Osborne's surprise defence of 50p tax

New tax rate will help create "a more equal society", says shadow chancellor

In a typically pugnacious column, Simon Heffer urges the Tories to junk Labour's 50p tax rate as soon as they take power. They won't, of course, for largely pragmatic reasons. At a time of recession, it would be politically toxic for the Tories to be seen to favour the rich in this area. Appearing on the Daily Politics today, Philip Hammond trotted out the party line when he said the decision was primarily a political move intended to "signal that everybody must pay their share".

But I was struck by the reply George Osborne gave on Sky News this morning when asked to justify the tax:

We do need a more equal society. We need a fairer society, particularly in what we've got to go through in the next few years -- which is a period of very difficult fiscal tightening. It's important for everyone to understand there aren't going to be exemptions from that.

His assertion that we "need a more equal society" is a principled rather than a pragmatic defence of the tax rate. Osborne also appears to accept the premise that redistributive taxation has a critical role to play in achieving greater fairness. Whether he's sincere or not, his words are certainly at odds with the position David Cameron has taken.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Here's something the political class has completely missed about Brexit

As Hillary Clinton could tell them, arguments about trade have a long, long afterlife. 

I frequently hear the same thing at Westminster, regardless of whether or not the person in question voted to leave the European Union or not: that, after March 2019, Brexit will be “over”.

It’s true that on 30 March 2019, the United Kingdom will leave the EU whether the government has reached a deal with the EU27 on its future relationship or not. But as a political issue, Brexit will never be over, regardless of whether it is seen as a success or a failure.

You don’t need to have a crystal ball to know this, you just need to have read a history book, or, failing that, paid any attention to current affairs. The Democratic primaries and presidential election of 2016 hinged, at least in part, on the consequences of the North American Free Trade Association (Nafta). Hillary Clinton defeated a primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, who opposed the deal, and lost to Donald Trump, who also opposed the measure.

Negotiations on Nafta began in 1990 and the agreement was fully ratified by 1993. Economists generally agree that it has, overall, benefited the nations that participate in it. Yet it was still contentious enough to move at least some votes in a presidential election 26 years later.

Even if Brexit turns out to be a tremendous success, which feels like a bold call at this point, not everyone will experience it as one. (A good example of this is the collapse in the value of the pound after Britain’s Leave vote. It has been great news for manufacturers, domestic tourist destinations and businesses who sell to the European Union. It has been bad news for domestic households and businesses who buy from the European Union.)

Bluntly, even a successful Brexit is going to create some losers and an unsuccessful one will create many more. The arguments over it, and the political fissure it creates, will not end on 30 March 2019 or anything like it. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.