New Times,
New Thinking.

6 February 2014updated 28 Jun 2021 4:46am

Why the 50p tax is lenient, sponsoring the Queen and how to deal with noisy pigeons

The Queen, we learn, is down to her last million.

By Peter Wilby

Labour proposes to restore a 50p tax rate, and from the reaction you would think it was planning a dictatorship of the proletariat, with gulags for dissidents. The top rate of income tax was set at 60p for nine of Margaret Thatcher’s 11 years in power. For the two years before Nigel Lawson cut it to 40p in 1988, it was levied on incomes above £41,200, a sum that would be worth £93,631 now.

Put another way, the threshold for the 60p tax was set at less than five times average annual earnings, and 50p tax started at less than three times average earnings. Labour’s proposed threshold of £150,000 is roughly six times average earnings.

What is the point of a Labour Party if it doesn’t propose, during periods of public spending strain, that we should at least approach levels of taxation on the rich that prevailed in the Thatcher era? If former Labour aides and ministers, such as Lord (Paul) Myners and Lord (Digby) Jones, disagree, why were they ever involved with Labour in the first place? We know the answer. They supported Labour only as long as it pursued Tory policies. They regarded New Labour as a heaven-sent opportunity to tame the British left and secure the gains of the neoliberal revolution for the corporate sector and the wealthy elite.

Teachers taught

Right-wing think tanks and Tory aides accuse Ofsted of supporting 1960s-style, child-centred approaches to teaching and of traducing schools, particularly some of Michael Gove’s precious free schools, that use more formal methods. Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, says he will not bow to such intimidation.

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Really? Can Wilshaw explain why, this very month, he issued “subsidiary guidance” that includes the following? “Inspectors . . . should not criticise teacher talk for being overlong . . . Do not expect to see ‘independent learning’ in all lessons and do not make the assumption that this is always necessary or desirable. On occasions, too, pupils are rightly passive rather than active recipients of learning.”

Gove and his friends will accord those sentiments a hearty ovation.

Brand Bess

The Queen, we learn, is down to her last million. Her palaces and castles are crumbling. She should seek sponsorship like everyone else. Why does she not live in the Tesco Palace, London or the Npower Castle, Windsor and travel on the Vodafone royal train? Hallowed cricket grounds now carry the names of commercial benefactors and I see no reason why royal residences should be too grand for such treatment. The Queen would command a higher price than anybody else, relieving the taxpayer of any need to support her.


The police tendency to overreact to small incidents goes back many years. A former public health inspector recalls that, in the early 1970s, he was called by an elderly lady who feared to leave her house, which was under siege from noisy pigeons. The inspector took an air rifle and fired a single shot and the birds flew off. Within minutes, sirens wailed and he was surrounded by a police armed response team. They demanded at gunpoint that he lie on the ground with his hands behind his head. He escaped arrest only by surrendering the rifle.

This story comes from Putting Wrong Things Right, a new history of environmental health officers (as they are now called), sent to me by its editor, William Hatchett. It is a salutary reminder of how much we owe our improved health and longevity to these unsung public servants who were still dealing with significant typhoid outbreaks in the 1960s, one of which brought Aberdeen to a virtual standstill as more than 500 residents were quarantined in hospital.

Red flags not flying

A friend told me the other day that the day after Thatcher’s death, he was passing through Hereford and spotted the St George’s flag at half-mast on the cathedral tower.

He strode in and demanded to see the dean. The cathedral, he pointed out, was making a politically partisan gesture. Had it also flown the flag at half-mast on the deaths of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan? “Possibly not,” the dean confessed. But in a letter to the Hereford Times, he later stated that “in future, I would think it very likely that the cathedral would wish to mark the passing of our leaders . . . irrespective of their political persuasion”.

As the only living ex-Labour leaders are in their early sixties, they are likely to outlive both me and my friend. But I trust younger NS readers in the Hereford vicinity will check, when the time comes, that the cathedral keeps its word.

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