Giving ‘One Nation’ some definition
One Nation Labour desperately needed some definition, having drifted from a powerful slogan to a catch-all term for anything and everything. In his speech on the economy today, Ed Miliband has begun to give it some.
The call to reinstate the 10p tax band, paid for by a levy on the wealthiest homes, ticks a lot of boxes. It helps put some distance between ‘One Nation’ Labour and one of the biggest political mistakes of the last government. Gordon Brown’s reputation never fully recovered from the decision to axe the 10p tax in 2007. Labour, at least, can now begin to move on.
Today’s announcement also neutralises two of the biggest arguments coming out of the coalition. The Lib Dem policy to increase the personal allowance and the Conservative rhetoric around ‘strivers’ both put Labour on the wrong side of the debate about supporting the incomes of low earners. The reality, of course, is more complicated, when VAT rises and cuts to tax credits are factored in – but Labour has never said how it would pay for reversing these choices in any case.
Finally, the way the money is raised is important too. It is an odd thing that a party of ‘labour’ has proven so keen to tax work in the past. The emphasis on taxing high value property – wealth which is often accumulated without much risk or hard work – is a much better route.
As I have argued before (here, here and here) it allows for a credible story to be developed around supporting those who contribute to Britain’s prosperity. Of course there will criticism, opposition and claims of an attack on ‘middle England’, but this is an argument that is both winnable and worth having.
Tory modernisers, particularly of the ‘blue collar’ variety, will be disappointed that Labour has been allowed to steal a march. Robert Halfon, the impressive MP for Harlow, has been campaigning for months on restoring the 10p tax rate, while Tim Montgomerie has opened up a debate on the merits of taxing some forms of wealth over work.
It is said that the Chancellor himself was attracted to the idea (as his biographer is too) but that the Prime Minister refused to countenance the idea. With Miliband making a bold and decisive move, the ball is back in the Government’s court.