The second dimension of deficit reduction

Labour's economic direction is far from determined. But the ratio of taxation to spending is just as important a discussion as the speed of deficit reduction.

Labour may have chosen its new leader, but its approach to deficit reduction is still to be nailed down. On the day that Alistair Darling gave his valedictory speech to the conference, there is no certainty regarding the identity of his successor. David Miliband, Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper stand out as the most likely candidates.

The dominant battle-line on the deficit has been drawn between Balls and Darling, with Balls advocating a slower approach to Darling’s plan to halve the deficit by 2013/14. The economic argument for Balls’ case is that resisting retrenchment will enable the economy to recover more quickly, the political case is that it provides Labour with a discernible, positive alternative to the Coalition’s turbo-paced approach.

But there is another – fairly obvious but nonetheless too often ignored – side to the debate. This is the extent to which deficit reduction should be borne by taxation rather than spending cuts. During the election, Labour suggested a 2:1 ratio while the Tories went for 4:1 – a policy they are now implementing with the Liberal Democrats.

A third view is suggested today by Labour MP Chukka Umunna in the cross-party Litmus newspaper. Umunna argues for a 50:50 ratio of spending cuts to taxation with the extra taxation coming from tripling the bank levy (£5 billion), introducing a mansion tax (£2 billion), retaining the supertax on bankers’ bonuses (£2 billion), and enforcing a per plane air duty (£3 billion). Umunna points out that this 50:50 ration is the same used by Ken Clarke, when Chancellor in 1994. Will Straw has put forward a similar plan on Left Foot Forward, while the economist Duncan Weldon has also argued for such an approach.

Appearing on the Andrew Marr Show, in his first TV interview as Labour leader, Ed Miliband appeared to be in agreement with Umunna. Refering to Darling’s timing of the deficit, he said

“Broadly I think it’s the right starting point. I think we should keep looking at that plan, see how we can improve it. So, for example, I think we can do more on taxation from the banks just as one example.”

Also writing in Litmus, David Boyle, a member of the Liberal Democrat’s federal policy committee, claims that increasing income tax will only lead to tax avoidance, and argues instead that fiscal policy must be refocused upon energy taxes, tackling corporate tax avoidance, and improving competition policy. Meanwhile, Andrew Lilico, Chief Economist of Policy Exchange, makes the point that the £100 billion required for deficit reduction cannot be made purely by taxing the rich in one year. This is not a solution anyone has suggested, but he uses this example in extremis to demonstrate his belief that raising taxes is not economically desirable. He concedes that it may be politically sage, however, as it is likely to foster acceptance of spending cuts.

Litmus is a special publication from, and in which leading thinkers from across the political spectrum address six key questions facing Britain today.

Download the Litmus PDF for free from

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8 Responses to “The second dimension of deficit reduction”

  1. Albert Dominguez

    RT @leftfootfwd: The second dimension of deficit reduction – getting a fair contribution from taxation

  2. Larry Gardiner

    RT @leftfootfwd: The second dimension of deficit reduction – getting a fair contribution from taxation

  3. Antonine Wall

    a 50:50 cuts/tax approach to reducing the deficit was hawkish enough for that well known cypto communist Margaret Thatcher…

  4. Alex

    Sorry, but you are way off beam. So far you have suggested £10 billion of tax increases which gives a 10:160 mix, or 10:75 if you only plan to cut half of the deficit. The reality is that in order to cover 50% of the deficit by tax increases you would either have to put the basic rate of income tax up to 40% or the top rate up to 120%, which doesn’t work.

  5. idle pen pusher

    There’s room for raising more tax: by legalising drugs and prostitution.

  6. idle pen pusher

    Why the hell did I link to the report? Argh.

    I meant to link to this.

  7. Mr. Sensible

    IPP I think that’s ridiculous.

    There’s been a lot of debate on that on here, and my view is unchanged.

    I agree broadly with what this article says, but I have a problem with replacing air passenger duty with per plain duty; this could create its own problems for passengers in respect of more double booking and all the trouble that causes.

    Instead we just need to put the existing duty up.

  8. Tom

    I was looking forward to reading the Litmus publication. Shame I don’t have Twitter or Facebook, as there is no way to get hold of it without one of these two. Ridiculous.

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