The Tories and the 50p tax rate

What if a general election is held before the new top rate is introduced? The Tories should be asked

Today's Daily Telegraph includes a story suggesting that if the Conservatives win power they won't abolish the 50p tax rate until the end of their first time. But the paper rather too readily makes the assumption that the tax won't be introduced before the next election.

The new top rate of income tax is currently due to take effect from April but given the febrile state of UK politics there's no reason to assume that an election won't have been held by then. Gordon Brown may well wish to avoid going to the polls in May, the last possible date for a general election, as John Major did in 1997. An earlier election would also allow Labour to neatly avoid breaking their 2005 pledge not to raise income tax.

In any case, the Conservatives should be asked whether they would be prepared not merely to live with the 50p rate but to actually introduce it. A failure to do so would leave the party vulnerable to the charge that they are prepared to let the less well-off bear the brunt of tax rises.

The story also quotes a Conservative source who bizarrely claims that the 50p rate will "remind people of the worst of Labour". In fact, a YouGov/Telegraph poll carried out shortly after the budget found that 68 per cent of the public support the measure. The finding is tucked away at the bottom of this story.

Labour should exploit the difficulties the tax rate causes the Tories far more than it has done. The 50p rate can be added to the divisions between Boris Johnson and David Cameron explored by my colleague James Macintyre earlier this week. Johnson has called for the Conservatives to unequivocally reject the new rate, accusing Labour of waging a new "class war".

And if Cameron fails to deliver for the right in power, expect the party's unreconstructed Thatcherites to raise this issue again.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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I dined behind the Houses of Parliament in my sexually connected foursome

My wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple. We did not always check the significance of the date. 

I am self-employed and find that working from home, setting your own schedule, the days generally blur into each other, with weekends holding no significance, and public holidays, when those who are employed in factories, offices or shops get time off, meaning nothing. I am often surprised to go out and find the streets empty of traffic because it is some national day of observance, such as Christmas, that I wasn’t aware of. I find myself puzzled as to why the shops are suddenly full of Easter eggs or pancake batter.

Growing up in a Communist household, we had a distinct dislike for this kind of manufactured marketing opportunity anyway. I remember the time my mother tried to make me feel guilty because I’d done nothing for her on Mother’s Day and I pointed out that it was she who had told me that Mother’s Day was a cynical creation of the greetings card monopolies and the floral industrial complex.

Valentine’s Day is one of those I never see coming. It’s the one day of the year when even the worst restaurants are completely booked out by couples attempting to enjoy a romantic evening. Even those old-fashioned cafés you’ll find still lurking behind railway stations and serving spaghetti with bread and butter will tell you there’s a waiting list if you leave it late to reserve a table.

In the late 1980s my wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple, he a writer and she a TV producer. One particular place we liked was a restaurant attached to a 1930s block of flats, near the Houses of Parliament, where the endless corridors were lined with blank doors, behind which you sensed awful things happened. The steel dining room dotted with potted palm trees overlooked a swimming pool, and this seemed terribly sophisticated to us even if it meant all your overpriced food had a vague taste of chlorine.

The four of us booked to eat there on 14 February, not realising the significance of the date. We found at every other table there was a single couple, either staring adoringly into each other’s eyes or squabbling.

As we sat down I noticed we were getting strange looks from our fellow diners. Some were sort of knowing, prompting smiles and winks; others seemed more outraged. The staff, too, were either simpering or frosty. After a while we realised what was going on: it was Valentine’s Day! All the other customers had assumed that we were a sexually connected foursome who had decided to celebrate our innovative relationship by having dinner together on this special date.

For the four of us, the smirking attention set up a strange dynamic: after that night it always felt like we were saying something seedy to each other. “Do you want to get together on Sunday?” I’d say to one of them on the phone, and then find myself blushing. “I’ll see if we can fit it in,” they’d reply, and we would both giggle nervously.

Things became increasingly awkward between us, until in the end we stopped seeing them completely. 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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