Reductio ad Stalinum

Boris compares the 50p tax with Stalin's campaign against the kulaks

Boris Johnson writes today: "[T]he 50p tax is not far, in its political motive, from Stalin's assault on the kulaks."

I'm used to right-wingers trotting out the cliché that Labour wants to "tax the rich until the pips squeak" (never actually said by Denis Healey), but I hadn't anticipated a comparison with the man who pledged to "liquidate the kulaks as a class".

Johnson isn't the first Telegraph columnist to make such an inappropriate comparison. Last week Janet Daley absurdly compared the EU with the Warsaw Pact.

As in the case of its better-known cousin, reductio ad Hitlerum, there should be an informal moratorium on this sort of thing.

Johnson's remarks will delight Tory activists, many of whom loathe the new tax, but they once more put him at odds with David Cameron and George Osborne, who have insisted that everyone must pay their "fair share". Osborne has even defended the 50p rate on the grounds that it will help foster a "more equal society".

This isn't the first time that Johnson has used his Telegraph column to criticise the tax. There is perhaps no other issue on which he writes and speaks with such fervour. Should he continue in his role as unofficial spokesman for the grass-roots campaign against the tax, this could become dangerous for Cameron.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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