Hugo Rifkind

What business is it of the taxman whether I’m married or not?

4 July 2013

1:00 PM

4 July 2013

1:00 PM

The Conservative party is trying to redefine marriage. I can’t believe they think they’re going to get away with this. Throughout human history it has been one thing, which is a loving commitment between two people who want to share a life. Now they’re trying to turn it into something completely different. A tax break.

It wouldn’t benefit me, even though I am married. Although I swear that isn’t the root of my objection. Honest. My wife and I are in the same tax bracket, you see, so sharing our allowance wouldn’t make much difference. What it amounts to, really, is an incentive for one of us to stop working and stay at home. Granted, it would never be much of an incentive. We live in London, after all, and we have two kids, and we’re only journalists. So if the Tories really wanted to incentivise one of us to quit work, then practically speaking we’d have to be looking at a tax break of a healthy five figures here. Whereas this one is only 150 quid.

‘It’s a recognition,’ said Tim Loughton, who is leading the campaign for this. ‘It sends a message.’ Well, I don’t like the message. What’s a party that believes in small government doing sending messages like this anyway? What business is it of the Treasury whether I’m married or not? Or whether anyone is? It’s a blatant attempt at social engineering. And not even a good attempt at social engineering.


‘Married families are more likely to be stable!’ these people shout, knowing full well that this is akin to saying that people who own carts are more likely to own horses. Actually, as ever, it’s completely the other way around. Stable families are more likely to get married. For this intrusive, irritating, preachy proposal to make any sense at all, they’d have to be arguing that the simple act of getting married makes a couple who already have kids more likely to stay together than an utterly identical couple who opt not to bother. And that’s a stupid thing to even try to argue. Ban marriage. Eradicate it. The same couples would stay together, and the same ones would come apart.

Or if they wouldn’t, they should. I’m a fan of marriage, me. I’d recommend it to any couple who fancy a life together, which is more than you could say for those Tories who tried to wreck the equal marriage bill, who were led, wouldn’t you know, by Tim Loughton. But even if you accept that marriage forms a sort of glue for people who would just wander off otherwise and forget they had families at all, what makes this particular glue so much more special than other glues? After all, unaffordable mortgages and shared communicable diseases must both do their bit, too. Right?

Why not get a tax break if you both like watching The X Factor? Why not get one for coming to a bipartisan compromise over the toilet seat? How about tax credits for a chap when he lies about how good his other half’s new shoes look? My kids’ mother had to go to Russia the other day, leaving me with three nights of a teething toddler. Surely there’s a handful of tenners in that. No? What about her letting me go to Glastonbury? Come on. Give her a bung. This is the stuff that keeps a family stable. Marriage? Marriage is something else.

They claim it’s all about kids, but want to give it to married people who don’t even have kids. What? It’s all so dishonest, that’s the thing. ‘If you are a 15-year-old child with both parents at home,’ they say, ‘there is a 97 per cent chance that those two parents are actually married.’ Oh come on. Really? This is the best you can do? Of course there is. Because that’s what people who stay together do. It’s not why they stay together, it’s not their impetus for doing so. It’s a symptom of a life already well on track. A tax break for marriage is a pat on the back for the people who need it the very, very least. How horribly Tory to think that’s a thing worth doing, and at the expense of everybody else.

Glastonbury zoo

Last week, among the many acts to be found at the Glastonbury festival, in order of precedence, were the following: Arctic Monkeys, Jake Bugg, Foals, Tame Impala, Noah and the Whale, Goat, Dinosaur Jr, Cat Power, Stealing Sheep, Frightened Rabbit, Dog Is Dead, Jaguar Ma, Phoenix, the Bootleg Beatles, Birdie Jackson, Oysterband, Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs, -Penguin Cafe, MadDog Mcrea, Simian Mobile Disco, Kitten and the Hip, Monkey Pilot, Dog Blood, Gold Panda, Charlie Sloth, Dinosaurs, Zebra Katz, Monki, Danny Byrd, Mullet Bitch, Bite the Buffalo, Camp Stag, Two Jackals, Lekkido Lord of the Lobsters, True Tiger, DJ El Cat, Black Kat Boppers, Kitty Bang…

I’ve stopped there. I’m only halfway down the programme, but I feel I may be boring you. But this is remarkable, right? I mean, isn’t it? Am I really the only person who thinks this? ‘Look!’ I kept saying to passing music critics, all weekend, sometimes in so much excitement that I’d even put down my drink. ‘All the bands are named after animals!’ And they’d just smile nervously, and edge away. Talk about missing the big story.

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