“Good God, they might just do it!”

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That was my reaction to the Sunday Times/YouGov poll today suggesting that Labour had managed to close the Tory lead down to just 2 points. While I expected the polls to close as election day drew nearer, and wouldn’t even be surprised by a margin such as that come 6 May, I never expect it to happen so quickly. You’ve got to hand it to Labour; they are starting to get the wind in their sales again.

But then, however much of a shambles the Tories may be at the moment, I’ve got to admit that they have a point when they ask, as they have been today, could you really face another five years of Gordon Brown? The idea fills me with dread. The silver lining on the Tory cloud was at least that there was a chance to remodel Labour along more liberal, less tribal and genuinely progressive lines. There are plenty of people in Labour I would happily see the Lib Dems working with in government; the current hegemony in charge at the top are a notable exception. That hegemony faces oblivion if Labour lose the election; if, hope against hope, they win, it will be another five years of one of most apocalyptically bad administrations we’ve ever seen.

I like to think that if Labour won they would unsentimentally ditch Brown as quickly as possible; he certainly has remarkably few genuine allies in the party. But that would not be without its problems either. Brown would have a personal mandate and it would be regicide on a scale that would make Thatcher’s assassins blush. The result would likely be a Brownite replacement who would quite possibly make Brown seem to be a wise sage in comparison (Balls, anyone?). The best we could hope for is a handful of reforms – including to the House of Lords – that Labour simply cannot continue putting off any longer (although Jack Straw will have a good go) and the prospect that a reduced majority will make it harder for the Brownite hegemony to continue to get its own way. The AV referendum will be a lost cause (the facts that it won’t survive if the Tories win and is highly unlikely to deliver a ‘yes’ vote explain why I struggle to get motivated by it either way).

For me, the most telling part of Peter Watt’s Inside Out was the section in which he describes how George Osborne wrong-footed Labour by announcing his plans to raise the inheritance tax threshold in 2007. No-one at the top of Labour had a clue how to respond to this (including, it has to be said, Watt). The same team were responsible for the 10p income tax rout a couple of months later. For these people, “fairness” is nothing more than an empty slogan designed to engender votes. It’s a branding exercise with no substance which they would ditch in a second if it had served its purpose. The only thing that makes Labour better in my eyes than the Tories is that there are a clutch of consciences sitting on their frontbench which occasionally remind the party of the principles it claims to expound (the baying mob on the Tory benches who are similarly keen to remind Cameron of Conservative principles could never be legitimately described as “consciences”).

I just don’t want either of the fuckers. To the 45% of the population living in a constituency where the Lib Dems are in first or second place: please. We might not be perfect but surely it’s the better option by a wide margin?

4 thoughts on ““Good God, they might just do it!”

  1. “No-one at the top of Labour had a clue how to respond to this (including, it has to be said, Watt). The same team were responsible for the 10p income tax rout a couple of months later. For these people, “fairness” is nothing more than an empty slogan designed to engender votes.”

    True, but the reason they were unable to respond properly to the IHT cut runs a little deeper than that. It shows how good policies which also happen to be quite complex are often trumped by bad, simple and populist ones.

    The truth is that the IHT threshhold may have needed to rise a little back in 2007 due to the rises in property values in some parts of the country, and that there were valid concerns from some people over the logistics of how and when allowances transferred, and when inheritance should and shouldn’t be taxed. But the side for IHT in general is not one which can easily be put in the type of soundbite that the case against it can. Saying “unearned income should be taxed” is a lot less sensationalist than saying “the government even taxes DEAD PEOPLE!”

  2. In an ideal world we would scrap IHT because we would have in place more effective means to tax wealth. An accessions tax would be good, full Land Value Taxation even better. But we aren’t in that ideal world and George Osborne et al want to take us further from it, not closer (who knows where Labour stand? They’re all over the place).

    As for populism and framing, I think there is a strong case to be made in favour of arguing for a tax shift away from income taxes and onto wealth. The current Lib Dem policy is broadly in that direction (although the emphasis is more on environmental taxes and closing loopholes on things like CGT and pensions than a real focus on wealth taxes). I contest that there are real votes in arguing for, basically, tax cuts for most people and specifically for working people. The problem is, most parties are in the thrall of a media conglomerate which threatens to jump on anyone who steps out of line. But their influence is on the wane and it is high time we called their bluff.

  3. Is your “wind in their sales” (instead of “sails”) subconcious or deliberate?

    Either way, it’s genius.

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