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What I want from the Budget: some conservatism

18 March 2014

Budget day tomorrow, and I’m sure many of you will relish the reminder that you are, in George Osborne’s reported view, ‘successful’ because you pay 40p tax band.

It’s better than that, in fact. I know of men who ask their partners to make obscene references about their tax contribution during intimate moments, about how they are part of the 15 per cent of taxpayers who are reducing the deficit and making Britain the fastest-growing economy in the G7.

Stranger still, Osborne is reported to have said, although he denies everything, that the 40p tax made people more likely to vote Conservative. This is the polar opposite of the truth; the life choice most likely to steer men and women from left-liberal singleton lifestyles towards a conservative outlook is marriage and children; in the US, the GOP’s marriage gap for women is enormous.

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If the Conservatives are as interested in socially engineering the electorate as their opponents, then the one thing their economic policy should be steered at is making it easier for people to settle down and have kids.

Yet family formation is now very expensive; housing costs in particular mean that only the very rich and very poor can afford to have children, and that’s especially the case if one partner is at home with the kids (which I know in the eyes of Osbornian Conservatives is an offence to God). But the tax system also makes it hard, especially in London; according to the Financial Times, had the higher-rate threshold of income tax kept pace with wages it would be £75,700, rather than the £41,000 it currently is.

So my main hope for the budget is that the government eases the tax burden on middle-class earners; it can do this by raising the personal allowance threshold further or by raising the higher-rate threshold, which now catches 4.4 million taxpayers. How it saves the money is another matter.

All the best places to live in, a striking example being America during the middle-third of the 20th century, were middle-class societies with a large number of relatively well-off people who could afford to start families and enjoy the good things in life, and in which even poorer folk had a chicken in the pot. That’s precisely the opposite direction we seem to be heading, mainly due to technology and globalisation stripping out jobs but also cultural changes, too. (The BBC, for instance, the impartiality of which was questioned by Owen Jones yesterday, simply reflects the biases of the new ruling class, socially liberal but on some economic issues quite right-wing.)

And the problem with hellish dystopias, along with the crime, misery and general squalor, is that they don’t provide very fertile ground for centre-right libertarianism of the George Osborne variety. If you want people to vote Conservative, allow them the chance to live like Conservatives.

On the evening of Wednesday 19 March 2014, Fraser Nelson, James Forsyth and Andrew Neil will be discussing what George Osborne’s 2014 budget means. Click here to book tickets.

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Show comments
  • Frank

    Ed, at the risk of stating the obvious, we do not have a conservative government. Actually calling it a government is a bit much as we are ruled by a quad (which itself appears, on the Tory side, to be guided by focus groups and various un-elected individuals). Expecting something like this to have any sort of vision or coherent policy is sadly deluded. Further, it willing accepts its continual castration by Brussels, so it is a deeply sick administration.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    “…centre-right libertarianism of the George Osborne variety.”


    What in the name of Mother Gaia inspired you to come up with that description for that Cameroonian muppet, lad? Tell me this is satire. Please.

    If you want a conservative budget, it has to include spending restraints, lad. Forget all your typed words, and just say that. Less money spent, and more spending efficiency sought.

    • BarkingAtTreehuggers

      Will the regions sing a song of praise for your outpourings?
      Crossrail II is in the pipeline, yet funding for HS2 and other much needed infrastructure upgrades in the rest of England are still in question.
      How’s the wealth accumulation game going in the centre – real estate price rises there for no reason whatsoever focus our mind yet again that the periphery matters not in an ever-shrinking centralist ineptocracy.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        …and if you want a proper budget, it’s best to ignore the above socialist nutter.

  • Rupert_Napier

    I’m not completely sure I understand Ed’s point. The 40p tax bracket only applies, as Ed acknowledges, to the richest 15% of taxpayers (i.e. NOT the middle classes) whose wages have risen faster than inflation as The Rich Have Got Richer under the Coalition.

    On the other hand the costs of living, especially housing, have risen ever faster as a result of “technology and globalisation”; alternatively, and precisely as a result of globalisation and especially free trade, the cost of many household items, including chicken, has fallen significantly over the last 100 years, so that most people can eat meat everyday if they choose to do so.

    As for marriage, it’s mostly post hoc ergo propter hoc: the richest 15% are more likely to get married because they can afford to do so rather than the other way round.

  • BarkingAtTreehuggers

    There it is again, that beer that isn’t one. This is what’s wrong with Britain. Centralist ineptocrats have no idea of how to live like Conservatives.
    Everything they touch is in fact the opposite:
    Help to buy is help to sell.
    Share for rights is zero rights and hours contracts.
    ‘Paying off the deficit’ is doubling the debt.
    London Pride is a London Catastrophe.

