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  1. Wealth
March 11, 2020

Budget 2020: Time for Boris to play his Joker

By Spear's

Spear’s trusts Tory tax rises over Labour ones

In the film Joker, for which Joaquin Phoenix was appropriately awarded the best actor Oscar, purports to provide the ‘origin story’ (as Hollywood executives have it) of the villain at the heart of the Batman stories.

One of the most remarkable and alarming aspects of the film is the deeply counter-cultural nature of the plot: ‘austerity’ helps untether the title character’s liminal grip on reality because he stops getting the medicine and social worker support he needs.

Then it’s an unprovoked assault by a trio of drunken and braying corporate high-fliers that pushes him over the edge into violence. Along the way, the reader is introduced to Thomas Wayne, the father of Batman, who we discover is quite a nasty piece of work – and very rich, too.

As a result, by the end, when Wayne gets gunned down in the street, you half think he’s got it coming.

Which is one of the successes of the film: it stands the story people know on its head rather convincingly. But it is deeply subversive. And whatever you think about it, one thing is certain: Joker is not a film that could have been made but for the banking collapse of 2008.

The same forces go a long way to explain both the rise of millennial socialism and Brexit, and, of course, the very existence of the government of Boris Johnson.

So when Rishi Sunak, the new chancellor, delivers his and the new government’s first budget, he needs to – forgive the pun – play their joker. The government has correctly decided to spend £100 billion on HS2. It has to be done.

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Victorian bridges and embankments cannot be propped up forever. We also need greater as well as faster rail capacity – and we need to join the Midlands and North of England up with the South East.

But the government needs to go further: austerity needs to be further unwound in a way to reduce further the perception of inequality gripping Britain, as well as fictional conurbations such as Gotham. Do not forget that the hard-left, crackpot party led by Jeremy Corbyn still drew more than 10 million votes in December enough to shake even the most ardent low-tax free marketer from their complacency.

The next election will be here soon enough, and things need to change in the experience of the ordinary life lived.

So the government needs to spend more – more on helping children get better prepared for the workplace and more on helping older workers retrain for the workplace. It means finding the money and the policies to confront the challenges of housing, healthcare and social care.

More fundamentally, it means helping to address the criticism from Michael Sandel that we have gone from being a market economy to being a market society.

At the same time, the government needs to close the chasm that has opened up in society between the top and the bottom – best achieved by enabling entrepreneurs to generate new wealth in new ways. Right now the richest 1 per cent earn 13 per cent of the money in the UK.

But according to the ONS, the top 10 per cent have 44 per cent of the wealth. The poorest 20 per cent have just 9 per cent. You don’t need to be Bernie Sanders to worry about these figures.

As a result, the government has flirted with ideas such as ‘mansion taxes’ for properties valued over £2 million (though at the time of writing Mr Johnson has ‘cooled’ on the idea). S

imilarly, the government had mooted cutting pension relief from 40 per cent to 20 per cent for highest earners, netting £10 billion. Spear’swould not normally sanction such overt snatches at the rich, but in an age of virtue-signalling, and where such overt inequality is apparent, it is not necessarily the end of the world. It’s certainly a small price to pay for not having a crackpot, hard-left government.

It is also a matter of finding that appropriate balance between the health of national finances over the long term. How much of today’s spending should be placed on taxpayers of tomorrow?

And how much can we ask the richest in our society to pay today without undermining the prosperity upon which we all depend? Spear’s trusts Tory tax rises over Labour ones.

This leader is published in the latest edition of Spear’s, out now. Click here to buy  and subscribe

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