Election campaigns are about finding and emphasising disagreements between the parties. But wouldn’t it be much simpler for voters if politicians signed up to a statement of common ground, and then kept arguments to a limited number of defining issues?
With this (unlikely) scenario in mind, I want to suggest a new idea that all the major parties could agree upon. A simple, common sense policy that would improve government revenues and begin to change our increasingly ambivalent attitude to wealth creators.
We are a nation obsessed with tax – or, more specifically, those who we believe aren’t paying their way. From the “take, take, take” characters of Benefits Street, to Starbucks and Google using the (somewhat unexpected) offshore refuge of Dublin, and the High Net Worths who participate in ever more indecipherable tax avoidance schemes, there are too many individuals and institutions dodging their responsibilities. The relentlessly negative narrative – people at both ends of the wealth spectrum abusing the system – is exacerbating divisions in our country.
So here’s the thought: rather than simply attacking those who don’t pay, why not celebrate those who do? After the election, we should announce that, every year, the top 10 individual taxpayers in the UK are to be given an automatic knighthood or damehood. In addition to this honour, they will be invited by the Queen to an intimate lunch at the Palace for her to personally thank them on behalf of the nation, recognising their contribution to society over the preceding year. They could choose to remain anonymous, but I suspect few would: by definition, these are individuals of enormous wealth for whom recognition and legacy are often important.
As a second stage, we could consider recognising the largest corporate taxpayers. A lunch at Windsor might not be enough to sway a hardheaded chief executive, but it would be a clear demonstration of what we as a nation expect from our corporate citizens.
Over the last few months, I’ve mentioned this plan to politicians, editors and other opinion formers. Their first reaction is to laugh: a good idea Andrew, but it will never happen. But why not?
The current narrative isn’t helpful to anyone, and surely our honours system exists to recognise those who have disproportionately contributed to society. The other objection is that it may incentivise people to pay appropriate levels of tax for one year only, taking the honour and acclaim, and then retreating to a tax haven. I doubt this would happen – not least because of the inevitable torrent of bad publicity that would follow such a move. But we could take an average of contributions over a three year period to avoid any such embarrassments.
Over the coming six weeks, we will all be keen to find more issues that our political leaders can agree upon. Perhaps this is one initiative they will all feel able to support.