Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Downside of the 'Political Middle Ground'

'The middle ground' sounds kind of appealing, safe maybe. So perhaps it's a good thing 'extremist' ideas are shunned in British political culture and that ideas like communism and fascism have never really gained much purchase. So it's kind of good also that all three mainstream parties in UK aim to dominate the 'middle ground' as this keeps us safe and secure from Hitlers or Stalins? Well maybe this is true and we should be at least a teeny bit pleased. But I read this article by Greg Philo yesterday and had two thoughts.

The first one was that it sketched out a really appropriate response to the deficit and suggewsted a course of action that was both potentially effective and socially just. Philo bases his idea on this foundation:

The total personal wealth in the UK is £9,000bn, a sum that dwarfs the national debt. It is mostly concentrated at the top, so the richest 10% own £4,000bn, with an average per household of £4m. The bottom half of our society own just 9%. The wealthiest hold the bulk of their money in property or pensions, and some in financial assets and objects such antiques and paintings.

What's his idea?

A one-off tax of just 20% on the wealth of this group would pay the national debt and dramatically reduce the deficit, since interest payments on the debt are a large part of government spending. So that is what should be done. This tax of 20%, graduated so the very richest paid the most, would raise £800bn. A major positive for this scheme is that the tax would not have to be immediately paid. The richest 10% have only to assume liability for their small part of the debt. They can pay a low rate of interest on it and if they wish make it a charge on their property when they die. It would be akin to a student loan for the rich.

Philo claims the idea is very popular with 74% endorsing it in a Yougov poll of 2000 people with the very rich being more supportive than the poor and the over 55s more so than any other age band. So here is a way of paying off the deficit, disproportionately by the very peoiple who have benefitted most from the boom which went bust. But the idea is unlikely to get any further than the bottom column of Monday's Guardian. Why? Because it is off the 'middle ground' agenda.

It will be seen as too 'radical'- yet the Coalition prides itself on being just this- and too 'maverick' because it originates from a rather leftwing academic. The result is that women, the poor and children will suffer most from what the Coalition has opted to do and which it seems the majority of the middle ground opinion seems to be endorsing. Now and again it would be nice if really radical solutions to intractable problems are genuinely examined on their merits. We might even surprise ourselves.

There's nothing socially just about robbing the hardest working and most successful people in our country.
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