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Were Margaret Thatcher And Dwight Eisenhower 'Crazed, Immoral, Class Warriors'?

Telegraph columnist Iain Martin claims Labour's 50p top rate of tax pledge is 'crazed, immoral class warfare'. But in doing so, he ignores the lessons of history, examples from abroad, empirical evidence and the opinion polls.

In the past 72 hours, since Ed Balls revealed Labour's plan to bring back the 50p top rate of tax on earnings above £150,000, Conservative Party and City-types have reacted with fury and bewilderment. The attacks have come in thick and fast - 'anti-business' (George Osborne), 'politics of envy' (Lord Myners), 'disaster for enterprise' (Institute for Economic Affairs), yada yada yada.

The award for hyperbole and inaccuracy, however, has to go to Iain Martin of the Sunday Telegraph - a journalist whom I admire and respect and with whom I debated the issue on yesterday's Daily Politics on BBC2.

"Labour's 50p tax hike," reads the headline to Iain Martin's latest Telegraph blogpost, is "crazed, immoral class warfare".

Really? I mean, really? Okay, well let's ask a few pertinent questions then.

Was Margaret Thatcher a crazed, immoral class warrior? After all, as I pointed out to Iain on the Daily Politics, the top rate of tax for nine of the Iron Lady's 11 years in office was 60%, not 50%. According to her chancellor, Nigel Lawson, Thatcher was "anxious about cutting the top rate of 60p all the way to 40p [in 1988], and thought 50p might be a better staging post". Proper Marxism, eh?

Was Dwight Eisenhower a crazed, immoral class warrior? The Republican president (and World War II hero) inherited a top rate tax of 92% which he reduced to.. wait for it.. 91%. Yet this astonishingly-high marginal tax rate on the rich didn't harm his reputation as a conservative, nor did it stop the US economy enjoying one of the biggest booms in its history during the 1950s.

Is Ocado chairman Stuart Rose a crazed, immoral class warrior? The former M&S boss may have signed a letter to the Telegraph on Monday objecting to Labour's 50p pledge but, as the New Statesman's George Eaton reminds us, he was singing a different tune back in 2011: "I don't think that they should reduce the income tax rate. How would I explain to my secretary that I am getting less tax on my income, which is palpably bigger than hers, when hers is not going down? If, in the short term, a case was made for me to pay more than 50 per cent tax, which would help UK plc, I personally - Stuart Rose - would be prepared to pay more tax." (Rose has yet to explain, let alone justify, his about-turn on this issue.)

Is Martin's Telegraph colleague, Peter Oborne, a crazed, immoral class warrior? Oborne, one of the UK's best-known conservative columnists and an ardent supporter of austerity and free markets, says he is "certain that the shadow chancellor is right to make his 50p pledge, and furthermore there are solid Conservative reasons to justify his action." Pinko Peter!

Are the boffins at the International Monetary Fund crazed, immoral class warriors? A study of the world's advanced economies by the IMF in October 2013 found that the top rate of tax that maximised income was 60%. As a result, concluded the Fund, "it might indeed be possible to raise more from those with the highest income". Damn those IMF commie bastards!

Are the Austrians and the Japanese crazed, immoral class warriors? Both countries, after all, have a top rate tax of 50%.

And finally, are six out of ten Britons, a clear majority of the populace, crazed, immoral class warriors, too? According to the Mail on Sunday's Survation poll, 60% of voters support Balls' 50p tax pledge; a mere 17% oppose it. My favourite bit of the poll? More Tory voters support a higher top rate of tax than oppose it.

Back to you, Iain...

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