Wednesday, May 06, 2009



What an odd Budget Mr Darling delivered last week. The Times first leader on Saturday commented, “It is considered a golden rule in politics that Budgets that look good on the day, start to look poor by the weekend and vice versa. This week’s Budget has broken the rule. It didn’t look very good on the day. Now it looks worse”.

For the first time ever I fell asleep during the Budget speech and had to download the text from the internet. It was a waste of paper. Anyone who is interested in my thoughts on the actual measures can find them in Blackstone Franks’ Budget booklet (go to My purpose today is to try to fathom out what it was about.

I think that Mr Darling was trying to say, “The country’s finances are in such a mess that there’s not much I can do other than slash government expenditure. I know that’s the right thing to do but we’ve got a general election coming up within the next year and surely no one would expect me to put the interests of the country before those of the Labour party. Cutting expenditure means putting some voters out of work, so although it’s the right thing to do economically it would damage the Labour party, so I’ll just flag it up as an aspiration for a future government and let the mess grow into an even bigger one until after the election. My other big idea is to abandon New Labour – which was Tony Blair’s idea not mine and Gordon’s – and resurrect the old Labour social divisiveness. So, let’s tax the rich! That will bring back old Labour votes”.

Janice Turner, also writing in Saturday’s Times about taxing the rich, told us, “Let the rich, so stung and outraged by this week’s Budget flee [to Hong Kong]”. She explains that tax havens are nasty places to live. For example, “Empty hearted Monte Carlo, with eerie coraly-coloured skyscrapers everywhere blocking out every inch of the lovely bay and the sunlight with it … Or Switzerland … No matter that no one ever had a wild night out in Zurich, that the Swiss – experts say – are cold, xenophobic and insular even to fellow white Europeans … A country that cherishes money more than life itself: the rich and their cash could be very happy there”. Odd. I went to Monte Carlo last year and thought it a beautiful city. I haven’t been to Zurich but I have been to Geneva which I thought pretty, clean and made for walking. All the Swiss that I talked to were very friendly. It’s sad that Janice seems someone to tour the dingy bits of cities that the rest of us manage to miss.

Janice ends her article very old Labour, “If people now revile the rich – and the Times poll yesterday suggests that 57 per cent regard the tax hike as fair – it is because so many have spent a decade being loathsome … How dare the rich complain … They owe it to the country that made them rich, the society they love living in precisely because it is concerned with more than money. Otherwise – to the vaults of Zurich, the chilly units of Hong Kong – let them go”.

On the letters page Mr Watson of Cambridgeshire asks, “What is it that top earners have done for this country that is so marvellous? … If they all emigrated, maybe we would be left with a sensible and pragmatic bunch”.

Well Mr Watson, bearing in mind that Mr Darling’s definition of rich is anyone earning more than £150,000, which the Times told me a few weeks back includes headmasters of major comprehensive schools, the answer to your question is clearly, “A great deal”. Headmasters can readily find jobs in the USA. So can “rich” hospital consultants. That would cause huge problems for the NHS. The “rich” run our major companies which provide employment for many of us. “Rich” inventors create new businesses and products that make our life easier. The “rich” Premier League footballers provide entertainment for about half a million of us every week – and on the basis of the huge sums that Sky Sports was prepared to pay for the TV rights, I suspect many millions more at home. The citizenry seem happy to pay to watch “rich” singers and other entertainers. The UK would be pretty boring if we drive them all overseas.

Writing in the Guardian Anne Redston, a leading tax professional, describes the Budget as “radical” because it brings a new approach to tax avoidance and evasion. I’m not clear what she means. Although the Budget contains a lot of anti-avoidance provisions, most of these seem to be correcting badly drawn provisions in earlier years. Many of us think that the new approach to tax evasion – publicly naming and shaming the culprits – could prove counterproductive and deter people from “coming clean”. There’s not much radical about that!

Robert Maas


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