"Brown's mistake" has already been reversed

The personal allowance has grown to undo any losses the abolition of the 10p rate inflicted.

Ed Miliband has committed to introducing a mansion tax, and using the money to fund a re-introduction of the 10p tax band, saying:

We would tax houses worth over £2 million. And we would use the money to cut taxes for working people. We would put right a mistake made by Gordon Brown and the last Labour government. We would use the money raised by a mansion tax to reintroduce a lower 10 pence starting rate of tax, with the size of the band depending on the amount raised. This would benefit 25 million basic rate taxpayers.

The original 10 pence tax band was applied on incomes between £0 and £2,230, once the personal allowance was taken into account. Its abolition was used to fund the reduction in the basic rate of tax from 22p to 20p. But while Miliband says he will "put right [the] mistake made by Gordon Brown", he's not going to be reversing the basic rate cut. Instead, the money will come from the mansion tax.

But the Social Market Foundation's Ian Mulheirn points out that that mansion tax is not expected to raise anywhere near as much as two per cent on the basic rate of tax would. He tells me that their expectation for a mansion tax on houses over £2m is in the low billions — probably around £2bn or £3bn.

But every billion pounds raised would only pay for a 10p tax band of between two and three hundred pounds, he says:

We've got about 30 million income taxpayers in the UK, once you take the personal allowance into account. Assuming that they all would benefit by the full amount, then if you've got £1bn to play with, you could have a tax band of about £330.

A tax band of £330 would return £33 to each taxpayer. If the mansion tax raises the high end of estimates, then the band could be around £1000, returning £100 to each taxpayer. That's not to be sniffed at, but it's less than half of the size of the abolished band. It's not putting right Brown's mistake, but it ameliorates it slightly.

But actually, Brown's mistake has already been largely put right.

In 2007, the last year of the 10p tax rate, the personal allowance stood at £5,035. With the 10p band on top, basic rate tax started at £7,265. Uprated for inflation, that will be worth slightly under £9000 in the tax year starting in 2013.

In that same year, the personal allowance will stand at £9,440. Someone who would in 2007 have been paying only the 10p tax rate is today paying no tax at all. Miliband's actions, if introduced in 2015, will likely introduce a reduced tax rate for people earning between £10,000 and £11,000 to complement a zero tax rate for people earning less than that. That's likely a good thing; but it's a new thing, not a reversal of Brown's actions. They have already been undone.

Of course, if you have to delve into uprating tax bands by inflation to prove a point, it's not going to fly very well in political debates. That's why, as George writes, politically, the move is a masterstroke.

Brown walks through Rugby. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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It's easy to see where Berlin is being rebuilt – just hit the streets

My week, from walking the streets of Berlin to class snobbery and the right kind of gentrification.

Brick by brick, block by block, the people are rebuilding the city once called Faust’s Metropolis. To see it clearly, put your boots on. One of the most bracing walks starts by the Gethsemane Church, which served as a haven for dissenters in the last days of the GDR and takes you down ­towards the Hackescher Markt.

Here, in what is still the eastern half of a divided city that wears its division more lightly, is a Berlin experience both old and new. In three decades of frequent visits, it has been fascinating to note how much this part of town has changed. Even a decade ago these streets were rundown. With crumbling buildings showing bulletholes, it wasn’t hard to imagine what the place looked like in 1945. Now there are lilacs, blues, and yellows. Cafés, bars and restaurants abound, serving the young professionals attracted to the city by cheap rents and a renewed sense of community.

 

Breaking the fourth wall

Looking north along Schliemannstraße, you’ll find a delightful vista of well-tended balconies. It’s a pleasant place to live, notwithstanding the gaggle of grotesques who gather round the corner in the square. On Kastanienallee, which forms the second leg of the walk, an old city feels young. It’s a kind of gentrification but the right kind. There’s more to eat, to drink, to buy, for all.

Berlin, where Bertolt Brecht staged his unwatchable plays, was supposed to have been transformed by a proletarian revolution. Instead, it has been restored to health by a very middle-class one. Germany has always had a well-educated middle class, and the nation’s restoration would have impossible without such people. The irony is delicious – not that irony buttered many parsnips for “dirty Bertie”.

 

The new snobbery

The British Museum’s survey of German history “Memories of a Nation” is being presented at the Martin-Gropius-Bau as “The British View”. Germans, natürlich, are curious to see how we observe them. But how do they see us?

A German friend recently in England  said that the images that struck him most forcibly were the tins of food and cheap booze people piled up in supermarkets, and the number of teenage girls pushing prams. Perhaps Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum who will shortly take up a similar role here at the new Humboldt Forum, may turn his attention to a “German View” of the United Kingdom.

There’s no shortage of material. In Schlawinchen, a bar that typifies Kreuzberg’s hobohemia, a college-educated English girl was trying to explain northern England to an American she had just met. Speaking in an ugly modern Mancunian voice that can only be acquired through years of practice (sugar pronounced as “sug-oar”), she refer­red to Durham and York as “middle class, you know, posh”, because those cities had magnificent cathedrals.

When it comes to inverted snobbery, no nation can match us. To be middle class in Germany is an indication of civic value. In modern England, it can mark you as a leper.

 

Culture vultures

The Humboldt Forum, taking shape by the banks of the Spree, reconsecrates the former site of the GDR’s Palace of the Republic. When it opens in 2018 it will be a “living exhibition”, dedicated to all the cultures of the world. Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist and explorer, was the brother of Wilhelm, the diplomat and philosopher, whose name lives on in the nearby university.

In Potsdamerplatz there are plans to build a modern art museum, crammed in between the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Philharmonie, home to the Berlin Philharmonic. Meanwhile, the overhaul of the Deutsche Staatsoper, where Daniel Barenboim is music director for life, is likely to be completed, fingers crossed, next autumn.

Culture everywhere! Or perhaps that should be Kultur, which has a slightly different meaning in Germany. They take these things more seriously, and there is no hint of bogus populism. In London, plans for a new concert hall have been shelved. Sir Peter Hall’s words remain true: “England is a philistine country that loves the arts.”

 

European neighbours

When Germans speak of freedom, wrote A J P Taylor, a historian who seems to have fallen from favour, they mean the freedom to be German. No longer. When modern Germans speak of freedom, they observe it through the filter of the European Union.

But nation states are shaped by different forces. “We are educated to be obedient,” a Berlin friend who spent a year at an English school once told me. “You are educated to be independent.” To turn around Taylor’s dictum: when the English speak of freedom,
they mean the freedom to be English.

No matter what you may have heard, the Germans have always admired our independence of spirit. We shall, however, always see “Europe” in different ways. Europe, good: we can all agree on that. The European Union, not so good. It doesn’t mean we have to fall out, and the Germans are good friends to have.

 

Hook, line and sinker

There are fine walks to be had in the west, too. In Charlottenburg, the Kensington of Berlin, the mood is gentler, yet you can still feel the city humming. Here, there are some classic places to eat and drink – the Literaturhauscafé for breakfast and, for dinner, Marjellchen, a treasure trove of east Prussian forest delights. Anything that can be shot and put in a pot!

For a real Berlin experience, though, head at nightfall for Zwiebelfisch, the great tavern on Savignyplatz, and watch the trains glide by on the other side of Kantstraße. Hartmut Volmerhaus, a most amusing host, has been the guvnor here for more than 30 years and there are no signs that his race is run. The “Fisch” at twilight: there’s nowhere better to feel the pulse of this remarkable city. 

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage