By Paul Goodman
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I return from a week in Poland to find Chuka Umunna declaring that voters deserve to know whether Ministers are benefitting financially from the budget's abolition of the 50p rate.
This is standard political fare, but after a period away from British politics one looks at it – or at least I will for a while – in a fresh way.
You can't say Chuka hasn't nailed down the main point! Osborne obviously cut the rate just to have a bit more cash in hand (not that he really needs it). Aiding the economy, boosting growth, doing his job and concern for the public good had nothing to do with his decision.
The effect on Harriet Harman and other millionaires in Labour's Cabinet is obviously irrelevant. As are tax arrangments for Chuka's own family home.
This minor piece of political charlatanry set me thinking about the elevated condition of current political debate in Britain. I cite the following seven examples more or less at random:
- The removal of Fred Goodwin's knighthood.
- David Cameron insisting that he really has eaten a pastie.
- The benefits cap. I support it. But a relatively small number of families claiming more than £26,000 is a minor contributor to the billion of pounds worth of problems in the benefits system. The amount of political and media attention lavished on it is disproportionate.
- The main reported feature of last year's Conservative party being…a cat.
- The publication of politicians' tax returns. Like Matthew Barrett, I oppose it. As John Redwood* has intimated, the fuss isn't about tax at all. It's about the public scrutiny of private income – which will only lead to more taxpayer-funded professional politics.
- The brouhaha about Stephen Hester's bonus.
- Ed Balls claiming that he weeps while watching the Antiques Roadshow.
I am sorry to come on like an infinitely less elevated version of Peter Hitchens, but this trivialisation of debate is real and has consequences.
Which may or may not be a timely thought for a bank holiday morning. I promise to return to normal service tomorrow.
*Bravo, by the way – while I'm in heretical mood – for a strong, principled and unspun television performance on the matter by Nigel Farage.