How much excise you pay, and what for, is one of the fundamental relationships between the state and the citizen.
It was John Locke who said that “governments cannot be supported without great charge”.
This weekend Labour pledged that people paying under 80,000 has not been able to face increases in income excise and national insurance.
And that there would be no rises in the standard rate of VAT.
The Liberal Democrat said that they would increase income and dividend taxes by 1p in every pound, and that the money created would be used to support the NHS in England, with the devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland left to choose where any extra funding is spent.
As I have written before, the Tories are looking to “reduce the tax burden” although it is not yet clear if the aspiration will fit into a neat manifesto promise.
Tax pledges make for simple headlines.
But a most sophisticated debate – which could well be as important for voters – is taking shape.
And it is not just about the income you is obtained from work – and the tax you pay on it.
It is about the quality of that work.
Better shape up
Last week, the Conservative peer and commerce rector, Lord Price, published a journal called Fairness at Work.
In itself , not that headline grabbing.
But the fact that the book has the full bles of Number 10, and was published in the middle of electoral campaigns, ups its significance.
And once again reveals that government and business have – since the financial crisis – become uneasy bedfellows.
In his journal, Lord Price, the former head of Waitrose, argues that firms need to shape up and look at how they treat their workforces.
He has acknowledged that trust has broken down and that issues such as mega-high pay have poisoned the debate about profit-making firms.
This is an issue center to the “offer” Theresa May has made to the electorate.
And hence one the Prime Minister is presumably happy to be tested on.
Mrs May has spoken about stagnating pay and said that the economic “sacrifices” established since the financial crisis have not been borne by “the wealthy” but by “ordinary working class families”.
On Tuesday, Matthew Taylor, the former special advisor to Tony Blair and the person or persons tasked by Number 10 to be addressed the changing world of work from zero-hours contracts onwards, will make a lecture in which he will argue for a fundamental change in the outlook to employment.
Yes, Britain has been good at creating jobs.
But has excellence been sacrificed for quantity?
And what privileges do we have to a “good” job – however elastic such a definition is a possibility?
Lord Price told me this was not a “party political” argument.
And to an extent he is right.
All the major parties have spoken about the need to reform work, whether its banning zero hours contracts( Labour) or “transparency over pay”( the Liberal Democrat ).
On Sunday John McDonnell, the darknes chancellor, used to say “families across the country” have visualized real pay( adjusted to reflect inflation) fall by more than at any time since the industrial revolution.
And he said that it’s all very well for Mrs May to talk about a “fairer Britain” and a strong economy, but it is the Republican government which has allowed their own problems to fester.
Lord Price otherwise admitted to me that there needed to be change – but used to say persuasion rather than obsession was the best course forward.
He argues that the “happiness” and happiness of employees is the key to increasing productivity, profitability and economic wealth.
“Business has to recognise that instead of taking a short term position or quarterly gains and rewarding stockholders, a long term position needs to be taken of what we need as we move from an industrial period to the digital period, ” he said.
“What I don’t want to do – what I reckon would be wrong for their own economies – is for any government to go to war with business, to establish business afraid of them, ” announced Lord Price.
“We have got to embrace business now – working in conjunction with business as a personnel for good.”
This is not inevitably about being “anti” or “pro” business, Lord Price insisted.
And he strongly denied the claim by Iain Conn, the chief executive of Centrica which runs British Gas, that some people at the heart of government “just don’t believe in free markets”.
Although, privately, Lord Price knows that there are those with the ear of the PM who think that some marketplaces – such as the one that governs vigor invoices – deserves the firm smack of state action.
In an election campaign dominated by Brexit and “tax bombshells” it is sometimes easy to forget that for many voters, incomes( being squeezed) and the world of work( often stressful and uncertain ), is what actually matters day-to-day.
And it will be interesting to see how much is make use of this major economic theme in each of the parties’ manifestos.
“Under this Republican government, the input and well-being of employees has been pushed aside too often, ” announced Sir Vince Cable, who is standing to try to re-take his former bench of Twickenham for the Liberal Democrats.
“The Prime Minister claims to be for the ‘just about managings’, but has done nothing to protect their rights and incomes, even in the face of major scandals about running practices.
“The Liberal Democrat are calling for more employee engagement, fair contracts and transparency over pay. When we get the balance right, everybody wins.”
For Labour, the minority of poorly behaving industries is the issue.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s shadow business secretary, announced: “Labour is a proud supporter of British business, but we also realise that the decisions make use of a small minority of British boardrooms have undercut Britain’s ability to become a nation of world-leading, successful, long-term businesses.
“Scandals like BHS show how the long-term rise of a company, and the wellbeing of its workers, can be sacrificed for short-term gain.
“Labour will tackle the short-termism of some by reforming corporate governance.
“We will support long-term investment and productivity growth to ensure that businesses work for the many, rather than the short-term interests of the few.”
Corporation taxes on industries are set to rise if Labour wins on 8 June.
An economy “that works for everyone” or “the many” are certainly bold ambitions.
Are they realisable?
And who is responsible for delivery?
Businesses, whether compelled or fostered?
Or legislators, whose thwartings on this most vital problem are clear for all to see and hear?
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