  • mitate

    oh that any in the west could ever again live the lifestyle of middle america in the middle third of the 20thC.

  • Tom Tom

    Why do hotels and restaurants in Germany charge 7% VAT on food and lodging and 19% on drinks ? It is ridiculous that a low-wage sector like catering and hospitality gets hit with 20% VAT in a sector with 1-2% profit margin – I am with Tim Martin on this

    • HookesLaw

      What you do not mention is that Germany has 7% VAT on books and newspapers. Is Mr Martin keen to follow this German example? Do we have VAT on food? Do you suggest we put it on food?

      • ButcombeMan

        VAT really only works when it is very thinly spread. When VAT is on food, small producers and farmers markets prosper, high added value (usually unhealthy) food wanes and back to basics and good ingredients also prosper.

        VAT is actually on some foods in a typical supermarket, most people do not know on what.

        And 20% VAT, on anything, distorts behaviour. Hence the VAT de-registered small plumbers and electricians. The cash in hand practices. What tax is lost, is not just VAT.

        20% VAT feeds the black economy.

  • rugby god

    id like to see them accept that they are addicted to our money. then apologise for taking our money away so that they can spend it where they want to. and then actively work towards balancing our economy by simplifying the tax codes, and learning to live with running the country on 20% of what they currently do.

    • HookesLaw

      Indeed. But of course it’s us that would have to learn to live with the consequences. Or more tellingly – the voters.

  • HookesLaw

    Its a pity that Mr West’s only reference to the big problem this government faces is such a puerile one.
    The deficit needs to be reduced and its pretty pathetic Mr West and his insouciant bunch of friends nodding sagely about protecting the poorest from Labour’s mess but then whinging about the inevitable consequences.

    • Tom Tom

      Anyone can be poor, they just need to keep voting clowns into power

      • HookesLaw

        You have to be in work to get the benefit of the increased tax allowance. If you want to pay triple for your latte then by all means encourage Costa to double their staff’s wages

        • BarkingAtTreehuggers

          A working tax ‘credit’ is an oxymoron.
          A minimum wage that you cannot ‘live on’ is worthless.
          Paying housing benefits to private landlords for people in full-time employment is a perpetuation of a vicious circle.
          Not paying staff a high enough wage for them to subsist is slavery.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            Well, as you advocate an advanced form of socialist nuttery, perhaps you should move where such exists?

            • BarkingAtTreehuggers

              Nah, I will observe with great joy how the expropriation of the Scrooges and Rigsbys is reversed. Start with the West Coast Main Line, continue with nationwide public transport infrastructure and local energy generation game whilst returning to Thatcherite policy of ridding ourselves of the large scale and undesirable BTL filth.

              • the viceroy’s gin

                …does that mean you’re staying, and we won’t be rid of at least one socialist nutter?

  • Guest

    “I know of men who ask their partners to make obscene references about their tax contribution during intimate moments, about how they are part of the 15 per cent of taxpayers who are reducing the deficit and making Britain the fastest-growing economy in the G7.”

    Haha! No, you don’t.

    • HookesLaw

      Lets face it – this is a typical load of febrile Spectator rubbish.

  • Dan Grover

    As a young person with generally right wing views, I find some elements of the Conservative movement’s (for want of a better word – I’m not talking about the party exclusively, but also the general commentariat such as Ed here) lust for marriage pretty off putting. Not that I have anything against it – I believe that the family unit is the best place to raise children yada yada yada. I also, however, believe in the freedom to live ones life as one deems fit. I’m pretty fed up of being told that, unless I want to get married, I can’t possibly be a conservative.

    I believe in the power of the free market to improve people’s welfare, that the government’s social schemes have a place but that their goal should be in helping its recipients from no longer needing to be recipients, I believe in a strong military capable of defending our interests and that broadly speaking the people’s decision on where to spend their money is preferable to the state’s (even in instances where they make the wrong decision). I believe all of these things because I think they make our lives better, and it’s by doing *that* – making people’s lives better – that you’ll encourage people to vote Conservative. Meddling in the private lives of people and vilifying them for not following your view of what a proper life is – getting married, “settling down”, having children etc – has never been a part of conservatism and it’ll only ever appeal to those who already believe that their view of people’s lives should be the only one. Ie the worst parts of conservative paternalism, the yin to the left’s nanny-state yang.

