There has been much back and forth in the last few weeks about manion taxes, reintroduction of the 10p tax rate, capital gains tax and the economy generally. YouGov polled on the introduction of a mansion tax specifically, and found that two thirds of people supported one on houses worth more than £2m. Tim Montgomerie has been a persuasive advocate of wealth taxes generally, and Rob Halfon’s campaign on the 10p tax certainly has a more coherent structure than Labour’s attempt to think about it.
But there is, as ever, a wider problem with all of this which is that as usual we are talking about trying to raise more money. Why not, just for once, actually take seriously the challenges George Osborne used to set for policy thinkers such as John Redwood, Michael Forsyth and Ken Clarke, and examine what actually has to be spent to provide the kinds of services we are agreed as a nation that we want, with a proper focus on what actually works as opposed to what we have a personal fancy for?
What has the Office for Tax Simplification done since it was established in 2010? Because I have to tell you, I can’t really find anything that is simpler. Complaining about multi-national companies and rich individuals obeying the letter of the law is pointless when the law that politicians have written means that very complicated manoeuvres are worthwhile.
I am a Conservative. I think people should be trusted to make their own choices and left to spend the money they earn through their own hard work. But I also want to see a humane and supportive state that enables people to work and to succeed – and that has to be paid for. I am entirely happy to pay taxes that I know will be well-spent on delivering good services. I am not happy to pay taxes that are squandered on pet projects and endless recycled and wasteful transfers from one to the other and back again, and which do not make life better for anyone.
The announcement of a sort of NICE for other areas (local economic growth, crime reduction, early intervention in childcare and healthy old-age) is an encouraging sign that some serious thinking about the value and outcomes of government spending is – at last – underway again. But as well as the political handling of their analyses, it’s important to ask a more fundamental question: does this really means anything? So often governments (of all stripes) announce these very technocratic initiatives which then recommend changes which politicians ignore as too difficult or too damaging to ‘their people’. It’s a bundle of huge cliches but of course the devil is in the detail, the proof is in the pudding and you can be penny-wise and pound-foolish…