IT has been terrible this past week to hear the anguished cries of the rich at the news that they will shortly have to cough up more to the taxman.
Everyone I speak to about this says the same thing: “Isn’t it awful that the wealth-creators and risk-takers will have to pay 50% tax on their income over £150,000? What’s this country coming to?”
I don’t know how that nasty Alistair Darling thought he could get away with squeezing the super-wealthy to pay for a recession for which the mega-rich are in no way responsible.
Still at least the Conservative Party have been on hand to speak up for this oppressed minority.
Boris Johnson described the 50p tax rate as an “assault on London” which would force hard-pressed City workers to flee to Switzerland. The poor lambs.
The Mayor of London added that the Tories must fight Labour’s tax hike: “If we keep schtum, they will simply do it again. Why not 55 per cent? Why not 60 per cent?” Why not indeed, Mr Johnson.
Then there was senior Tory MP Michael Fallon who thinks Gordon Brown’s tax hike is “class war”. How right you are, Mr Fallon. A slight increase in taxes for the rich? That’s exactly how Lenin got started.
And finally, there’s Conservative leader David Cameron who likened the tax change to a criminal act in a speech at the weekend.
“When I see Brown and Darling, I’m reminded of those people who come to your door; one pretends to read your gas meter, while the other robs your house.
“50p income tax when you have a budget deficit of £175bn? That’s not responsibility - it’s distraction burglary.”
So there you have it ladies and gentlemen. The Leader of the Opposition – and in all likelihood the next Prime Minister – considers increasing taxes on the rich to be “burglary”.
In case Mr Cameron is unaware, I should point out at this stage that such Government “theft” helps to pay for things like schools, hospitals and roads.
Listening to all this bleating from the Tories, it’s worth bearing in mind that only 1% of people earn more than £150,000. I sat down and tried to think of someone I know who makes that kind of money.
Kirklees Council’s chief executive Rob Vincent, who I’ve met a few times, takes home nearly enough to be hit by the tax rise, but he’s still a little way short. Other than that, I drew a blank.
People on more than £150,000 are the elite – and among their ranks are nearly all the people who caused this economic crisis in the first place. Asking this group to pay more to help get the country out of this mess is far from unreasonable, in fact it’s long overdue.
There’s a strong moral argument for the rich to pay a higher percentage of income tax than everyone else. If the taxman takes 25% of a poor man’s wage, his children might go hungry. If the same taxman takes a quarter of a rich man’s salary, his kids will not go unfed, though he may have to forego that ivory back-scratcher he had his eyes on.
Yet the fairness argument is not one that this Government can make with any credibility.
New Labour has always been in thrall to the super-rich, especially Blair who palled around with Berlusconi, Murdoch and Branson.
For years they backed away from doing anything which would inconvenience the top 1% of society. While stealth taxes rose for those on low and moderate incomes, the 40p top tax rate was set in stone and the tax fiddles of the wealthy were left untouched.
Now finally, as this dying Government wheezes to its end, it has put up taxes for the rich.
Perhaps this is just, as the Conservatives say, a desperate populist move by a discredited Government.
If it is, it’s too little too late. Nothing short of a miracle will save Labour from a pasting at the polls next year. A tax change won’t be enough to turn the tide.
But at least the new 50p tax rate has told us something about the priorities of the party which will soon be in charge.