Opportunism. Now there's a word that you don't hear that often nowadays. Marxists had a rich lexicon of abuse for their political opponents, especially for those parties that were considered nominally of the left. Being a supporter of the Labour Party I don't use the term in that sense. Rather I want to make the point that putting short term electoral considerations above being honest and consistent with fundamental principles is likely to lead to longer term damage. Raising this in the context of objecting to Labour's proposals to cut the basic rate of income tax from 20 per cent to 18 per cent can make one sound both pompous and cranky but I'll take the risk.
A friend of mine emailed me from work this morning, declaring he was not too impressed with Rabbitte's "tax stunt". He then went on to say:
I'd always imagined that the best way to help the less well off was for the state to use tax revenues to fund targeted programs to help them out of poverty traps and by improving overall social infrastructure. Obviously not - handing them back a tenner a week is the way to improve the situation and build a fairer society!
Ouch! This is from a guy that goes out of his way to find reasons to vote Labour. Let's get down to basics here. Is it to be Boston of Berlin? Do we uphold the European Social Model or do we not? In his latest book Europe in the Global Age Anthony Giddens summarises what he takes to be the essential core elements of the model:
- a developed and interventionist state, funded by relatively high levels of taxation;
- a robust welfare system, which provides effective social protection, to some considerable degree for all citizens, but especially for those most in need;
- the limitation, or containment, of economic and other forms of inequality.
Relatively high, not punitive, levels of taxation. Ireland has one of the lowest tax burdens in Europe and there is no responsible economic case for lowering them while trying to fund public services equal to the best in Europe. To delve back into the Marxist lexicon again, I'm all for the primacy of politics over the dead hand of economism but not when it comes to further narrowing our tax base. You simply can't credibly promise to spend more and tax less.