Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The EU Referendum 8 - Whose side are you on, Mr. Smith?

Iain Duncan Smith, former leader of the Conservative and until recently a senior minister in the Government, has spoken against the EU on the grounds that "it favours the haves rather than have-nots".

Now I am really confused. Mr Smith belongs to a party that has always believed that wealth and privilege are good things1. Nearly all of the social legislation that seeks to transfer wealth from rich to poor - pensions, minimum wage, income tax, death duties, national health service, raising of school leaving age to 16 - was opposed automatically by the Conservatives. Some of these policies are no longer contested. But it is really a bit rich [pun? Ed] to see Mr Smith setting himself on the side of the social reformers. If he genuinely believes in redistribution then will he

  • campaign to increase income tax and reduce VAT?
  • maintain and strengthen legislation against tax avoidance schemes?
  • stop wealthy foreigners buying up property?
  • remove the charitable status of "public" schools?
  • indeed, seek to abolish private education altogether, often seen as one of the single most important supporting structures in preserving the wealthy as a class?
  • advocate intervention when major industries, such as steel, are in difficulties (or will such support only be offered to banks?)
 More important, why is he still a member of the Conservative party?

1. With apposite timing, I have been reading Mary Beard's SPQR, a lively history of Rome. There too, particularly in the days of the Republic long before Rome was a global power, it was highly fashionable to hold that only the wealthy should hold political office or be in the Senate, and that their votes should far outweigh the votes of the common people, and indeed for a time only those who could afford to equip themselves were thought worthy to fight in Rome's armies. I don't hold with such views but they certainly have a long life.

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