Charles Nevin: A radical proposal... let's make tax fun

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The Independent Online

Tax, a. Sounds like: attacks. Word associations: unfair, cut, rise, green, Cameron, Osborne, up, down, shake it all about, Evan Davies smiling winningly in front of tricksy graphic, Gordon Brown, grinding on, brown envelope, unopened, goodness me, not long to 31 January now, is it?

Nothing, you will observe, terribly cheerful there. And there, though I, modestly, hesitate to upset the balance by entering any creative suggestions into such a well-audited set of expert accounts, lies a problem which has languished unattended since one hand was held out and another fumbled grudgingly and unenthusiastically in a pouch.

Yes, it's the image thing. Long, long before Ben Franklin was grumbling on about death and taxes, Plato, who could also be grumpy, was opining, in best Athenian taverna-bar tones, "Where there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income." No Attic tax breaks for philosophers, clearly.

There's little doubt, either, that the anti-tax camp has had some very attractive figures. One thinks, obviously, of Lady Godiva (the disrobing, you will recall, was in return for old-style Tory cuts), of Robin Hood, William Tell, Ken Dodd, and Tom Paine, with this revolutionary cry: "What at first was plunder assumed the softer name of revenue."

Winning taxers? Thin on the ground. History might not be written by losers, but it is by the taxed. To demonstrate what tax is up against, consider that people felt sorry for Al Capone when he went to jail for non-payment. Poor Eliot Ness, the real hero. All that, and being played by Kevin Costner.

Consider, too, that Baldwin, as Financial Secretary to the Treasury, worried about the national debt, voluntarily surrendered 20 per cent of his own wealth, £150,000, as an encouraging example. And it's barely remembered, a fate which makes me less than sanguine for green taxes, which, I fear, will face the same problem with the divergence between agreeable general principle and disagreeable personal implication which affects so many things, from the Lib Dems' penny on tax for education to actually reading A Brief History of Time.

No, what is needed is a fresh approach to tax: it's no good stressing its worthiness; we need to make it fun. Yes, I know the Inland Revenue has had those adverts with Mrs Doyle from Father Ted and the bloke with the glasses who is big on what the Romans did for us (although I haven't heard him mention the invention of the poll tax). But that's not enough. What about signing up the aforementioned master, Ken Dodd? The night I saw him, he brought the house down with this one: "Personal assessment? I invented that."

And what about some more imaginative taxes? Taxes, for instance, on political memoirs, veils, crosses, including the flag of St George, balaclavas, bling, suede shoes, cardigans, and, of course, celebrity. That last could be assessed on the amount of publicity, which raises the enticing prospect of PR people begging for no coverage (already popular in certain instances, but capable of a much wider application, such as blanket).

What, too, about a rebate from the Treasury when government policies - no names, no crap Bills (or invasions), take your spoilt choice - prove disastrous? That might concentrate a few grass-hopper minds. Lastly, likely to be controversial, but tax credits for writers who are positive about the virtues of revenue-raising could be particularly effective.

Giants on the Mersey

Good news, possibly, for Antony Gormley's splendid statues, left, threatened with eviction from Crosby beach because of the danger of distracted art lovers inadvertently drowning: bolder souls, across the Mersey in Wirral, aware that art needs to be dangerous, are said to be interested in taking them in. The last time I counted, there were also proposals over there for an 180- foot-high naked statue of Neptune, a giant glass version of Stonehenge, and, oh, yes, a full-sized replica of the Titanic permanently moored over at Liverpool's Pier Head. Unesco is already clucking about unseemly erections at a world heritage site, but I think all of them together would be a marvellous tribute to the wit, vision, and dramatic flux available only on Merseyside. Bring them on!

* Not a bad few days for baby boomers. First, we learn that we are to be courted and blandished by both Labour and Conservatives, anxious to secure the votes of the 7.6 million of us in Britain. Then, blow me, we learn that one of our Spanish colleagues, aged 45, has only gone and bagged Gina Lollobrigida! My problem, though, as we prepare to flex our carefully preserved muscle, is the name: "baby boomer" has always had too much dribble, romper suit and wailing about it for my taste. We need a new term for the generation of 1946 to 1957. Something dignified, which rules out both Sighers, after the noise we make every time we sit down, and Pre Beigers. I like Victors, a verbal play on maturity and an actor only we will remember; but I prefer something artfully combining the cool of then and now: Post Mods.