Green Party leader Natalie Bennett. This would raise between £21.5billiion and £43billion annually.

Wealthy people, Bennett told the BBC on Thursday, can afford to pay more and it is in their interests to do so, she said ‘we’re not talking about dinner ladies who have paid their whole lives into a pension pot. It’s people who have very large assets; frankly we’re talking about people who can afford it.’

If support of imposing a wealth tax the Greens cite the fact that the UK is the seventh most unequal nation in the OECD, with Bennett saying that ‘inequality is a problem we have to tackle.’ They also point to the use of a similar tax in countries such as France, Norway and the Netherlands.

The new tax would, along with the introduction of a living wage and company- wide pay ratios, Bennett said, be part of a ‘range of measures’ the party would implement to ‘address persistent inequality.’

Ms Bennett concluded by saying that at a time when there was a resources boom at one end of society and a cost of living crisis at the other ‘the time has come to introduce a tax on wealth to ensure the richest pay their fair share back to society.’

The art of taxation, so the old saying goes, lies in so plucking the goose as to get the most feathers with the least hissing. In practice that means governments tend to talk tough about clamping down of corporations and wealthy individuals who duck their taxes and then do nothing.

Certainly no government, either of the left or the right, so far as such distinctions still apply would dare these days to suggest taxing the rich more for fear of being consumed by a whirlwind of hissing, feathers and flapping. The thing is though the conventional wisdom on tax just doesn’t ring true anymore, public and politicians alike know this to be true; but the latter lack the guts to admit it.

This makes what Natalie Bennett said genuinely radical, there has always been a shortage of out of the box thinking in politics, but just lately anyone capable of even attempting it has been an endangered species. The right wing press, if they pass comment at all and they tend to ignore the Greens, will no doubt portray this as a bellow of ‘soak the rich’ coming from the far left; it is nothing of the sort.

What Natalie Bennett has done is have the courage to speak openly about something most people have known for years, the current tax system doesn’t work because proportionally the riches people pay the least and the government colludes with them in doing so in the name of free enterprise.

It wasn’t always like this, once upon a time the rich saw their good fortune as coming with responsibilities, motivated by a mix of paternalism and philanthropy they routinely put back into the society that had helped to generate their wealth. Then along came the welfare state and it all went to pot, not, as the right would have it because it made the poor less enterprising; but because it made the rich less reliable.

All of a sudden tax became a burden to be dodged rather than a chance to put something back into society. Just look at the world it has given us, not, I fear, a paradise or justly rewarded striving so much as a cramped and ill at ease place where the lines are growing outside the food banks and the rich hide within gated communities.

Public and politicians alike know we can’t go on like this, something has to change or something is going to give with nasty consequences. Nobody, including the Green Party, is talking about taxing the rich ‘until the pips squeak’, even if they paid an extra 2% in tax every year someone with assets worth over £3million would still be comfortably off.

More to the point the extra revenue could be used to preserve and improve public services, meaning the impact of deep generational poverty and ill health could be addressed, making ours a fairer and safer society in which to live.

The media might not be impressed by what Natalie Bennett has to say, not yet anyway, in time they might just have to sit up and take notice. After the European elections the big story was how well Ukip had done, nobody noticed the Greens coming in quietly in fourth place, they should have done though.

All across the country the Green Party is quietly growing in strength, taking some council seats and coming second and third in others, it is a young party with a youthful and active membership at a time when the mainstream parties are looking ever more old, tired and out of touch.

The thing about young people and young parties is that they aren’t tied to the old ways of thinking; when it comes to sorting out our complicated and unfair tax system that is no bad thing.

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