The late Tony Benn – “persistent commoner”, socialist behemoth, poster-boy of my fine brethren “the liberal metropolitan elite” – was, it transpires, wonderfully tax-efficient.
His eight-bedroom ancestral home Stansgate Abbey Farm was placed in a trust and so will not be subject to inheritance tax. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s legally watertight. Paying large lumps of cash to the taxman is a very unpleasant business, in my opinion. It’s also a very unfashionable opinion in the current era of panto-politics where the correct thing to say, when faced with a tax bill, is “Ooh, hooray! If only I could pay more!” Or when spying say, Gary Barlow’s efficient accounts, one must say Barlow is evil, because, plainly, all Tories are evil.
The columnist Hugo Rifkind wrote a fantastic piece about the futility of branding every Tory deed – education reform, benefit cuts, efficient tax returns – as “evil”, as it leaves us nowhere to manoeuvre with debate. It was a good point, but we all ignored him.
And here, in Benn’s case, no one appears to feel irked by his fiscal wiseness. Or by his decision to leave his £5m to his children, keeping the wealth snugly in the bank accounts of his bloodline. Benn did not reject the notion of future generations of his family having “a silver spoon”. Nor did he disperse his funds around food banks, women’s refuges or campaign funds for the 2015 election.
This isn’t an attack on Tony Benn. He was to my mind a terrifically good egg, with a staggering political legacy, but his will, which is a very personal matter, denoting the truest intentions of his heart, is beautifully Tory. And importantly, in the public’s mind, nothing evil is happening here. In the minds of socialists, this “evil” downgrades to “just doing what anyone sensible would do”. I mean, you would, wouldn’t you?
However, in our current British political state of two-party rutting, the Tories we hear, are “evil” for wishing their children to attend brilliant schools, for keeping wealth within bloodlines, for quibbling about tax-raises, for harbouring property portfolios, for choosing private health care and for employing home helps. Yet when we find vocal metropolitan socialists doing exactly the same things – which they do in droves, oh I could write an entire book – the response is, “What, we can’t have an opinion on how the world works unless we’re so poor we can’t afford shoes?” With irony, this is what George Osborne experiences every time he opens his mouth.
Meanwhile, voters and vote-abstainers throughout Britain – from Ukip rosette-wearers to Russell Brand disciples – moan that current politics alienates them. While there are many, many disgruntlements at play here, I can’t help feel that much of it comes under the large umbrella that sees Westminster and all of its noisy, sharp-elbowed chums in business and media as being “deep down, all the bloody same”.
Kids who adore Russell Brand can be forgiven for seeing today’s politics as, more or less, two factions quacking over who is worse while everyone on both sides looks out for themselves and the maintainment of their jolly status quo. How I wish this was ridiculously off the mark. Perhaps then we would suffer less of Brand’s knee-clutching on Newsnight or images of Farage open-thighed in a pub representing “the common man”.
Farage’s neat trick is that he doesn’t care if people think he is good or evil at all. He simply and rather beautifully operates so far outside of the acceptable Westminster “metropolitan elite” bunfight that fingerpointing at his flaws is futile.
By simply being “not like the others”, Farage is such a breath of fresh air to many that next year’s election could be a victory for the “Here is a man who cares that the EU wants to reduce hoover suction” party. Farage can’t be a hypocrite to voters: they’re not totally sure what he stands for. There would be no point telling Ukip voters that Farage does or doesn’t want to pay all of his inheritance tax, or wants his kids to inherit wealth. He was never a saint in the first place.
Elsewhere, Brand’s political power augments daily via his frenetic energy and his persistence that every single soul currently with power – including columnists – should be swept aside, ignored or fought against (peacefully and lovingly). But his greatest trick is his utter refusal to answer any actual questions about how any of his ideas actually work.
Clearly, the moment Brand begins answering any of these questions then he is little more than one of the poor gorgons down at Prime Minister’s Questions – the ones making excuses and stepping on people – whom he so loathes. Questions like: "So, why are you selling your book through Amazon when there is an investigation into their tax arrangements?", or, “How can you dismantle General Motors when it employs 220,000 people?”, or “Can you tell us if any of your properties are in trust to avoid inheritance tax?”, or, “If you are so against the wealthiest families in Britain, why did you forge the first part of your revolution using Jemima Goldsmith’s wi-fi?”
The rise of both Brand and Farage has proven one thing: to many people the Tories and the socialists are an indistinguishable mass of squawking, fingerprinting and hypocrisy that means nothing to them. And with the lack of a political colossus on the horizon like Tony Benn, we can make do with that guy from Get Him To The Greek who was once wed to Katy Perry. I shall resist pillorying Brand any further. He looks exhausted. I’m not entirely evil.
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