Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Polly's Class Attack

Polly Toynbee. Just the name is enough to make you roll your eyes and groan. She is earnest of course, earnestly wrong about more or less everything. Take for instance her piece in The Guardian today in which she argues, ludicrously, that Cameron and Osborne's policies are designed to promote the wealth of the exceedingly wealthy. It is 'astonishing' in Polly world, 'that they have been so overt about it.'

What is she talking about? Has she identified some nefarious policy redolent of Dickensian England which will trample the poor into the dirt? Let's take a look:

'Cameron and Osborne's only known tax plans,' according to Polly 'gift £1.2 billion to the top 2% of wealthiest estates.'

Er, no. The Conservatives plans, which are on the backburner anyway thanks to the state of the public finances which no doubt Polly does not regard as a problem, do not gift anything. They merely stop dipping the states hands to quite the same extent into the estates of people who have already paid tax on their income. Allowing people to keep some of their own money is not a gift - except in Polly world. But then she probably thinks that all property is theft.

Polly then continues with her statistical sleights of hand which are worthy of the great financial conjuror Gordon Brown himself. 'Their marriage tax relief,' says our great sage, 'gifts 13 times more cash to the top than the bottom.'

Er, no. Again a peculiar use of the word gift. Allowing people to keep more of their earnings is not a gift. And the reason that people on higher earnings get more than those on lower earnings is because they earn more in the same way that they pay more tax. If Polly were to take her salary slip and compare it to one of the Guardian's cleaners she would find, I strongly suspect, that the government allows her to keep more each month than they allow the cleaning staff to keep. This is because she earned more in the first place. But this, according to La Toynbee, is the state gifting her money and extracting it from the poor put-upon cleaner.

Reversing Labour's 50p tax rate, says Polly, who is on a class war roll now and not to be diverted by mere facts, such as the inconvenient one that the Tories have not said they are going to scrap the 50p tax rate, although Labour have said that they hope it will be a temporary measure. But Polly doesn't care about that. Reversing this top rate, she says, will give £2.4 billion back to the top 1%.

Remember this is a tax rate that does not yet exist and which the Tories have not pledged to reverse. But this class war they are indulging in according to this Guardianista par excellence is handing back £2.4 billion of money that has not been taken yet and which is theirs anyway because they have earned it.

Polly makes it sound as though the Tories are going to dip their hands into the pockets of the poor and oppressed and hand it, no doubt with an evil laugh and a twirling of a demonic moustache, to some top-hatted toff who will spend it on private jets, Champagne and high living.

Our money you see is not our money at all. Our money is just what the state allows us to keep, according to the likes of Polly. These evil rich bastards earn too much money in the first place, no doubt by exploiting the workers and so deserve to be taxed til their pips squeak.

Class and fairness, says Polly, warming to her theme, is at the root of politics. It is an issue that Cameron went to Eton but it isn't an issue that Blair went to Fettes. Honestly, that's what she says. Why? Here's an answer, she says, albeit not a very good one but an answer all the same: Blair went in to power with pledges to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. Really, Polly? Have you ever tried living on that minimum wage? Ask your cleaner if you can compare payslips again. Labour created tax credits and so it is all okay says Polly. So they took tax with one hand and then, after lots of forms, lots of bureaucracy and two pay slips (ask your cleaner) they handed a bit back. That's okay then.

Perhaps, just perhaps, it would have been better not to tax them in the first place by raising allowances and lowering taxes generally? No, better to make them fill in forms and show them that the government is giving them money so that they can be pathetically grateful to their governing overlords and doff their caps. Although of course the governing overlords are not of a different class. Perish the thought. Everyone is equal - just some more than others.

But even though Polly approves of Blair's policies enough to forgive him his privileged education, she still thinks Labour is lacking and the class war is not enough. Labour hasn't done enough to tackle ballooning wealth. Yes, she thinks it is a problem that needs to be tackled rather than encouraged if we are ever going to see a return to prosperity - and that's for all, Polly.

Polly Toynbee's article is an argument that class still does tell in our modern society. But this is disingenuous. It's got nothing to do with class and everything to do with money. Polly doesn't like people who have it unless everyone has it. She honestly believes that the way to make the world fairer is to intervene and take money from the undeserving rich and hand it to the poor who are by definition deserving. She doesn't worry that this might disincentivise people, both rich and poor. She ignores basic human nature except when criticising 'the rich' for voting Tory to entrench their own wealth.

It is actually perfectly possible to be a Conservative and to want a fairer society and to help the poor, whatever Ms Toynbee thinks. We just don't happen to think that it is fair to penalise the successful as part of the methodology. People who are successful and consequently wealthy haven't done anything wrong. They are to be congratulated and encouraged not waged war upon. Should they pay more in tax? Of course they should. They already do. But bumping up their tax rates to 50% or even 60 % as Polly proposes is not fair, it is vindictive and will be counterproductive. There is plenty of evidence for this which Polly conveniently ignores.

I don't agree with everything David Cameron and George Osborne say as I have written many times. But to accuse them of favouring the rich and of engaging in a class war for their own side is crass and ridiculous and makes Polly Toynbee look even more absurd than usual. Conservatives believe in levelling up. Labour and Guardianistas believe in forcibly levelling everyone down by penalising the ambitious and successful. Presumably Polly doesn't want the next Google, Microsoft or Apple to come from these shores because some people would become stinking rich as a consequence. If she gets her way with tax policies she will be ensuring our decline and that anyone with any good ideas and ambition heads off somewhere that they will be welcome and even applauded.

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