The War on Jobs 4:The Philo Tax

Posted: September 14, 2010 in The economy

Greg Philo, director of the Glasgow Media Group, was interviewed on the Jeremy Vine Show, BBC Radio 2, recently (14 September) to propose an alternative to the current war on jobs and the poor in Britain. His proposal sounds very reasonable: to impose a one-off tax on the top 20% of the British population that owns 62% of the country’s wealth. This, he argues, would more than repay Britain’s £927bn of national debt.  Read all about it here at the Media Group’s website, which includes a specially commissioned YouGov opinion poll and hard figures from the National Statistics office.

It’s a good idea and one I strongly support but it has largely been ignored. I challenge you to find it reported on the BBC’s dedicated website on the impending Spending Review. But what interests me here, though, is the reaction in the media the few times it is considered on air. Philo’s public opinion research suggests widespread approval among the general population: 44% of the sample strongly supported the proposals, while another 30% expressed a tendency to support them. Yet one would think to listen to the pundits that it was an exercise in lunacy that no rational person could consider. 

Opposing Philo on the programme was Vanetia Thompson, an ex-City of London trader and author of Gross Misconduct: My Year of Excess in the City. Outraged, she was! And the fact that Philo took it all in good humour and calmly stated his case just seemed to make it worse for her. This was “the tyranny of the many over the few!” she complained. (Heaven forbid we should have majority rule in a democracy, Venetia! ) “It’s extorting the rich on an ad hoc basis”, she went on, “which is not only unprincipled but grossly unfair!”  Ah bless. But as Greg Philo pointed out, the wealthy have been extorting the less well off for decades to the point where a large section of British society is now in negative wealth, or what’s commonly termed the ‘poverty trap’. 

Venetia was also mindful of the practical problems of putting the plan into effect. Philo’s idea is that the assets of the top 10% or 20% would be valued and taxed by, say, 20%. Venetia wondered how a diamond or a painting could be valued and then taken away from some poor unfortunate in Highgrove or somewhere. Valuers and big lorries, Venetia! The rich use valuers all the time when they need to liquidise some assets for ready cash. And when they put that big Carravagio up on the wall, they do it in such a way that it can be easily taken down again to dust off or sell on. It’s not complicated.

The valuers arrive for a look at Venetia's assets


The thing is, though, Philo is not proposing anything objectively unfair and he’s certainly not advocating evictions or repossession. It’s not revolution yet the argument is always that increasing tax on the wealthiest people damages wealth creation, not that the wealthiest 10%  have a moral responsibility to share wealth more equally via a fair and humane taxation regime. After all, they benefit from the labour of working people and from the perks of wealth in British society including universal welfare benefits. But our Vanetia was having none of it. “You can’t be going round taxing the wealthy for the sake of it!” she protested. Honestly! The next thing, she said, Philo will be wanting to turn Britain into North Korea or  Cuba!

Artist's impression of Venetia after the Philo Tax


And this is the thing. Isn’t it remarkable how a perfectly rational alternative to the impending cuts is regarded by vested interests as irrational, unthinkable and a threat to the national wealth while the current plans to tax the poor and shrink the public sector is accepted without question as the only way?  It’s a classic insight into the very neo-liberal ideology that brought us to the current crisis in the first place and which underpins Cameron’s Big Society.

  1. Dr. Disco says:


    Unfortunately, I didn’t get to hear the whole programme, although I knew it was on (as you know – it was me who told you it was on). There was such a racket in the office that most of what I got to hear was the end bit where all the Daily Mail readers call up being offended and affronted.

    Anyways… I’m not entirely sure I agree with this scheme.

    Now before you get your hammer and sickle all in a twist, let me explain. I agree that some people have too much money and such people have none. For some people, this is about having or not having a chance in life, for some it is about hard graft or lack of. But it seems to me that many people think that the rich have got rich by taking from the poor. In some cases, this is true. In many cases it is not. It is the government and my bank who has taken my money, not Anita Roddick (OK bad example, she’s dead) or Richard Branson, so why should she ot he give it back to me? I haven’t read the whole thing yet so I might be able to judge better when I have. However, here’s what I think. Bugger the one of tax – to me, that is close to theft. If I give a fiver to someone who needs it, fine. And I don’t notice it too much. But if you take it from me because you don’t think I deserve it, even though I earned it, and then give it to whoever you think needs it, you can fek right off. The governement should stop all the namby pamby talk about off-shore tax evasion (just like the government before it) and sort it out now. Right now. That is far fairer than taking money that has already been made. Secondly, my taxes (that I would pay if I wasn’t dole scum) don’t go to support Richard and Anita, they go to support a war. Many wars in fact. And protecting “our” pipe lines. I don’t even have to say the word “trident”, which this country needs as much as Charles Saatchi needs Tracey Emin’s dirty knickers. Tax fags, tax booze (which mysteriously escaped the budget), legalise drugs and tax ’em but you can’t just nick money.

    You can’t blame the rich for everything. Well you can but it’s not always their fault.

    Dr. Disco

  2. Kate Fox says:

    Brilliant, and sums up exactly why I was having an argument with my radio, Venetia was truly ‘Blind’ to her own idiocy!

    • Indeed Kate! I read Greg Philo’s article in the Guardian a few weeks ago and it got very little comment. Apparently, he tried placing it with the Independent and other publications but they ignored him completely. So he did well to get on Jeremy Vine. I thought the man himself gave Greg Philo a fair hearing but, like you, it was our Venetia’s reaction that provoked me. He couldn’t have hoped for better! Off to put my radio back together now.

  3. jon says:

    I really like the idea of the one-off tax bonanza. But would it really make much of a difference to the deficit? I read that interest on loan repayments is around 4%, so would only reduce the need for welfare cuts by a few percent – rather than the full 25 to 40 percent.

    • Thanks Jon! You have me worried now so I’ll check this out in case I’m way off beam. I think though that whatever the full extent of a tax bonanza, it would certainly make a very significant difference to the state of the country’s finances and preserve essential welfare and public services from such severe cuts.

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