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7 October 2009updated 27 Sep 2015 2:28am

Osborne’s surprise defence of 50p tax

New tax rate will help create "a more equal society", says shadow chancellor

By George Eaton

In a typically pugnacious column, Simon Heffer urges the Tories to junk Labour’s 50p tax rate as soon as they take power. They won’t, of course, for largely pragmatic reasons. At a time of recession, it would be politically toxic for the Tories to be seen to favour the rich in this area. Appearing on the Daily Politics today, Philip Hammond trotted out the party line when he said the decision was primarily a political move intended to “signal that everybody must pay their share”.

But I was struck by the reply George Osborne gave on Sky News this morning when asked to justify the tax:

We do need a more equal society. We need a fairer society, particularly in what we’ve got to go through in the next few years — which is a period of very difficult fiscal tightening. It’s important for everyone to understand there aren’t going to be exemptions from that.

His assertion that we “need a more equal society” is a principled rather than a pragmatic defence of the tax rate. Osborne also appears to accept the premise that redistributive taxation has a critical role to play in achieving greater fairness. Whether he’s sincere or not, his words are certainly at odds with the position David Cameron has taken.

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