Chicken chancellors, chubby cricketers and cattle-class Clegg

A 1,400-page report on taxation issued last year by the Institute for Fiscal Studies - no, of course I haven't read it all and I doubt the Chancellor has either - contains a helpful table comparing the UK's tax system with "a good tax system". For example, a "good" system would have "a progressive income tax with a transparent and coherent rate structure", whereas the UK has "an opaque jumble of different effective rates as a result of tapered allowances and a separate National Insurance system".

A "good" system would also have a "well-targeted tax on road congestion", "a lifetime wealth transfer tax" and "land value tax at least for business and agricultural land". The UK, however, has "ill-targeted tax on fuel consumption", "ineffective tax on inheritance" and no land-value taxes whatever. The report further criticises a preposterously regressive council tax based on 20-year-old valuations.

The report was compiled by some of the world's finest economic brains, but no government is likely to act on it. In his Budget, George Osborne promised to look at combining tax and National Insurance. But nothing will come of it. Nigel Lawson went through the same exercise at the Treasury in 1987-88, with no result. Vince Cable's "mansion tax" - the Lib Dem manifesto proposed 1 per cent on houses worth over £2m - has already been ruled out by "Treasury sources". Even if it were adopted, it wouldn't take us far. Council tax scales would continue to charge for houses worth £1.9m exactly the same as those worth £320,000, and, on houses worth £2.1m, mansion tax would levy only an extra £1,000. On present prices, the tax would raise £1bn at the most.

Our tax system is just about the most unfair and inefficient imaginable. It will stay that way because tax reform entails winners and losers. The winners are never very grateful, and the losers, particularly rich ones, make a terrible noise. Lawson admits income-tax allowances and reliefs - which are not applicable to National Insurance and most of which serve only to keep accountants in work and should therefore be abolished - were an obstacle to merging the two systems.

Even he, a relatively bold, if wrong-headed, chancellor didn't have the political courage to take on the losers' outrage. I doubt Osborne will be braver. I wonder if Ed Balls would.

A bit rich
After a few shop windows in the West End of London were smashed as a sideshow to the TUC demonstration against cuts - or "against savings" as ministers would wish us to say - the Met is reportedly planning to make more use of stop-and-search powers, particularly for the royal wedding. I wonder if it may be possible, in the spirit of fairness that so moves this government, to find parallel powers that could be used against those on the other side of the argument.

Given the prevalence of fraud, insider dealing, tax evasion, money laundering and bribery among the very rich, it doesn't seem unreasonable to suspect anybody travelling in a Lamborghini, living in Chelsea or dining at the Ritz of something or other.

Perhaps their private bank accounts could be randomly stopped and searched.

Tomato sauce
Meanwhile, anyone travelling by train between Sheffield and London should in future carry tomatoes. In an interview with the Financial Times, conducted on the 15.27 to St Pancras, Nick Clegg says: "Look: we're sitting in a second-class carriage, right? Everyone knows who I am. But are people hurling tomatoes at me?" No, Nick, but that's because they didn't know that a barrage of fruit was still needed to convince you of your unpopularity.In future, they will know better. They do not, I think, need to reach the threshold set by his interviewer, the FT's political editor, George Parker, who regards it as clear evidence of Clegg's high public esteem that "there is no attempt by passengers . . . to manhandle him on to the tracks".

Typhoon Dave
The Daily Telegraph, which may be assumed to know about these things, reports that, as a result of the action in Libya, the navy is in danger of running out of Tomahawk missiles and the RAF of trained Typhoon pilots.

This is surely the answer to those who wonder why the government was so keen to get involved in Libya, and how it will cope if rebellion grows in Saudi Arabia and our old friend King Abdullah uses as much force as Gaddafi to restore order. "Sorry, chaps," David Cam­eron can say to the rebels, "you're on your own. We've got nothing left."

Big issue
England's disappointing performance in the cricket World Cup came as no surprise, partly because the leading players had spent an exhausting winter in Australia, partly because the English counties never play the 50-overs-a-side format used for one-day internationals. But the squad might have stood a better chance with more and better spin bowlers as back up to Nottinghamshire's brilliant Graeme Swann.

One excluded candidate was Swann's county colleague Samit Patel, who is also a fine batsman. You may think I am about to go on about cricket's non-whites again, but Patel also represents another minority. He was excluded because of "fitness issues" or, as Kevin Pietersen has put it with Geoffrey Boycott-style tact, he's "fat and lazy".

Heaven knows how the present management would have coped with corpulent past stars such as England's Colin Milburn, Pakistan's Inzamam-ul-Haq or Australia's Shane Warne. English cricket may or may not be guilty of institutional racism, but it now seems to have embraced body fascism with enthusiasm.

Peter Wilby was editor of the New Statesman from 1998-2005

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 04 April 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Who are the English?