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.