Taxing times

‘I feel that Boris has been let down once again and undermined by our parliamentary colleagues’

Christopher Chope, MP for Christchurch

If, instead, you think that the focus should be on the country, and not letting all of us down, you might want infighting to stop, and people to bring all their attention to bear on the problems we face.

Calls for a general election are now being made by the Johnson-supporting wing of the Tory party , presumably on the basis that governing for the next few years will be a thankless task, and any Labour government will be short-lived as a result.

Leaving aside the self-interest, and all the contradictions inherent in hoping for such a rapid turnaround (magical thinking doesn’t go big on consistency), let’s think briefly about realism and gratitude.

As someone put it over the weekend, you can’t have European levels of public services and American levels of taxation.

Perhaps we need to be having different conversations about tax.  Taxation might once have been a way for oppressive elites to extract money for their own purposes. In modern states, however, tax is about funding collaborative projects such as health, social care, education, libraries, roads, law and order, clean air and water and defense.  We all pay into the fund that provides these things. Tax, fairly imposed and sensibly spent, creates a safer, healthier, more civilized society.  Political debates, however, continue to caricature taxation as an assault on the liberty of the individual, a stifling restraint on growth and creativity, or as a vehicle for punishing the rich.  The lessons from several neighbouring countries that demonstrate that fairer, and often higher, taxation promotes collective well-being, creativity and, yes, economic stability and growth, are studiously (and ideologically) ignored. The effects on everybody’s well-being of less social inequality, shown by people such as Wilkinson and Pickett, are regularly consigned to the ‘dream on’, ‘loony left’, bins.

So, there is still very little open discussion of the fact that taxation is a way of raising money for the common good, and that we should all have to, indeed want to, contribute, according to our means. Paying tax should be seen as a powerful way in which we can all contribute to the task of coping with crises such as the one we face now. Why does such an argument still seem to being treated as politically toxic?

In the coming months and years, we’re all going to need to work hard to collaborate with each other, to restore and maintain as much unity as we can in the divided climate we have been thrown – or seduced –  into.  Paying our taxes, and perhaps having to pay more than we’ve been used to, will be a part of this. I don’t think this is an ideological position, it’s a hard economic fact, if we want to preserve our society.  The sooner we can readjust how we think and feel about tax, and have more nuanced discussions about everyone who can paying it, in proportion to their circumstances, the better. We recommended concerted efforts to change attitudes in this way in Intelligent Kindness – It’s depressing that this work is still urgently needed.

All of us above the poverty line probably need to be ready to pay more, and to be grateful to each other for doing so. And opting out (on any level) should not be an option. Many of us probably get this, though you wouldn’t think so by listening to the politicians.


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