Why Labour will reverse Cameron’s top rate tax cut

The latest figures from HMRC show that people earning over £150,000 paid almost £10bn more in tax in the three years when the 50p rate was in place. We need to get the deficit down in a fair way.

The Tories like to fix the facts to fit the story they want to tell. Only yesterday we saw them desperately pull together dodgy figures to make the ludicrous claim that people are better off under them, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It only served to show just how out of touch they are.

It’s similar to what they’ve done when it comes to the 50p tax rate. David Cameron and George Osborne are desperate to be able to claim the 50p tax raised as little money as possible. That makes it easier for them to justify giving a tax cut to millionaires at a time when ordinary families are facing a cost-of-living crisis. But the decision to cut the 50p rate was a highly political decision, driven not by the evidence but by David Cameron and George Osborne’s desire to give the richest people in our country a tax cut.

The Tory-led government’s own assessment claims the cost of cutting the rate to 45p, excluding all behavioural changes, was over £3bn. To justify the tax cut the Tories argue that most of this potential revenue would be lost as a result of tax avoidance.  But crucially, the scale of the behavioural impact has been decided by Ministers, not HMRC. And latest figures from the HMRC show that people earning over £150,000 paid almost £10bn more in tax in the three years when the 50p rate was in place than was estimated at the time when the government did its assessment back in 2012.

The Tories also claim that tax revenues rose after they cut the top rate of tax. But the ONS and OBR have both said that many of the highest earners moved income and delayed bonuses by a year after George Osborne’s 2012 Budget in order that they could benefit from the lower top rate of tax. This shifting of income will actually have cost the Treasury millions of pounds in lost revenue.

Labour has been clear that when the deficit is high and ordinary families are seeing their real incomes fall, it simply can’t be right for David Cameron and George Osborne to give the richest people in the country a massive tax cut. So the next Labour government will make changes to create a fairer tax system. That means cracking down on tax avoidance, scrapping the shares for rights scheme and reversing the tax cut for hedge funds. We want a lower 10p starting rate of tax, which would help make work pay and cut taxes for 24 million people on middle and lower incomes.

And in order to ensure that those with the broadest shoulders bear a fairer share of the burden, Ed Balls has today announced that the next Labour government will reverse the Tory top rate tax cut in the next Parliament while we are finishing the job of getting the deficit down.

This is a fairer way to reduce the deficit. And the Tories will have to explain why the richest one per cent of earners should get a tax cut while tough times continue for everyone else.

Shabana Mahmood is shadow exchequer secretary

David Cameron speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos yesterday. Photograph: Getty Images.

Shabana Mahmood is Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood.

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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