THE BLOG

Raising the Top Rate of Income Tax Isn't About Envy, it's About Justice

27/01/2014 16:35 GMT | Updated 29/03/2014 09:59 GMT

Isn't it revelatory to witness the hysteria unleashed by the announcement of Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, that if elected in 2015 a Labour government will reintroduce the 50p top rate of income tax for high earners - those earning over £150,000?

You would think the Shadow Chancellor had just announced Labour's intention of turfing the Royals out of Buckingham Palace with the objective of turning it into a homeless shelter if elected in 2015. Even worse, you may even have thought he was advocating taking the banking, energy, and rail sectors into public ownership, raising the minimum wage to £25 per hour, while implementing a maximum wage.

Heaven forfend we should live in something approaching a civilised society?

All Ed Balls announced was a proposal to raise the top rate of income tax by 5%, yet we've had a parade of rich fat cats and their bag carriers going into overdrive in the media, deriding the idea as further evidence that Labour wants to take the nation back to the bad old days of tax and spend - in other words social and economic justice.

In truth the business community in Britain has never had it so good. Just think for a moment. The worst economic crisis to hit these shores in 100 years, caused by the untrammelled greed of the rich, in particular the banking and financial sector, yet despite this they have managed to get themselves a government devoted to their interests that has succeeded in turning said economic crisis into one caused by public spending, specifically spending on welfare.

Historians will look back on this period 50 years from now and wonder at the political genius of the current front bench in being able to demonise, marginalise, and isolate the unemployed and others claiming benefits from the rest of society, blaming them for the economic mess we're in. Yes, it's their laziness, lack of motivation, and fecklessness to blame, which is why they must be punished by the introduction of these draconian cuts.

The utter absurdity of a free market model of capitalism, responsible for the chaos we've been living through, still being credited with offering the only route out of the same chaos, is simply astounding. And yet it is exactly what the Tories and the various business leaders and their apologists who've come out against the shadow chancellor's proposal on income tax are proposing.

Hammering the poor for the greed of the rich is considered just and necessary in their eyes. Beyond shameful, this is despicable. Poverty is not a crime committed by those suffering from it. They are its victims. Yet you wouldn't think so given the unprecedented assault unleashed on the poor under this government, one that has almost reached the level of a bloodsport.

While the announcement by Ed Balls to restore the 50p top rate is welcome, it is striking how quickly be buckled in the face of the pro business mob's outcry in response. Suddenly he was doing his best to placate them with the assurance that it will only be a temporary measure. Can you imagine Nye Bevan caving in when he was laying down plans for the NHS and was subjected to a similar outcry from those who had a stake in the status quo at the time? Bevan's response was to come out publicly and declare the Tories 'lower than vermin'.

Fast forward to 2014 and we are living in a society in which words such as justice and equality increasingly belong to an ancient language, one that is near extinct. It is the language that once guided Labour and without which the party formed to represent the interests of working class people and the poor at the turn of the last century has been reduced to a whisper rather than the roar with which it once made its case. This country is in sore need of a Labour Party that is not afraid to stand up to big business and the rich. We need, desperately, policies that reflect the truth that wealth does not trickle down, as those champions of the free market would have us believe, and economic growth is driven from below rather than above. The option of business as usual, as the shadow chancellor said, is no option at all. The attacks on the poor by this Tory-led government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich has plunged millions of people into an abyss of despair. Given the corrosive impact of the injustice involved, we need a government with the teeth to stand up to the rich and big business rather than one that acts as their lackeys. What we have seen in recent years, using the economic crisis as a pretext, is the blatant and immoral transference of wealth from the poor to the rich in modern history.

Food banks don't lie. Neither do payday loans, poverty wages, zero hours contracts, and 13million living in poverty. Far from the evil it has been described by those determined to turn the clock back to a time when eradicating the poor rather than their poverty was deemed socially and morally acceptable, the welfare state is the cornerstone of justice and compassion in this country. It stands for something more than the greed and selfishness of an economic system predicated on profit regardless of the human or social cost. Rather than the poor and people on low incomes, the biggest recipients of government hand outs in Britain today - in the form of tax cuts, corporate subsidies, tax shelters etc - are the rich.

Raising the top rate of income tax isn't about envy, it's about justice. But it only goes so far. We also need to start talking about raising the minimum wage, clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion, and public ownership.

Enough is enough. The rich have been taking the rest of us for a ride for far too long.