Tuesday, 20 March 2012

50p? That's out-bloody-rageous

Apologies for the re-hash - this is a speech I gave to CUS earlier this term. Still pertinent, if a little lacking detail. I only had 3 mins...

I suppose I should start by wondering aloud whether the proposition tonight are heartless or just completely clueless and ill-informed. I’d love to think that it was the latter, but with a student conservative leading the charge (and they really are a special breed) I am not leaping to any conclusions just yet. And with Tory party backers being rather well heeled, perhaps the political pressure is all too much to make a reasoned argument.
Let me make it quite clear here – if the proposition say that tax on the rich is too high, then they want to lower it – and that means one of three things. One – not paying off the deficit. Two – taxing the poor more. Three – slashing welfare and public services more than has been done already.

Let’s get to the heart of this issue; what is tax for? If you listen to some of the Republican nonsense in the US, you’d be forgiven for thinking tax is just there to punish success, and we could do rather well without it. That’s true – if you don’t want roads, public services, a health service and a welfare system (although looking across, I’m not sure if the proponents do want that). And in today’s financial mess, caused mostly because of an obsession with credit and a fundamental misunderstanding of risk, on a personal, governmental and system level, and a pitiful regulatory framework, we need to get back to the simple addition that we all learnt at primary school – we must be able to afford what we spend. And contributions from citizens, or tax, is rather a useful method of creating a state income. And remember that deficit, chaps – the one you keep blaming Labour for? We need to get back to sustainable levels on that too.

What the agitators for tonight’s motion seem to be arguing for is Bush-style US tax cuts for the rich, and hence increasing the deficit (or getting the money to pay it off from cloud cuckoo land). You would have thought this lot would have learnt from their ‘compassionate conservative’ colleagues across the water that that really doesn’t work. Which is fairly obvious to a thinking human being, surely – hence why Bush enacted them, I suppose. And they will, of course, be appalled by government waste – Sure Start for one – and would argue that we could do more for less. Yes, let’s cut inefficiency and support only evidence-based measures, sure. But let’s not kid ourselves that, were we to find we could cut tax, we should pop it back into the Armani suits first. But at the same time, we would clamp down on the tax loopholes which the same suits use to steal from the exchequer.

So what do we ask of our rich that is so unreasonable – and remember here that only 300,000 out of our population of 70 million pay this amount? 50% of their income above £150,000? Outrageous! Of course, we don’t have much leverage over their shares, and the super-rich still get paid an obscene amount in bonuses, but come on – how unreasonable we are! Why on earth should the state levy high levels of tax on people, like the Chief Executive of Boots, who earns over a thousand times that which an average employee earns? It’s a moral outrage! It’s punishing ambition, surely. It’s doing down success. Or is it asking people who have benefitted from our financial system to pay some of their success into helping the less fortunate (and indeed, in some cases, the less greedy).

But wait, they have another solid argument up their sleeve – people will run away, businesses will leave, the world will end. Which is of course likely in a country with competitive rates of tax on business – and which has of course been borne out by the fact that the entire executive work force legged it overseas when the 50p rate was introduced. The bank bonus tax was to cost the exchequer 1.2 billion when everyone departed for more iniquitous shores – but no, we raised 2.3 billion. And a recent report into the Laffer curve of tax burdens becoming counterproductive for the government shows the 50p rate as being very much a revenue creator.

We’re behind here – rich mainland Europeans and some very rich folk in the US, Bill Gates amongst them, are calling for more voluntary contributions, either to the exchequer or charity. But here we seem to be having an argument about an intolerable burden being placed on our richest. And don’t get me wrong – were there to be a more equal spread of income, tax rates would certainly be different. But whilst we have gross, some would say disgusting, inequality of income, our rich must, with the rest of us, accept their civic duty and responsibility, and help to pay for the liberal democracy that has helped them get rich. And, if they have any soul, they should give a lot more to those in need, voluntarily. I urge you, with all the moral fibre and intellectual ability that you have, to oppose this outrageous motion.

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