Premium

Labour's latest tax squeeze is a declaration of war on parental love 

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 01: (R-L) British Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry and John McDonnell meet with Prime Minister of Iceland Katrin Jakobsdottir in the Houses of Parliament on May 1, 2019 in London, England. The pair are set to discuss banking and climate change during their meeting in London today. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images) 
Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry and John McDonnell in the Houses of Parliament on May 1, 2019.

The party has rebranded the natural instinct to pass money to your children as a sinister vice 

“Nothing is certain in life except death and taxes”, as Benjamin Franklin’s maxim goes. And with the inevitability of a Communist flag fluttering at a Momentum rally, Labour is now championing a policy that combines both: they want to tax the gifts that individuals choose to make to loved ones before their deaths.

New plans drawn up for the shadow cabinet would expand and replace inheritance tax (IHT) with a “lifetime gifts” levy, making it harder for parents to pass on wealth to their children. Even gifts made by cash-poor individuals living in homes worth less than the national average would be caught out, taxed at rates of 40 per cent or more.

This is not just overzealous taxation or even merely a naked assault on private property. It is a declaration of war on family and parental love itself. Opinion polls suggest that IHT is already loathed, despite the fact that it raises a tiny percentage of GDP and many estates don’t pay it. Why? Because it seems an affront to natural justice. Not only does it represent a form of double, sometimes triple, taxation, levied on income that has already been taxed at several stages during the donor’s lifetime. It undermines a natural parental instinct: to care for, and provide for, their children, even after they have gone.

The authoritarian Left has always shown a blithe indifference to human behaviour. Some Corbynistas have called for IHT to be levied at 100 per cent, as though parents wouldn’t drastically alter their spending habits in response, or perhaps decide that it wasn’t worth working so hard without the chance of leaving something for the next generation. Hating the rich more than they love the poor, these ideologues would happily sacrifice prosperity for envy-driven economics.

Their resistance to private schools and parental choice in education reveals an equally disturbing logic. Just last week, a Labour shadow minister called for private schools to be nationalised, claiming they are “catering to elitist attitudes”. Though this is not Labour’s official policy (yet), they propose to end tax reliefs to independent schools and fiercely oppose grammar schools and free schools. Parents doing their best for their children are accused of “gaming the system” or scornfully dismissed as the “sharp-elbowed middle classes”.

There is method in this proliferation of mediocrity. Labour want nationalised curricula and conformity, partly to control what is taught. Their clamp-downs on private and selective schools derive from good old-fashioned envy and fear that merit might be rewarded, even though whenever pollsters ask the public if they want new selective schools, a majority says yes. But limiting parental involvement is also part of an ideology that insists on sacrificing individual agency to a collective “greater good”. This is levelling down, not up – equality according to the lowest common denominator, and it has blighted the prospects of a generation of bright state school children, forced to work at the speed of the slowest learners. 

Ironically, no one has sharper elbows than Labour’s top brass when it comes to helping their own children and those of their friends. The offspring of party apparatchiks in the USSR attended elite finishing schools – likewise Labour royalty. Both Diane Abbott and Shami Chakrabarti educated their children privately, while Emily Thornberry and Corbyn’s communications guru Seumas Milne plumped for selective state schools. The zero-tolerance policy on gifts doesn’t stretch to the children of comrades awarded lucrative roles in the party apparatus. Labour stalwarts like Tony Benn and the Miliband family, meanwhile, used legal loopholes to minimise their IHT burdens – in Benn’s case by hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Corbynistas are brilliant at taking traditional virtues – caring for relatives, wanting a better future for your child, saving for tomorrow – and reframing them as vices. But like Silicon Valley CEOs who raise their children in screen-free environments, they simultaneously practise these virtues in their personal lives.

Does this make them hypocrites, guilty of behaviour they would brand immoral, even sinister, in conservatives? Of course. But they are also doing what all parents strive to do. When defending her decision to send her son to the elite independent City of London school, Abbott replied that yes, she was a politician, “but a mother first”. An admirable sentiment indeed – if only it applied to the rest of us.