The cabinet battle over 50p tax

The new dispute between Balls and Mandelson and why it matters for Labour's future.

Today's Daily Mail reports that Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper are pushing Alistair Darling to reduce the salary threshold for the new 50p tax rate from £150,000 to £100,000 in this month's Budget.

The Schools Secretary and his wife previously called for this change ahead of last November's pre-Budget report, but found themselves outmanoeuvred by Peter Mandelson.

This latest dispute is likely to increase the tension between those, such as Mandelson, who view the new tax rate as temporary and regrettable and those, such as Balls, who view it as permanent and desirable.

Unlike the Business Secretary, who believes that it would be madness for Labour to vacate the centre ground, Balls believes that the times call for an unambiguously left-of-centre approach. It's a preview of the sort of the debate we can expect to see in any future leadership contest.

The Blairite wing of the party (at least what's left of it) will argue that any short-term political advantage to be gained from moving to the left is outweighed by the risk of permanently alienating "aspirational" voters. Meanwhile, Balls (who is certain to run) will point to polls suggesting that the 50p tax rate as well as the bonus tax are among the most popular things Labour has done.

Should Darling agree to widen the 50p band in the Budget, it will be first blood to Balls in the battle for Labour's ideological soul.

PS: The potential expansion of the 50p rate is another elephant trap we can expect David Cameron (much to Boris Johnson's consternation) to avoid easily.

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Lindsey Parnaby / Getty
Show Hide image

The public like radical policies, but they aren't so keen on radical politicians

Around the world, support for genuinely revolutionary ideas is strong, but in the UK at least, there's less enthusiasm for the people promising them.

You’re probably a getting a little bored of the litany of talking head statistics: trust in elected officials, parliament, the justice system and even democracy itself has been falling steadily for years and is at record lows. Maybe you’ve seen that graph that shows how people born after 1980 are significantly less likely than those born in 1960 to think that living in a democracy is ‘essential’. You’ve possibly heard of the ‘Pasokification’ of the centre-left, so-named the collapse of the once dominant Greek social democratic party Pasok, a technique being aggressively pursued by other centre-left parties in Europe to great effect.    

And so, goes the logic, there is a great appetite for something different, something new. It’s true! The space into which Trump et al barged leaves plenty of room for others: Beppe Grillo in Italy, Spanish Podemos, Bernie Sanders, Jean Luc Melanchon, and many more to come.

In my new book Radicals I followed movements and ideas that in many cases make someone like Jeremy Corbyn seem positively pedestrian: people who want to dismantle the nation state entirely, use technology to live forever, go off grid. All these ideas are finding fertile ground with the frustrated, disillusioned, and idealistic. The challenges of coming down the line – forces of climate change, technological change, fiscal crunch, mass movements of people – will demand new types of political ideas. Radical, outsider thinking is back, and this does, in theory at least, offer a chink of light for Corbyn’s Labour.

Polling last week found pretty surprising levels of support for many of his ideas. A big tax on high earners, nationalising the railways, banning zero hours contracts and upping the minimum wage are all popular. Support for renewable energy is at an all-time high. According to a recent YouGov poll, Brits actually prefer socialism to capitalism, a sentiment most strongly held among younger people.

There are others ideas too, which Corbyn is probably less likely to go for. Stopping benefits entirely for people who refuse to accept an offer of employment is hugely popular, and in one recent poll over half of respondents would be happy with a total ban on all immigration for the next two years. Around half the public now consistently want marijuana legalised, a number that will surely swell as US states with licenced pot vendors start showing off their dazzling tax returns.

The BNP effect used to refer to the problem the far-right had with selling their ideas. Some of their policies were extremely popular with the public, until associated with the BNP. It seems as though the same problem is now afflicting the Labour brand. It’s not the radical ideas – there is now a genuine appetite for those who think differently – that’s the problem, it’s the person who’s tasked with delivering them, and not enough people think Corbyn can or should. The ideal politician for the UK today is quite possibly someone who is bold enough to have genuinely radical proposals and ideas, and yet appears extremely moderate, sensible and centrist in character and temperament. Perhaps some blend of Blair and Corbyn. Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? But this is politics, 2017. Anything is possible.

Jamie Bartlett is the head of the Violence and Extremism Programme and the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos.

0800 7318496