5 October 2007

Blessed are the Meek

I have to say that there are few things I find more depressing than working-class Tories. People voting for their own oppression; turkeys voting for Christmas.

When car stickers started appearing on fairly modest Fiestas calling for an end to Inheritance Tax and I noticed the Daily Mail campaign to the same effect my heart sank. How can it be that the relatively poor have been conned into campaigning against a tax designed to share the wealth of the rich when they die, to prevent them from continuing to exercise their power from beyond the grave?

This has now become the headline-grabber from the Tory Party conference: only millionaires will pay tax in future. It has been packaged as a victory for the little guy. In reality it is a liberation from the oppression of taxation for those whose estates are worth hundreds of thousands of pounds which should rightfully be redistributed to the dispossessed who inhabit the wildernesses of run-down housing estates.

Even the Telegraph admits that only 6% of estates pay inheritance tax (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/09/24/nwealth124.xml), so this policy will benefit the richest sector of our population and disadvantage all those Mail readers who are being hoodwinked into supporting it. Inheritance Tax is not a left-wing wheeze growing out of the politics of envy. J. S. Mill was in favour of all wealth reverting to the state on death, and right-wing economists regret the passing on of wealth through the generations, which saps younger generations' entrepreneurial zeal.

A few years ago I attended a seminar organised by the Fabian Society--a well meaning attempt to 'modernise' Inheritance Tax to prevent just this sort of campaign to abolish it. The conclusions were fair, simple and obvious. The most helpful, which is also Green Party policy--hence my invitation--was to make the amount of tax paid relate to the wealth of the inheritor rather than the inheritee. Thus people including more relatives and friends, and especially poorer ones, in their wills, could effect distribution according to their own choice of beneficiaries.

An old friend used to say that where there's a will there's a relative. The disheartening conclusion to the media discussion of Inheritance Tax is that where there's a Tory spindoctor there's an ill-informed toady willing to believe him.


  1. The problem is that IHT now affects those of modest means. I am subject to a huge wodge of IHT, but I would not classify myself as "rich".

    It is all very well having principle as policy but unless you flesh it out and explain how it will operate, in detail so that people know how it will affect them, then the policy is worthless.

  2. The thing is, after the unchecked and devastating house price boom, working class terraced homes in some regions go for over 300k. This isn't really a windfall for anyone but the bankers as it just leads to younger members of the public bankrupting themselves to buy what used to be a modest family home. If the state takes a huge wodge of inheritance tax (to spend on what exactly?)it places in jeopardy the falling number of mortgage-free homes out there. I have no envy for someone who has escaped evermore brutal mortgage slavery by inheriting a house or a chunk of one. Would I rather see the banks seize control of more of the nation's housing stock via their loose-lending voodoo or let a few affluent middle class off the inhertiance tax hook? The latter every time.
    As for working class tories, yes it's depressing but te national mood is increasingly anti-State from everything from CCTV and ID cards to, yes, taxation. By often appearing a mixture of Respect, Old Labour and, in Derek Wall's case, some cringeworthy 70s throwback Marxism the Green Party isn't doing itself many favours.

  3. I agree with both of you. Why should the already mighty State apparatus screw even more out of hard-working and thrifty individuals and their families.

    Why should the State profiteer on the cut-throat house prices that the managerialists have been so pleased to see inflating beyond people's reach.

    Perhaps working class Tories are proof that working people have had enough of being patronised by the likes of Polly Toynbee and the champagne socialists.

    Look around you, and the greatest support for "Socialism" comes from the middle classes. The working classes can see that it offers no real solutions. They have more sense!

  4. I was discussing this with my flat-mates when it became a (possible) electoral issue recently, and I more or less agree with the J.S. Mill perspective on this. Why should an independent subjective experience (i.e. a self) benefit so much due to their fortunate parentage? We do not choose where we begin our lives, and to think about it from behind the Rawlsian veil of ignorance, we should choose the most equitable distribution system. You should be tested on your own talents (if you're a real meritocrat), and not those of your parents.

    The only issue is with the reliability, honesty and accountability of the government. If this government were given the revenues of every inheritance it is conceivable that much of it would not be redistributed. It would be siphoned off to the private sector through PPPs and PFIs, or spent on huge capital enterprises like bloody great nuclear power plants. All this would be defended as in the public interest, and with a mandate from the public, no doubt.

    Another issue with this proposed reform to inheritance tax is that it is the super-rich (who would still be targeted) who can afford to find the most creative accountants to actually avoid paying much of what they owe. If we were to close up these loop-holes, the super-rich would just leave for pastures more economically libertarian (such as Switzerland or the Cayman Islands, I suppose) taking their untaxed revenue with them.

    It is somewhat unnerving to realise how little trust of the State there is left in the general public. Greater representation, decentralisation and accountability is the only way to rebuild this. The people are in charge, not our representatives.