D J Taylor: Bump up taxes...but not celebrities

The mother of all battles over revenue, mum's the word on Mrs Bercow, mum-to-be Beyoncé, and rivalry at the school gate

Share
Related Topics

The "higher taxes for the rich" debate, examples of which have recently broken out both here and in the United States, is probably the least productive argument in modern public discourse.

It generally begins with a "progressive" politician or opinion-broker suggesting that if times are hard, then social justice demands that a larger percentage of tax revenue should be extracted from those in a position to pay it, either by increases in the higher tax band or by adjustments to inheritance tax.

Like a row of iron filings dutifully obeying the magnet's call, these proposals attract the same agitated response – at any rate from the kind of economic liberal who regards almost any form of taxation as the infringement of a basic human right. The rich, we are constantly told, won't stick around in this envy-stricken tax regime of ours unless there are "incentives" for them to do so. Worse, adjusting the inheritance tax rates so that the self-made titan of some family business is forced to leave £30m to his grieving heirs rather than £40m is somehow to stifle his, and their, spirit of enterprise. To these reproaches can be added the traditional economic correspondent's complaint about the rich always being able to find ways of avoiding whatever tax hikes are pressed upon them by way of the highly-paid financial advisers who manage their affairs, thereby rendering the whole exercise futile.

Short of completely reforming the tax system there are only two ways of increasing tax revenues, neither of which involves increasing the rate of direct taxation. One is to bump up receipts from indirect taxation by selecting products and services which rich people enjoy and make the purchasers of them pay more. The other is to find a way of dragging Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs into the 21st century. Like many another tax payer, having settled the tax debt I owed at the end of July in the absence of a tax demand, I received a letter in mid-August explaining that the department had been overwhelmed and if I really felt the need I could wait until September without fear of penalty. This struck me as one of the most pathetic communications ever sent out by a government office.

***

One unlooked-for consequence of the sheer complexity of modern life is the extreme caution that has to be exercised in the pronouncing of a moral judgment. Such is the nature of the ties that bind us these days that practically no one can criticise anyone else without, in the end, being charged with hypocrisy. Lament the venality of some brutal mega-corporation whose disdain for environmental safeguards is a fixture of newspaper exposés and their presence in your pension scheme portfolio can be almost guaranteed. This was brought home to me the other day as I meditated a withering paragraph or two about the antics of Sally Bercow, wife to the Speaker of the House of Commons, evicted from the Celebrity Big Brother ménage but now engaged by Richard Desmond to write a column for the Daily Star Sunday.

The paragraph would naturally have begun by pointing out that Mr Desmond makes the greater part of his income from pornographic magazines and TV channels whose raison d'être is the exploitation and objectification of women, and that Mrs Bercow, consequently, is not much more than a smut-merchant's stooge. Then I recollected that not three months ago I had a short story published in another of Mr Desmond's organs, the Sunday Express Magazine. After which I decided that Mrs Bercow can write columns for whichever paper she wants to and it would be a good idea if I kept my mouth shut.

***

One task a modern social historian could profitably consider is establishing the date at which newspapers lost their highbrow/lowbrow divide and assumed that every reader was beguiled by celebrity tat. This reflection was prompted by the photographs of Beyoncé Knowles's pregnancy "bump" (see inset), which caused such a sensation at the MTV Video Music Awards and had both broadsheet and the red tops queuing up to buy the reproduction rights.

Even a quarter of a century ago, Ms Knowles's contemporary equivalent would have been as welcome on the front page of The Daily Telegraph as a fraternal greeting from the President of the Transport and General Workers' Union. I can remember the expressions of pained disapproval that accompanied The Times' decision to lead its obituaries page with Elvis Presley rather than the distinguished cleric who died on the same day in August 1977. One of the most obvious reasons for this obsession with mass culture, of course, is that newspaper editors, like politicians, grow younger by the day. There will never be another Bill Deedes, who edited the Telegraph well into his seventies. But just as politics could do with more Ken Clarkes, so the Fourth Estate could do with more sixtysomethings at the helm. At the very least they might be able to spare us Beyoncé's bump.

***

I was highly amused by newspaper reports of a survey, carried out by the kind people at Sainsbury, of the anxieties experienced by mothers forced to superintend the school run on the first day of term. According to the findings, the average mother is often deeply traumatised by the ordeal of having to match her peer group's array of fashionable hairstyles and designer clothing, and can spend as much as 25 minutes dressing and titivating herself before she leaves the house.

All this brought back memories of the establishment attended by my elder sons on West Hill, Putney, where a kind of guerrilla war of snobbery was fought at the school gate between the mothers who worked and those whose husbands' City jobs had wafted them into a lotus-land of playing tennis and having their hair done. But the way to stop Mrs X, who turns up to collect her children in Jimmy Choos, looking down her nose at Mrs Y, who lopes up to the gates in trainers, is blindingly obvious. Advocates of school uniforms usually maintain that the great advantage of Identikit blazers is their ability to remove the major source of differentiation between children. Clearly what is needed is something that removes the greatest source of differentiation between parents. A school which enforced a dress code on any adult coming within 50 yards of its premises would be striking a genuine blow for equality.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Science versus religion in the three-parent baby debate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show  

When an Aussie calls you a ‘bastard’, you know you’ve arrived

Howard Jacobson
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee