Elections are won by the side that can reach out beyond their core supporters and persuade a plurality of voters that theirs are the best policies. What is striking at the moment, is how completely the left have failed to understand their opponents’ beliefs and motivations. For this, I blame the echo-chamber of social media, and I think lefties are far, far more prone to this running down idealogical rabbit-holes than their opponents. Anyone debating lefties on Twitter will very quickly find utter incomprehension that anyone could think like that, and then get blocked. Labour is using social media to talk to itself, and therefore gets stuck with some really, really bad ideas.
I was arguing with a left-wing activist last night and I was put in mind of this great post from Fifty Shades of Dave. For her it was simply inconceivable that anyone could object to high marginal tax-rates on “the rich”, as soon as they had “enough”. “Enough” in this context was enough for a small flat. Taking more and objecting to paying eye-watering taxes in this world view was immoral, and utterly, incomprehensibly greedy. I tried to explain that someone on the higher rate tax was by no-means “rich”, that a 40% income paid at some point by nearly half of the population, and that going higher, on the additional rate tax-payers, didn’t raise much money. There was no acceptance that perhaps, if you’re going to levy a tax, the opinions of those who might actually have to pay it, are relevant. But to no avail. This moral view of taxation, and the view that the high-paid are simply immoral is deeply entrenched on the left.
The problem for the left create for themselves with this world-view is this: Poor people do not desire, or even expect to remain poor. For most “young families” “poverty” as defined in relative terms by the left is a phase. You’re poor when you’re setting up home and building a career. Poverty for me was a phase. It was for my parents, and indeed my Grandparents. Money was a struggle. And then for most, it ceases to be as debts are paid off, and income rises. By your middle age, you’re no-longer struggling for money. You’ve worked hard, and you can enjoy the fruits of your labours. If that’s a nice car, a bigger house or simply not worrying about having another pina colada on holiday, it’s no matter. Most people who’ve worked hard and paid their taxes, see these comforts as the just deserts of ‘knuckling down’.
Labour’s rhetoric during the election campaign instead thought of poverty as a Caste. Poor people who’re totally dependent upon the state for their very survival, who lack any agency to better their condition. And this world-view can only come from the Milibands of the world, who’re born into money, and for whom concern for the (abstract concept of) the poor is a form of value signalling. The only poor they’ve met are wheeled in by party activists for photo-ops. They are completely out of touch. in this they’re supported by professional farmers of the poor, whose interests are best served by keeping their flock servile and dependent.
But the poor, by and large, do not resent the successful middle aged plumber/businessman in a nice car. Especially if that person is a neighbour who represents a route by which the apprentice plumber can get to the comforts of a decent income, and the self-respect that comes from hard work. Labour was telling these people that they were too stupid to make it. That they were without hope without state help. And that if they did “make it” they were selfish and wicked, and would have it taxed off them. David Cameron is no less out of Touch of the poor than Miliband, but unlike Miliband Cameron is not pretending to be something he’s not, and much as Miliband would like it to be otherwise, the people don’t really hate and fear the Toffs as much as Labour think they ought. Indeed people often would quite like to BE a toff one day.
The left assume the poor will always remain poor and so would always support punitive taxation on “the rich” because only 20% of the population pay higher rate tax. But nearly 50% do AT SOME POINT IN THEIR LIVES” and even more aspire to. Fewer will get to the £100,000 62% marginal rate, but a good many would like to. Very, very few Tories utter the word “scrounger”, the Newspaper which uses that word most, is the Guardian, whose columnists put the word into Tories’ mouths, a comforting straw man, the right-wing ogre who hates poor people and wants to hurt them. And because they’re arguing, to applause from social media, against a figment of their own fevered imaginations, they’re ignored.
High marginal rates of taxation simply don’t raise much money. Yet this is now the moral shibboleth of the left, but this signals the hostility to “aspiration” that is crippling the labour party. No-one aspires to a better life on benefits, yet this appears to be the left’s offer to the poor. Tony Blair was relaxed about people getting filthy rich. Life on benefits is supposed to be a bit crap and limiting. If it wasn’t, there’d be little incentive to work. Now it is the Tories who’re saying “here’s the route out of poverty, we’ll smooth the road, and get out of your way”. Millions of new jobs, admittedly some crap, means millions of people, some of whom formerly existed on benefits, now have a wage. And that some of these wages are topped up by in-work benefits is a feature, not a bug of “making work pay” through the Universal Credit. There are no longer any people facing marginal tax/benefit withdrawal rates over 100%. There were in 2010. And wages rise through people’s lifetimes. People know this, it seems the Labour party don’t.
People didn’t vote Tories because they hated poor people, or the NHS, or were stupidly voting against their interests, as the great wail of pain and confusion from the left on Social media would have it, but because the Labour offer to people was utterly ghastly. Labour’s offer consisted of rich, Oxbridge people saying “Have some more benefits, you worthless pleb, you’ll never make it. And if you don’t like it, you’re evil, and we’ll tax you.” Is it any wonder Labour lost? David Cameron may not have successfully reached far beyond his base, but at least he’s trying.
Just as Tony Blair had to smash it into Labour’s thick skull that nationalisation of the means of production was a bad idea to win an election, the next Labour Prime Minister will not come into office threatening anyone with a 50p tax.