The Spectator's Notes

The Spectator’s Notes

13 May 2017

9:00 AM

13 May 2017

9:00 AM

Jeremy Corbyn wants to put up income tax only for people who earn more than £80,000 a year, he says. Anyone below that figure is safe. This reminds me of John Smith’s ‘shadow Budget’ in the 1992 general election. Smith said that the top rate of income tax would rise to 50 per cent for everyone earning more than £36,375 a year (which would be just under £72,000 today). Most people earned much less than the sum chosen, but voters decided they did not like such a clear intention to damage the higher earnings they hoped they might one day achieve. The shadow Budget was said to have lost Labour the election. Perhaps bearing this in mind, Mr Corbyn has so far avoided a specific percentage and pitched the taxable sum a little higher, but the signal is similar. His commitment raises a question. It is now well established that lower top rates of tax bring in more money for the Treasury than higher ones. The percentage of the total income-tax take paid by the top 1 per cent of earners (people who in 2014-15 earned £162,000 or more) is now 26.9. Charts show this figure rising almost every year, except when Labour put up the top rate from 40 to 50 per cent — a late-period, post-crash gesture by Gordon Brown. Then the money raised fell, shooting up only after George Osborne brought the rate down to 45 per cent in 2012. This is the usual pattern. So does Mr Corbyn want to put up income tax for the ‘rich’ even though less money will come in? Since he won’t win, perhaps the question is better directed at the Conservatives who are also growling against the rich, but are coyer than Mr Corbyn about what they will do to them. Do they accept the facts above? If they do, why will they not promise to cut the top rate of income tax much further (to 30 per cent?) and thus get more money out of the rich than ever before?

I must protest at the Sun’s sacking of Kelvin MacKenzie. As shop steward for the small trade union of columnists who were once editors, I can state categorically that the editor, not the writer, is ultimately responsible for what is printed. In no way, shape or form will my members be scapegoated by the boss class. It is irrelevant how offensive MacKenzie’s column was (unless, which no one has suggested, he was concealing material facts from his editor). The editor published it. If writers are to be made to swing for editorial decisions or inattentions, there soon won’t be any writers left.

Douglas Murray, who appears frequently in these pages, has just published The Strange Death of Europe (Bloomsbury). The title may be ill-advised: Geoffrey Wheatcroft brought out The Strange Death of Tory England in 2005, and within months the party’s recovery began. But Murray’s eloquence is sadly convincing. One telling point he makes is how even the most ‘bigoted’ predictions of demographic change have been exceeded by reality. Suppose, says Murray, that Enoch Powell, in his incendiary ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968, had predicted that, in the 2011 census, in 23 of London’s 33 boroughs, people describing themselves as ‘white British’ would have been in a minority. He would have been pilloried for his alarmism. Yet it is so. At a meeting of Google Zeitgeist (perfect venue) on Monday, Tony Blair said that immigration was a ‘perception problem’. Murray’s point is that it is a plainly numerical one.


The Connecticut town of Old Lyme has the misfortune to have given its name to Lyme disease, the tick-borne affliction which can distort your face, attack your memory, tire you out and ruin your life. The ticks spread in New England because there are so many deer there. They fall off deer, which travel far and wide, and clamp themselves on to people. My unscientific impression is that Lyme disease in Britain is now going the way of America. If so, it is an example of how our attitude to animals is governed by how much we like their looks. If Lyme disease were chiefly transmitted to human beings by rats, we would have exterminated every rat in the country. Deer, however, are lovely, and so we permit too many of them. Lyme disease is a tax on our aesthetic preferences. The tax rate is rising.

I recently [Notes, 16 April] praised the works of David Jones, poet and painter. A reader, David Rose, points out that Tate Britain displays none of his art. I have checked the Tate’s catalogue, and find that it owns 13 of Jones’s works, including major ones like ‘The Closed Garden’ and one of his best inscriptions, ‘Exiit Edictum’. All of them are kept out of view. Mr Rose is right that this year, the centenary of Jones’s service in the first world war, would be a good moment to put this right. The bits of collections which public galleries do not display are almost as important a part of the history of taste as what they show. Jones is a victim of the same school of thought which frowned on William Blake for being crazy.

Usually, in important foreign countries, the viewer knows who the BBC’s person is. From memory, for example, I would say it is Jon Sopel in Washington and Steve Rosenberg in Moscow. But the French elections suggest confusion about who it is in Paris. Sometimes it is Lucy Williamson, sometimes Christian Fraser, and sometimes another chap. My favourite there, however, is Hugh Schofield. He finds it difficult to string a sentence together, yet seems highly intelligent. He dresses in a boho way — frayed shirt collar, corduroy jacket, rumpled hair. This is quite pleasing, but it somehow suggests he is on holiday. By not ordering brainy Hugh to put on a suit and tie, the BBC subliminally make us think it isn’t as serious about Paris as it is about London.

The announced retirement of the Duke of Edinburgh was quickly followed by the charming appearance of the Prime Minister’s husband on The One Show. Will historians in a thousand years’ time, trying to piece together the character of our matriarchal society, conclude that ‘Philip’ was the honorary title, under our unwritten constitution, for the supportive male?

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