Miliband calls it right: tax income less and wealth more

As the NS has long argued, Labour should fund tax cuts for low and middle earners by finding new ways of taxing static assets, such as mansions and land.

It was a good speech from Ed Miliband today. He’s clearly been reading the New Statesman, which endorsed his bid for the leadership in 2010, just one of the many things we’ve got right over recent years – such as our forecast long ago that premature fiscal consolidation would result in a double dip recession, predicting a hung parliament (when no one else did) and calling for UK withdrawal from Afghanistan and talks with Taliban (now a mainstream position).

We’ve consistently argued that Labour should seek to reduce the tax burden for low and middle income earners and, because capital is so mobile and the very rich are so adept at avoiding income tax, find new ways of taxing unearned income and static assets, such as mansions and land. This is not a left/right issue: Vince Cable, Martin Wolf, of the Financial Times, and Tim Montgomerie, of the excellent ConservativeHome website, are all in favour of the introduction of new wealth taxes.

The UK needs a more resilient tax base and Labour, if it is to have any chance of winning again, must abandon unreconstructed statism and its old, failed tax and transfer redistributive model (we consider National Insurance to be a form of income tax, and Gordon Brown certainly used it as such with his devious manoeuvres). That’s why we support greater emphasis on “predistribution” (awful word but good concept). 

In last week’s magazine we supported, as George says, the admirable Conservative MP for Harlow (my old home town in Essex) Robert Halfon’s call for the restoration of the 10p tax band for earnings between the personal allowance, which will rise to £9,440 in April, and £12,000, a measure worth £256 to basic-rate taxpayers. Now Ed Miliband is saying that Labour would reintroduce the 10p rate. That is smart politics, and just the kind of distinctive policy it will need as it seeks to remake itself as the party of social justice, entrepreneurial initiative and the competent state in the run-up to the 2015 election. Above all, Labour needs to show that it has learned the lessons of the Blair/Brown years, when asset bubbles were allowed to inflate dangerously, the party became carless and arrogant in power and far too nonchalant about rising inequality. Game on.   

The 12-bedroom mansion in Kensington Palace Gardens bought by steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal for $128.3m in 2004. Photograph: Getty Images.

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

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.