One of the least enjoyable characteristics of some left wing commentators and politicians is their willingness to personalise and misrepresent people of different views from their own in an unpleasant way.
On Tuesday I was sent a copy of a piece written by John Harris in the Guardian. I do not recall having a heart to heart with Mr Harris. He certainly did not ring me up recently before writing about me. He clearly has not read any of my comments on the topic of inequality. He simply asserted ” There is no point in people like me having a pop at, say, John Redwood, for his failure to recognise the importance of inequality”.
Had he taken the elementary precaution to talk to me, or to read some of what I have written, he would know that I do think inequality is a vital topic in political discussion, in talking about helping create the conditions for a good society, and in discussing economic, tax and spending policies. I have spent much of my life in politics working with colleagues, writing and thinking about how more people in our country can get good jobs, receive good educations, enjoy a better quality of life and a higher standard of living. Like all members of the main political parties I support taxing the rich more to help pay for the lifestyles of the worse off. I am a softy when it comes to more public money and facilities for the disabled.
It is irritating beyond measure that some on the left automatically assume many of us that they brand as right wing have no wish to see the poor prosper or to see equality narrow by raising the living standards of those worst off. They should recognise that in many cases in UK mainstream political debate we do not disagree about the aim – we disagree about the means.
I know of no MP who likes poverty or thinks poverty does not matter. I know of no MP who thinks government should stand idly by and do nothing about poverty. I know of many who after years of pushing public money at the problem are asking how can we spend it better? What else do we need to do? Why are most of the new jobs going to recent arrivals in our country and not those already here who are unemployed? Why do so many young people in well financed inner city state schools fail to achieve much by way of qualifications? Why do so many families break down, or some never get started with both father and mother engaged? Why do so many end up on drugs, or confine their entrepreneurial skills to trades that are illegal?
The true debate lies not over the need to conquer poverty or to narrow extremes of income by a mixture of lifting people out of poverty and progressive taxation. The true debate lies over a couple of important propositions. I do not believe you can make the poor rich by making the rich poor. The problem is the rich do not have to hang around if you seek to make them too poor. They have the best lawyers and accountants. They can go on strike when it comes to investing and developing businesses. They can go offshore. Some on the left would say let them go.
Which brings us to the second source of disagreement, the trickle down theory. I do believe that having and keeping more rich people and successful companies here in the UK does allow some of the income and wealth to circulate to the rest of us. We succeed in taking some tax off them, which helps with the public service bill. The rich do employ armies of professional advisers, they do set up businesses and create jobs, they frequent the restaurants and patronise the hotels, they keep the luxury goods makers and distributors in employment.
Of course it is right to say there are still many poor people who draw no direct benefit from the presence of rich nearby. Not everyone can work for a rich person or wants to. It is false to say there is no trickle down, or that the UK would be better off if more left to spend their cash in Zurich or Singapore, Hong Kong of Shanghai.
No, Mr Harris, do not peddle untruths. I do care very much about poverty and about what life chances people enjoy in our country. I want them to be much better. That is why I like grammar schools, Academies and other means of lifting educational standards. That is why I want to lower tax rates on effort and work, as I want more people to find working worthwhile. And that is why I urge people not to be jealous of the premier league footballer, the pop star or the media personality who hit the big time and earn mega bucks. It gives others something to aim for, as well as filling the newspapers with celebrity lives.
I have sent a copy of this to Guardian, who intend to publish an edited version in their paper shortly.