Monday 16 November 2009

Boris goes over the top

The 50p tax is not far, in its political motive, from Stalin's assault on the kulaks.

So writes London Mayor Boris Johnson in the Daily Telegraph.

The New Statesman wonders whether a Reductio ad Stalinum ever adds much to political debate. Given that Margaret Thatcher maintained a 60p top rate until 1988, perhaps it should be possible to disagree about progressive taxation versus the case for lower taxes at the top without throwing around accusations of genocidal intent.

One might have thought the column was politically provocative enough in its clear implication that the Tory frontbench will probably never reverse the top rate, as Andrew Sparrow notes, and in setting out Boris Johnson's strategy to distance himself from David Cameron to run for re-election for Mayor, of which Tim Montgomerie has a good analysis, while happily establishing himself as the darling of the party's right if ever they are thinking about future leaders too.

Still, Boris thought he had better throw in the accusation of genocide too, perhaps to show that the Old Boris hasn't been entirely demobilised by the grown-up constraints of office.

But the Mayor would like to be clear about one thing.

Above all, Labour wants to portray any opponent of the new tax as a thoughtless defender of the rich. We are not. The truly rich will get a smarter accountant or buzz off to Zug. What we want to protect is the spirit of enterprise that has been so vital in reviving this country in the past 25 years, a revival that has helped all sectors of society.

Poor Boris won't be off to Zug. (More's the shame). Ergo, by his own argument, he is not part of "the truly rich", just a jobbing hack who has landed on his feet while holding together two jobs to help make ends meet.

So perhaps Boris becomes another prize example, a good way up the scale within the top 1% of earners, of the psychological phenomenon noted in the Fabian Society's research on attitudes to inequality for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation where, psychologically, we all seem to place ourselves somewhere "in the middle" of the income spectrum, however much or little we earn.

Boris does comfortably make the £350,000+ to be in the "top 0.1%" club of just under 50,000 top earners in the country, but given that average earnings in this cohort are over £750,000 a year, Boris may feel that his public office makes it a struggle to keep up with some of his peers.

So Boris would happily and coincidentally keep over £20,000 more of his earnings from the Daily Telegraph second income were his policy advice to be heeded.

But that won't be his motivation.

After all, he has infamously described the £250,000 he earns as a supplementary second income for "knocking off an article on a Sunday morning", as "chicken feed", beyond the £140,000 he earns as London Mayor, and no doubt other earnings too.

This is political rather personal. Like his unhelpful Lisbon intervention, Boris Johnson is very clear that his party's heart beats on the right, and I can not see that he has ever yet wanted to be on the unpopular side of the debate within his own party.

Perhaps David Cameron had better watch out.

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