Friday 27 March 2020

UK: Land of low-cost gestures.

Last night thousands. some say millions, of people stood by their doors and windows at 8pm and clapped for the NHS.  

It's hard to believe that only four months ago these self-same people gave an 80 seat majority in parliament to a party that had starved  the NHS of resources for ten years, and aspires to break it it up and flog bits to the highest profit maximising bidder.

To be fair, maybe most of the clappers weren't Tory supporters at all, but enthusiastic  Socialists, Liberals and Scottish National.

And, to be accurate only 44% of those who voted  supported the Conservatives in December last year, and the rest, saving the 2% who voted for Brexit, supported parties more likely to have the preservation of the NHS closer to their hearts. 

But the point is that we find it much easier in this country to make a one-off kindly gesture that we do to grasp the reality  that if we want decent public services we have to be prepared to pay for them, and that means higher taxes for all.

In fact  I think the only party to advocate higher taxes for all in recent years is us Liberal Democrats, and that was just a rather pathetic "penny on income tax."  Labour today  tend to imply that decent public services can be financed by increasing the taxes of only the very rich: the rest of us get off scot free. 

That was not the view of the post-war Attlee government.

Maybe the awfulness of the coronavirus crisis will bring about the change in our public perception of reality  similar to that  of the Second world War, which enabled  post war Labour to build up our welfare state.  

I look forward to the next election when parties are bidding, not to reduce taxes, not just to cut down on tax avoidance, evasion and havens, but for all of us to pay a realistic price for the kind of state that makes life worth living. 

Or will we just go back to the fantasy land of "more with less" supported by weasel words and cost-free gestures.


  1. An extract from a Danish woman's thoughts on the differences between the UK and Denmark in a Guardian article on March 7th: "If Danes are more relaxed than Brits, it’s to do with our excellent infrastructure, our social security safety net, the fact that we are paid a salary to attend university and have 52 weeks of parental leave – all because we happily pay about 50% in taxes. Socialism is the real hygge." (I somehow doubt the "happily" bit.)

    1. Maybe not "happily" but probably indifferently (apart from a few greedy Farage types looking for something to stir things up.) For most of my working life I paid income tax at the standard rate of around 33%. I can't remember it ever bing a topic of conversation, either at work or in the pub. We just accepted is as a fact of life or, if we wanted to think more deeply, the price we paid of living in a civilised society.

      The present standard rate is 20%. I think we could easily raise it back by small increments to at least 25% without any but the Tory power grubbers raising Cain.

      I've long believed we should change the language we use about taxation, and talk about the "privilege" of paying taxes, rather than the burden. As a classroom teacher I never earned enough to pay the higher rate. It would have been nice if I had.