Time to break some taboos

A new centrist party could breathe some fresh air into stale debates – and give the economy a boost too.


Can the Labour splitters do a Macron?
(Image credit: GETTY IMAGES)

The new breakaway centrist grouping launched on Monday by a group of seven moderate, pro-EU Labour MPs calling itself The Independent Group probably doesn't have a huge chance of success. Not much brand recognition, a tired backward-looking message, not many customers and no real way of distributing the product to the customers. If it was a product launch at Unilever or Nestl, no one would be feeling terribly optimistic about its prospects.

But even if it doesn't ever amount to very much in terms of votes or power, it could still perform a useful function.

The Ukip of the centre

Here are three policy ideas to start with.

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1. Phase out tax credits

When that was combined with free movement of labour, allowing unlimited migration from a relatively poor eastern Europe, the UK turned into a machine for generating millions and millions of low-paid, low-productivity jobs. That was good for the jobs statistics, but it didn't do much for overall living standards. The credits should gradually be phased out and the UK should concentrate instead on creating higher-paid, higher-productivity jobs.

2. Reintroduce regional tax rates

All the evidence from the rest of the world tells us that the only policy that will really make a difference to this is tax. In the US, for example, there are meaningful differences between income and personal taxes from state to state. And guess what? Lots of jobs and people have moved to the lower-tax states. Sure, New York andLos Angeles remain dominant for many other reasons, but wealth is spread around.

If Wales and the northeast, for example, had significantly lower income and corporation tax rates, lots of firms would suddenly want to move there. That would be healthy for the economy as a whole.

3. Rip up all tariffs

As we leave the EU, the UK will be free to set its own tariffs. How about at zero? On everything. Tariffs are a form of tax on consumers, and a way of shielding inefficient industries from competition, and that doesn't make sense in the medium term. Amid all the threats of trade wars, the world could use a beacon of free trade.

British politics has lots of taboo subjects that are deemed too difficult to discuss. The health service, for example, the complexity of our tax system, the slightly odd way national insurance has turned into a tax that doesn't insure you against anything, the need to raise the retirement age massively to cope with ageing populations. A genuinely radical new party could break a few of those taboos and open up the conversation to new ideas. Someone else might end up implementing them but at least they would finally be on the agenda.

Matthew Lynn

Matthew Lynn is a columnist for Bloomberg, and writes weekly commentary syndicated in papers such as the Daily Telegraph, Die Welt, the Sydney Morning Herald, the South China Morning Post and the Miami Herald. He is also an associate editor of Spectator Business, and a regular contributor to The Spectator. Before that, he worked for the business section of the Sunday Times for ten years. 

He has written books on finance and financial topics, including Bust: Greece, The Euro and The Sovereign Debt Crisis and The Long Depression: The Slump of 2008 to 2031. Matthew is also the author of the Death Force series of military thrillers and the founder of Lume Books, an independent publisher.