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.

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.