Election Diary

Kathleen Burk

Week Nought. After months of media discussion as to the likely election date, we were finally put out of our misery: it was to be April. What was rather more of a surprise was the Chancellor’s Budget: no penny off the basic rate of tax, but a new tax band of 20 per cent for the first £2000. Did no one remind him that Labour had tried much the same thing – a 25 per cent band when basic rate was 33 per cent – and that his party had eliminated it? At any rate, the proposal caught Labour with its ideological trousers down, unable to object, without sounding churlish, to the poorest-off workers paying less tax.

Week One. On Monday, 16 March, electioneering proper began. This was the week of the Labour ‘Budget’, which proposed an income redistribution plan of the first order. Money was to be shifted from the pockets of higher-paid taxpayers into the pockets of all pensioners and mothers, and into the social and educational services. The sheer daring of the exercise was breathtaking. Labour appeared to be banking on the altruism of the better-paid in not minding the unplanned-for loss of a substantial portion of their income, though their idea of who constitutes the better-paid seemed a bit out of date, since the increase would begin at under £22,000. It is worth recalling that when the great wage-inflation of the Seventies took many Labour voters into the tax net for the first time, the 1974-79 Labour Government discovered that they objected to paying higher taxes to help the worse-off. The Labour Party might find the same thing happening. They might also find that many of their supporters who are not yet paid £22,000 aspire to be so, and resent higher tax in anticipation. Or Labour might have judged the electorate entirely correctly and the New Jerusalem was at hand.

At any rate, most of the week was taken up with discussions of the two economic plans. It was delightful to watch highly-paid journalists caught between support of Labour’s moral high ground on the tax front and the realisation that their own economic self-interest might dictate otherwise. I must confess that I find the holier-than-thou streak in British political culture a mite off-putting. One needs only to hint that wholly state-run provision of a service might not always be the optimum choice, or even that the more efficient use of what provision there is should be encouraged, and the reaction is that, secretly, you are keen to grind the faces of the poor.

Week Two. I don’t own a television, so I missed the event of the week, which was Tuesday night’s Labour Party broadcast on the Health Service. Thus began the War of Jennifer’s Ear, which raged for three days. The media were clearly bored with economics, and welcomed the possibilities inherent in the situation of a small girl in discomfort. The whole thing rapidly degenerated into farce, however, with reporters bred on the pursuit of Royals turning their talents to finding out who had leaked her name. Reduced to interviewing each other, they realised after three days that no one else was paying any attention.

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