Monday, April 14, 2008

Still alive

And still without phone or internet connection at the new house. So far no-one has moved into the old one, so I can still use the facilities there.

But I'm not going to bore you with that moan. No, today I am going to rant. And the subject of my rant is taxation.

In his recent budget, our caterpillar-eyebrowed Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, raised the tax on pretty much all alcoholic beverages, apparently as a sop to the anti binge drinking lobby.

Now, I understand that binge drinking is a problem. I dare say that the relative cheapness of booze in relation to earnings has helped fuel the surge in consumption, and something has to be done to curb the excess which is putting such a strain on our police, ambulance and hospital staff. But the vast majority of British people are not binge drinkers, so why should they have to suffer for the misbehaviour of the few?

It's like being in school, when a teacher would threaten to punish the whole class unless someone grassed on the perpetrator of a particular misdemeanour. I always thought that was incredibly unfair, especially as most of the time I had no idea something wrong had been done, let alone who was responsible. It's a sign of a very bad teacher, and we've plenty of those around these days, but that's a rant for another time.

Nevertheless, aided by a media hungry for 'binge drinker violent rampage' headlines, and pandering to our curiously British love of self-loathing, the government can get away with raising extra billions in taxation, and accusing anyone who would argue against their profligacy of being in favour of alcoholism.

It's a similar story with fuel tax and the associated levies that anyone who wants to own and run a car these days has to pay.
Tax on fuel has risen sharply in the last few years, even though the government is already reaping the huge benefits of high oil prices. And as if filling up with diesel at £1.25 a litre wasn't hard enough, our city-bound leaders are adding yet more charges to the cost of owning a vehicle. I drive a fuel efficient car, and the Horse Doctor has one even more frugal still, and yet we are feeling the pinch along with millions of others.

A full tank costs me around £70, of which more than £50 goes straight into the treasury coffers. Yet, t
hanks to the current obsession with global warming and carbon footprints, the chancellor can get away with pretty much whatever he wants where the motorist is concerned. There may be thirty million of us in the country, but we are all social pariahs and must be made to pay dearly for our sins.

I'm not sure when it was that governments first started using taxation as a tool of social change. It's probably been going on for years, but our current administration seems to have taken it to extremes. Every tax, it seems, is meant to gently encourage us to change our ways for the better. There's not even any hope in the opposition - they're just as bad as Labour these days, with their talk of 'green taxes' being raised to help pay for better schools or whatever. The shadow chancellor George Osborne is meant to be one of the brightest of the new Tory bunch, so why can't he see that, if his new tax regime is successful, it will progressively raise less revenue, meaning he has no money to pay for his great projects?

Perhaps I am naive, but I used to think the purpose of taxation was to raise revenue for the government to spend on implementing its policies. I happen to think that successive governments have grown too large and too intrusive, requiring an ever larger slice of our GDP to function, but that, too, is a rant for another day. In a democracy I have to accept that the elected power has the right to raise money for its work. I just wish that they'd have the courage to come out and say what they were doing, rather than couching it in mealy-mouthed platitudes about saving the planet, or stopping city-centre chucking-out-time chaos.

If the government really cared about binge drinking, it wouldn't try to tax away the problem. Instead it would put more money into policing, enforce the licensing laws that already allow it to close pubs that sell alcohol to already inebriated customers, and come down hard on public drunkenness. The problem with that is that it costs money. Making beer and whisky more expensive has the twin benefits of looking like the authorities are tackling the problem (although in truth they are not), and also raising billions more cash for the pot at the same time.

Likewise if our elected politicians actually gave a damn about the environment, they'd invest heavily in alternative energy. The only way you're going to wean people off petrol is to give them something as convenient that costs the same, and there are technologies out there that could give us that option. And I don't mean first generation biofuels - another rant for another time. But again to embrace such technologies would require funding, and (say it quietly lest anyone hears) leadership.

It's a long time since we've had any of that from our leaders.



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