Thursday, 9 April 2015

Polly and the Non-Doms

I like Polly Toynbee. In my book A Classless Society, I celebrated her 1995 article in the aftermath of the fiftieth anniversary of VE Day, when she chided the British nation for being so obsessed with the past on 8 May that it forgot to make anything of Europe Day on 9 May. Leave aside that nonsense about defeating Nazism, she urged us, and get on with celebrating the EU. To be charitable, let's assume it was satire.

Her latest piece in the Guardian is a little less frivolous. She argues that the Labour Party's commitment to (sort of) abolishing the non-domiciled tax category may prove to be as 'totemic' as Margaret Thatcher's policy of selling council houses to their tenants. Whether the commitment (if enacted) would raise any revenue is irrelevant: 'The message, not the money, is what matters.'

I think she's right. This is a purely symbolic gesture. And I suspect it may play very well, possibly even among those Labour voters who are being tempted toward Ukip.

But what is the message that Ed Miliband is sending out with this announcement? According to Toynbee, it represents, along with the 'mansion' tax and the 50 per cent tax rate, a 'significant break with New Labour's contamination, infatuation and fear of the super-rich'.

And that seems to me to be a bit of a letdown. If even Labour's friends (and I believe that Toynbee is presently a friend of the Party) can only spin this as being an exorcism of New Labour ghosts, that doesn't really fit into the category of 'totemic policies that announce what a party stands for'. Rather, it's negative; it announces what Miliband is against, not what he's for. And what he's against, says Toynbee, is Tony Blair. Which is as a good way of uniting the nation as any, but is a slightly odd approach to take for the leader of the Labour Party.

A decent policy, but not one that feels like it's in the same class as council-house sales. More like Blair's own attack on Clause Four, though a bit later in the day.

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