The Big Fence of Tax

A big fence of, erm, fencing

It’s been quite pleasant to see the reinvention of former Blairite Rottweiler Alastair Campbell as whoever is replacing Phillip Schofield to Rory Stewart’s Holly Willoughby on The Rest Is Politics podcast, and listen to these former adversaries “agreeably disagreeing”, as they would put it.

Except there isn’t that much disagreement between the pair. They’re both anti-Brexit, with a hatred for the populist post-truth tsunami of guff that’s been polluting our politics with an air of impunity that would only make sense if Therese Coffey were in charge of keeping them clean. They despise Putin and Trump, loathe Boris Johnson, and share an outward-looking approach to foreign affairs and international development. And, at the other end of the spectrum, Labour’s Corbyn experiment left them baffled and dazed and full of the joys of I-Told-You-So.

OMG, they’re basically me. And all the centrists I know. So why were they in different parties, even if they’re no longer in those parties now?

I blame the fence.

Imagine a fence that runs between the left wing and the right wing of British politics. That fence represents the proposition that the country needs a minimum level of public services in order for it to be habitable, and that those services must be paid for through taxation. If you’re just on the right of the fence you believe the proposition to be true and a necessary evil, and if you’re just to the left of that fence, you believe it’s true and a necessary good.

Most of the time, the people nearest the fence can co-exist happily and post sandwiches and Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers to each other through the bars, and talk about the many things they have in common, including the disdain they have for the people furthest away from the fence, who are, to be fair, absolute roasters.

But when money gets tight, the side that believes taxation is a necessary good will tend to raise the level of taxation to maintain and improve public services, while the side that believes taxation is a necessary evil will cut public services to maintain the level of taxation.

And that’s why, in the end, Alastair Campbell remains in the same camp as John McDonnell and Rory Stewart is on Liz Truss’s side. If they hadn’t already been booted out of both teams.

The Absence Of Godzilla

YOU’VE probably heard of Godzilla. Big green lizardy thing, stomps around a lot, doesn’t like buildings. I think he likes big packets of Chewits. I’m not entirely sure, I might be getting him mixed up with an advert.

Anyway, I’m going to ask you to employ all your empathic skills for a small exercise. Imagine being a person.

Doing that? Good. Now imagine being a person living in a city. More of a stretch if you live in the countryside, admittedly, but bear with me.

Still with me? Good, OK, now imagine being a person living in the city in which Godzilla is rampaging about the place, knocking down buildings, toppling things on other people, etc. Explosions, bricks, the lot. Would you be frightened? I know it’s not really happening, but this is an empathic exercise.

Now imagine Godzilla just stops and vanishes. There’s rubble all over the place, yes. Buildings on fire, Chewits wrappers everywhere – I don’t know, I’m not an expert in Japanese schlock culture – but no more Godzilla. Is that better?

I mean it’s not ideal. There’s still bits of building crumbling and some people are going to get hurt because of the after shocks. Ideally all the buildings would be back in place before teatime.

But the fact Godzilla has gone is an improvement in your life, isn’t it? A huge improvement, yes?

Good. Now imagine there are some people living in the next city while Godzilla’s rampaging about making a terrible nuisance of himself. Or herself. I don’t know, etc. And they’re looking at the devastation.

And an amazing scientist steps forward and says, “Look, everybody, I have created an amazing teleportation device. It will send Godzilla to THE MOON where he can’t do anybody any harm, apart from, perhaps, The Clangers. Isn’t it amazing?”

And all the people in the next city continue to look at the devastation and feel terrible as all the casualties mount up. And they turn to the amazing scientist and they say, “No.”

“But what?” says the amazing scientist.

“It’s no good just getting rid of Godzilla,” say the people in the next city. “They need all the buildings back as they were. EXACTLY as they were. Haven’t you got an amazing teleportation and immediate restoration of destroyed buildings back to their pristine condition device?”

“No, I mean, I could probably make one, but it’ll take years – FIVE OR POSSIBLY TEN YEARS,” says the amazing scientist.

“Right,” say the people in the next city. “Do that, then.”

“Can’t I just get rid of Godzilla for now, and sort out the rest later?”

“No,” say the people in the next city. “That does not fulfil all of our criteria.”

“But there won’t be any buildings left by then, and all the people will be trampled on. Go on, let me do it.”

“No,” say the people in the next city. “Not good enough. BYE!”

That was a good exercise, wasn’t it, children?

On an entirely different subject, I am increasingly despairing of middle class left-wingers who are refusing to back Labour at the next election, because “They’re just like the Tories.”

If you’re a middle class left-winger who’s tempted to abandon Labour at this point, ask yourself these questions: “Which party is more likely to redistribute wealth from the poorest to the richest, Labour or the Tories? Which party is more likely to privatise the NHS? Which party is more likely to cut the Welfare State right down to the bone?”

Ask yourself which party you’d rather have in charge. Then ask yourself if you can be self-indulgent enough to back a party which will take votes from Labour, and make it more likely for the Tories to get back in. And remember, it’s all right for you if you’re a middle class person, because you’re insulated from their excesses.

No, Labour is not a perfect solution to the vandalism of Tory austerity. And yes, they will come up with stupid Daily Mail reader-grabbing ideas like a Hippocratic oath for teachers.

But they won’t make it any worse for the people who need the most help. And sometimes that’s the best for which you can hope.

And in time we’ll be able to rebuild. But we can’t do that if the Tories are rampaging about, with Farage riding on their backs.

Just imagine what the Tories would do emboldened by a second term of office, on the back of the destruction they’ve already wrought on the post-War settlement.

And then don’t come to me the day after the General Election, with your Green badge, or your National Health Party rosette, and say, “It’s not my fault. I didn’t vote for Godzilla.”