    • monty61

      I don’t think anyone is telling you – personally – to get married. What’s at issue is the impact on society of the great mass of people in the middle struggling to have the means to marry and settle down due to high taxation and housing costs. Good social and economic policy would factor in the wide benefit of fostering stability in society – social and economic stability are good for the country as well as individuals.

      On the above reading your view of Conservatism is a bit muddled. Conservatives do have a positive vision of society and laissez-faire liberalism (which is what you principally seem to espouse) is somewhat lacking in this regard.

      • Dan Grover

        I agree with all you say in the first paragraph – but I think we should seek to foster a situation wherein people in the middle marrying and settling down isn’t an economic decision but a personal one. This is as opposed to what Ed seems to be suggesting, which is where we should go full tilt the other way and start economically incentivising people to do that (which he seems to see as politically expedient as it’ll drive voters towards the Tories). Perhaps I’m being a little unfair to Ed, but phrases like ” if one partner is at home with the kids (which I know in the eyes of Osbornian Conservatives is an offence to God)” suggests to me that he has a pretty clear idea of what he wants society to look like – as opposed to my preference for giving people the ability to choose.

        Re: your second paragraph, you’re probably right. The “positive vision of society”, though, is a bit of a tricky one. Conservatism naturally seeks to, uhh, conserve, but society has changed dramatically since the 40’s and you do rather end up with a situation wherein one has to ask “conserve… what?” I don’t mean that to say “there’s nothing worth conserving”, rather that people born at different times have different ideas of what’s worth conserving. Having never lived in an era of nuclear family normality (well… the degree to which it’s still normal is up for discussion), there are various other things that I consider valuable in a “positive vision of society”. I’m rambling really, but I think it’s something conservatives are going to have to come to terms with; That if they want a new generation of conservatives to follow, they’ll need to acknowledge that their idea of a positive vision might be radically different to what’s traditional. Still, I stress the importance – for me – of allowing people the option.

    • Tom Tom

      You confuse tax allowances with gifts – they are reliefs from expropriation. Serious countries have an existence minimum which cannot be taxed – ie sufficient income to raise a child or support a wife, but in the UK ALL incomes belong to THE STATE and what you are allowed to retain is a “gift” from The Party.

      People like you are brainwashed into thinking Big Brother has any right to tax anyone other than the Gangster power of force and threats

      • Dan Grover

        Sorry Tom, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m all in favour of giving people their money back, I’m simply arguing that this isn’t a freedom we should extend only to those fitting a specific idea of how we think society should be. I’m not married, nor do I have children – do I not deserve to pay less tax too?

        I agree that it’s a travesty that it’s so hard to afford to start a family.

        • Tom Tom

          “giving people their money back” ?????? You really are brainwashed

        • Tom Tom

          The State has no more right than a street gang to extort money from an individual. It does so by force and threats

          • Dan Grover

            The street gangs tend not to win elections (unless you’re in Northern Ireland) but I think you’ve made your position fairly clear here – literally all taxation is immoral and therefore anyone who advocates some taxes are brainwashed. Good-o.

      • HookesLaw

        I would happily see the abolition of all income taxes. It would be a useful target for any government. But you are really just talking a load of hysterical rubbish.

        • Wessex Man

          go for it Hooky!

        • Tom Tom

          Why income taxes especially ? You prefer regressive taxation, but you are a Tory so the answer is affirmative

          • BarkingAtTreehuggers

            Tax the asset, not the income. Value increases of £200k+ last year alone on average homes in the centre make it an easy thing to put on anyone’s to do list.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              …especially for you socialist nutters, who are basically just highway thugs anyway.

      • BarkingAtTreehuggers

        You have no God-given right to do business on my land!

        Enter the medieval gates of my community and pay a Wegezoll, then a Kirchenzehnt, you unbeliever.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …watch out, lad. They may be hanging the mentally deficient in those lands.

    • Mynydd

      A result of the free market, Northern Rock, RBS, and Lloyds had to be bailed out by the tax payer, they didn’t improve by welfare. Quite the opposite, with the interest on my savings less that the rate of inflation, I am still paying for the excises of the free market.

      • Dan Grover

        Au contraire, my friend – the free market wouldn’t have bailed them out at all. Please don’t misunderstand me; I wasn’t intending to conflate “the government” with “free market practitioners”. They are quite plainly not.

    • GraveDave

      I believe all of these things because I think they make our lives better, and it’s by doing *that* – making people’s lives better – that you’ll encourage people to vote Conservative.

      On paper the Cons always seem to have the better ideas. But then you vote them in and something always goes belly up somewhere.

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