The New Statesman’s rolling politics blog


Benn's history lesson on tax

Income tax reached 95 per cent under Churchill

Tony Benn has a history lesson for those who depicted Gordon Brown as Lenin after the government announced its decision to raise the top rate of income tax to 50 per cent. He writes:

The modest increase announced for wealthier people has been denounced by the City but it is nothing compared to the highest level when Churchill left office in 1945 - 95%, justified on the grounds that the money was needed to fight the war and that the rich should share the burdens that others had to bear. These arguments apply to the present economic crisis.

Even Margaret Thatcher managed to live with a top rate of 60 per cent for nine years. As I've argued elsewhere today, I think the government should now focus on raising taxes on unearned income to plug the deficit. But Labour should still cite history to rebut the clichéd charge that they will "tax the rich till the pips squeak".

Incidentally, just as Voltaire never said "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" (that was his biographer Beatrice Hall) and Jim Callaghan never declared "Crisis? What crisis?" (that was a Sun headline writer), so Denis Healey never uttered those famous words.

His actual words to Labour's party conference were: "I warn you that there are going to be howls of anguish from those rich enough to pay over 75 per cent on their last slice of earnings".

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