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Wednesday, April 30, 2008 

Gordon Brown, politics and courage.

There are two rules in modern politics. Whatever you do, don't admit that anything you've done or said has been a mistake, unless it becomes absolutely necessary. If you are forced into admitting you've got or done something wrong, make certain that the word "sorry" doesn't cross your lips, and also, under no circumstances whatsoever do you use the word "lie". Hence Hillary Clinton, who claimed she visited Bosnia under sniper fire, something proved to be utter horseshit, simply "misspoke".

Likewise, Gordon Brown, that most proud of men, never knowingly undersold like the nation's finest department stores, wasn't bandying about such namby pamby stuff as apologising or being sorry for the abolition of the 10p top rate of tax. Let's be charitable though: after all, just a few weeks ago he was refusing to believe that anyone whatsoever would be losing out, triggering the mother of all rebellions led by Frank Field, the man who cares about the hard-working low paid poor, but not so much about those who aren't working who ought to be ushered into the workhouse, although I might just be slightly exaggerating his views on the unemployed and current benefit system.

To digress, Brown admitted that both those earning under £18,000 a year and who aren't eligible for tax credits "weren't covered as well as they should [have been]" and that 60 to 64-year-olds without higher pensioner tax allowance also suffered. This, as the removal of the 10p rate always was without shifting the burden from the poorest to those more than able to pay, is to not see the wood for the trees. As attractive and helpful as the tax credit scheme has been for the lowest-paid, all it has done is to lance the boil, while simultaneously and ironically leaving those who are meant to be working for themselves and not for the state dependent upon it almost as much as they would be if they were out of work. It's the classic example of giving with one hand whilst taking away with the other. Instead of risking the ire of the CBI and small businesses by raising the minimum wage to one upon which it would possible to live on alone, while simultaneously raising the tax threshold so that the poorest pay very little to no tax at all, Brown's final budget as chancellor was the most regressive of his tenure. He and his advisers must have realised this: if they didn't, then both he and they were either incompetent, grasping for a good headline or both. It was spotted almost immediately by the anoraks and those who actually cared, but for almost everyone else it wasn't until the first pay cheques under the changes were sent out that Brown's whacking of the poorest became the scandal it ought to have been from the beginning.

As certain female columnists have spent years banging into us, Brown is for nothing if he isn't for abolishing child poverty and helping the poorest. Even after the supposed u-turn, it seems uncertain whether all those losing out will be in any way compensated, Field and the Treasury coming out with different interpretations of how the help would be dished out. In any event, the bottom line itself is not up for discussion: the 10p rate, a manifesto pledge in 97, has gone and isn't coming back, and neither is the bureaucratic nightmare which is the tax credits scheme. If you're too proud or to confused to claim tax credits, then, well buddy, you can sit and spin. The inequity of this situation is stark: just as the credit crunch bites, a situation created by both bankers and governments living on the never-never and in complete hock to neoliberal dogma, the faceless cleaner that mops up the sweat and tears from the floor of the concrete conurbation in the centre of London pays a higher proportion of a tax than the testestorone fuelled junkies they wipe up after.

Chris at Stumbling and Mumbling offers a solution to the whole sorry mess: raising the personal tax allowance by £1,200, while putting 7 pence on the highest tax rate. It is though, like almost all the worthy proposals which deserve to be policy but are likely never in our lifetime to be, a fantasy. The right-wing press would howl, the CBI would bleat, the Financial Times would scream, and the Tories would, along with the tabloids,soon have everyone convinced that they would be the ones being clobbered, just as apparently many now fear that they were about to be/would have been hit by the 10p rate abolition. Like with so much else that Labour could have done had it been led by someone truly radical instead of just a radical centrist, the time to have done so was back in 97, when the original pledge on the 10p rate was made. It would also require courage, something that Gordon Brown can write about, but which it seems he doesn't actually himself have. Actually, that's unfair: Gordon does have courage, but it's the courage to ignore the opinion of those who actually know what they're talking about, and to instead give in to the most hysterical moralist campaigners in the land; it's the courage to shaft those cushy prisoners from getting an extra pittance this year; and it's the courage to try and buy off Grauniad readers with a "listening" scheme that will be just as centrally controlled as all the previous ones were, a day before the local elections. When it comes to having genuine courage, the magnanimous sort which allows an individual to admit they were wrong and also that they are sorry for being wrong, Gordon simply doesn't have it.

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