Tax debates and press priorities

By Symon Hill
September 21, 2009

The Liberal Democrats have called for a small extra tax on very expensive houses and the response has been sadly predictable. Within hours of the announcement, the Evening Standard was describing it as a “soak the rich” policy that would “threaten” the party's' hold in a considerable number of constituencies.

This is bizarre, given that the tax would apply only to houses valued at over £1million, thus affecting no more than 1% of homes across the country. In some constituencies, there would be virtually none at all.

In reality, far more people would be directly affected by changes to pensions or welfare benefits than by minor increases in taxes for millionaires. But you wouldn't think it from the media reaction.

The right-wing press frequently give the impression that suggested tax increases for the rich will apply to far more people than is actually the case. They have developed the art of implying that their average readers will be affected without actually saying so.

Not long ago, the Mail and Express whipped up public opposition to inheritance tax while ignoring the reality that less than 10% of the population are rich enough to pay any. When Labour timidly introduced a slight increase in income tax for the very richest, this was described in parts of the media as a “lurch to the left”.

I'm delighted when any party seriously considers tax increases for those who have taken the most from society, even if those increases are far too slight and for very few people. However, we are unlikely to see any significant change to our economic system unless we tackle the grotesque distortion of priorities that sees an obsessive focus on the interests of the very rich to the exclusion of the rest of us.

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