Mixing tax and politics

A small bird – one who wants this project to succeed – informed me this morning of a concern that my Primer on the Conservative’s proposed rise in the personal allowance was perceived as too political.  I also know very well that my pieces on Labour and Tax Avoidance during its party conference were unwelcome (or perhaps more accurately, unwelcome to some). I tackled UKIP’s WAG (weekend fling?) tax. And I shall strive to find something of interest to say on Liberal Democrat announcements in the fiscal sphere.

But how consistent is this with my avowed intention to be apolitical?

There’s no escaping the fact that tax has a political dimension. Many of the big questions that divide right and left – the size of the State or the prioritising of relative and absolute wealth – are readily examined through a fiscal lens. Are taxes the price we pay for a civilised society or an undesirable confiscation of private wealth? Is progressivity in the tax system an absolute end – one to be pursued even at the cost of economic growth?

So close is the relationship between tax and politics that I shall propose a challenge. There is, in any plausible world, no tax decision that one fellow Waiter can propose that another Waiter will not be able to badge as inherently political. Give it a try (it’s my neck on the line, after all).

Of course, the concerns are of a different nature. There I am, wading into party politics, at this most tribal of moments. Surely that is political in a meaningfully different way?

It is, of course.

But that doesn’t mean that to tackle such stuff is to cease to be apolitical. I think it’s entirely proper to point out the distributional effects of particular tax measures. If the Conservatives find that embarrassing, that’s their problem: adopt a different policy. Qualitatively the same, in my view, is pointing out some arithmetical questions arising from Labour’s pledge to fish another £650m out of a rather dry looking pool. The problem isn’t that I’ve pointed it out.

Improving the quality of public and political debate around tax“: I can’t pretend to be aiming for that without doing my best, with my available time and limited skills, to point out where it seems to me that what we’re being told by politicians doesn’t stack up. Should I be backing off because of the time of the political day? Absolutely not: now is the moment it matters most.


A small postscript. I’m slightly embarrassed about the amount of inward looking stuff here. I wanted to say this: it’s important to me. But next week we’ll be back to the real stuff. Promise.





12 thoughts on “Mixing tax and politics

  1. All tax is political

    The aim is to be balanced in your criticism of the parties who propose ideas

    I attempt that. What I find is people ignore criticisms to suit their own preferences

    You can’t win at this game

    So you just carry on as best you can

  2. Agreed, all tax is political.

    What I would suggest however is that one criticises the idea, not the party that proposes it.

    Except possibly to say something like “Only a complete idiot would propose such a nonsensical mess.”

    That’s fine.

  3. Ummm. Will that help matters?

  4. I find it particularly difficult to separate politics from questions of taxation. In my opinion they go to the heart of the inequality issue facing not only this country but the world. It has become more apparent due to the blatant uncosted bribes by Osborne and their determination to widen the gap between the rich and poor of this country. Thank you for your articles they are most informative and helpful.

  5. Your blog succeeds because you occupy a space where, whilst acknowledging that tax has political implications, it is viewed as primarily a technical subject. So you are able to examine the impacts of policy- the distributional effect of raising PAs for example – and let others in other spaces make their noise afterwards.

    I am personally disinclined to say “tax is political”,; it leads to the political cart being placed before the horse.

    And for the record: I am a Conservative who has no problem at all with last week’s proposals being subject to examination, or indeed ANY proposals being so subjected.

  6. On many occasions when a client asks me “why?”, the answer is often “politics”

  7. Thanks.

    Rhetoric aside, I should decently acknowledge there is a choice of what effects one chooses to point out. That choice is a political choice. But I guess I feel impelled to point out effects where there is a mismatch between rhetoric and reality. Where, on the other hand, as for example with the pushing out of the higher rate threshold, that mismatch doesn’t exist, I am happy to let the numbers speak for themselves.

    I’m not sure why my view should be particularly of interest but I am inclined to think there is a case for pushing out the higher rate threshold. But there might be a stronger case for cutting the basic rate because once one factors in employee’s NICs the jump to 40% is actually not as profound as it at first blush appears.

    If anyone’s interested in these rates with NICs factored in, they can be found on the Employment (I) post earlier on this site.

  8. Thanks ironman. Hope you’ll continue to comment – or write

  9. Politics tends to stick its nose in everywhere so tax is hardly likely to escape. The trouble is, if politics is where you start from, it makes it much harder to find the right answer and even harder to find an objective one. There are those who if they saw David Cameron walking across the surface of a lake would rush home to write a blog entitled “Here’s why David Cameron can’t swim”.

    I suspect an apolitical blog is impossible for someone with political views. I don’t see that as a problem so long as you are clear about your bias and engage coherently with others on the blog with differing opinions.

    So far that’s what I see on this blog


    p.s. Are you related to Jeremy Clarkson by any chance?

  10. Am sure you’re right it has an impact. But I haven’t yet bottomed out, in my own mind, what that impact is.

    The only nakedly political post I’ve written here is one expressing my frustration with where the Labour Party is on tax. I can’t think I’d ever write a similar post about the Conservatives. But that’s probably because it’s only in relation to the Labour Party that I can get really comfortable with my motivations for criticising.

    Anyway. Thanks for your thoughts.


    Nope. The hair?

  11. Andrew Carter

    I agree, to be entirely apolitical is impossible. However, to set yourself the goal of being technocratic though is possible and might lead you to developing and holding evidence-based opinions. Those in can be fed into politics rather than you following whatever view your party happens to believe this week.
    This blog could be very productive.

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