The Green Party is today launching a call for a wealth tax. Photo: Getty
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A wealth tax can help deliver real change for the common good

The Green party's leader Natalie Bennett announces a new policy: an annual wealth tax to combat inequality in Britain.

Inequality in Britain today has many faces.

It’s the school pupil, fleeing the bedroom that she has to share with a younger sibling in an overcrowded home, struggling to do her homework in a noisy, crowded library in the one-hour rationed computer slot available, while her classmate sits in her private study in her multimillion-pound family home, using the latest iPad with the help of a private tutor.

It’s the young man, who did everything right, got the 2:1 university degree, the first in his family, forked out for the expensive Master’s, who’s now working in a pub on weekends to fund another unpaid internship, while his fellow intern is relying on the bank of Mum and Dad, free to socialise and network in every spare moment.

The gaps are getting bigger and bigger. The financial crisis, quantitative easing, this government’s harsh and unfair cuts to benefits – the whole approach of austerity - are pushing Britain further in this direction, past Twenties levels of inequality and on towards Victorian levels.

And the key trend of the past decade – both here in Britain and around the world is that the super-rich have got richer. The 1 per cent have been soaring away from the rest, while the middle stagnates and the poorest fall backwards. That’s what led Thomas Picketty to call for a global wealth tax, and what’s left the poorest 20 per cent of the British population living in conditions closer to their compatriots in Slovenia and the Czech Republic than France and Germany.

The gap between rich and poor, and the super-rich and the rest, is a social problem. And it’s an economic problem – the super-rich can’t keep an economy going with purchases of yachts and gold-plated taps. When you’ve got the IMF and World Bank (hardly institutions known to their commitment to fairness) expressing concern about the impacts of inequality, it’s clear there is a problem.

It’s a problem on a global scale, but we can start to tackle it here in Britain, the seventh most unequal country in the OECD, where the problem is visible and obvious from the oligarch-ridden streets of Chelsea to the struggling high streets of Northern England.

That’s why the Green Party is today launching a call for a wealth tax.

We’re proposing a 1 per cent-2 per cent annual tax on the richest 1 per cent of people in Britain – those with wealth of over £3m. They’re people doing really well from our society: the richest 1 per cent of people take 13 per cent of our country’s total income.

It’s part of a package of measures that will be included in our fully costed 2015 manifesto, which will also include a call for a Living Wage, pay ratios for companies so that the highest-paid worker isn’t paid more than 10 times the lowest paid, a land value tax to replace council tax and business rates, a more progressive income tax system and a raising of the corporate tax rate back towards global standards. 

Our wealth tax would affect about 300,000 people, and the annual cost to them would be £30,000 to £60,000. Most of them would comfortably afford it; assuming a 5% return on their wealth, £150,000, they’d only be paying around a 20% effective tax rate. For the relatively small number in this group with a single illiquid asset, such as a house, and relatively low income, special arrangements could be made to put off tax payments.

Such a wealth tax would raise £21bn to £43bn a year – about 15% of the cost of the NHS: a significant sum that wouldn’t transform the national budget, but would certainly have a significant impact on it.

This is a relatively new idea in Britain, but not globally – France, Spain, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland all have wealth taxes, and there’s evidence of public support here from a YouGov survey in 2010 that found 74 per cent of people were in favour of a wealth tax at ten times the rate we’re proposing.

We need real change in Britain, to really start to rebalance our society so that it works for the common good, not just the 1 per cent. A wealth tax is a measure who’s time has come, and I’m proud that the Green Party, with its growing support and growing membership, is putting it on the national agenda.

Natalie Bennett is leader of the Green party.


See more:

The Greens may become a force to be reckoned with (21 July 2014)

Without older voters the Greens have little hope (22 July 2014)


Natalie Bennett is the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales and a former editor of Guardian Weekly.

David Young
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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide