Whilst it is difficult to disagree with Will Hutton`s support for the thesis of the economist, Thomas Piketty, that capitalism is endangered by the "rising levels of wealth inequality", agreement with his conclusion is more problematic. Hutton admits much of the Scottish desire for independence may be caused by dislike of "toxic wealth inequalities", yet thinks solutions like "a top income tax rate of up to 80%" and "effective inheritance tax" are "currently inconceivable".
Is it not perfectly conceivable that Labour, getting the inevitable "wake-up call" after its hammering in the Euro elections, adopts policies for which the majority of the country clearly craves? A sliding scale of income tax, with 45% for £70-149K earners, 50% for £150-200K, 60% for £200-250K, stopping at 80%, would not seem unreasonable to the majority of people in this country; even under Thatcher, the rich paid 60% income tax. Support for a Tobin-type tax on financial transactions, joining with the majority of the EU on this, would be popular, as would increasing the minimum wage to living wage levels, and promising legislation to introduce Co-determination, on lines similar to its use in Germany, with trade union representatives on company boards. Whilst nationalisation on a large scale will not happen, a proposal for a state-owned bank and energy company could attract customers with more attractive rates, simply by having 3% profit margins rather than the 5+% of the private sector, and thereby force a change of tune from existing providers. The millions paying a high proportion of their income to profiteering landlords would welcome their rents being capped at 2010 levels, and also the introduction of an Ofsted-style inspection authority, to ensure rents are fair and properties well maintained.
No plans for redistribution of wealth would be complete without proposals to deal with tax evasion and avoidance, and after this government`s rhetoric-only approach, making a difference should not be hard; how about re-employing the thousands of tax inspectors who have lost their jobs at HMRC and ending "sweetheart deals" for starters? The idea that tax avoiders of any type should be awarded, or keep when found out, their honours or right to represent this country, is preposterous.Charitable status for private schools could also be ended, and money to the Treasury increased by VAT being imposed on school fees.
If Hutton bases his pessimism on Labour`s feeble responses to inequality and coalition austerity so far, he may have a point, but we have to hope that Miliband was telling the truth when he promised a political party different from the others. What is the point of being a Labour Prime Minister if all you intend to do is tinker rather than transform?