Ken’s views on wealth taxes appear to be – shall we say – evolving after I revealed that he avoids a substantial part of his. His latest intervention on behalf of the 1 per cent is to tell Thursday’s Financial Times of his “real worries” about a mansion tax on people who own million-pound homes.
“There’s an awful lot of Londoners living in a house worth £1m but it wasn’t like that 30 years ago when they bought it,” said Ken. “And the people most likely to be clobbered are old age pensioners.”
If someone, pensioner or not, has made an immense amount of money simply by sitting on a house in London for thirty years, pricing younger people out of the market in the process, I can’t get even the tiniest bit cross about proposals to take a small fraction of that windfall away. It is pure good fortune which they’ve done nothing to earn. If we spent some of the proceeds on helping younger people find homes, it would help close the massive generational inequalities that dog this city. Nobody would lose their home – they might have to release a bit of the equity in it to pay the tax, but so what?
This is the kind of argument you might expect to hear from that well-known champion of equality, that man who has spent so much of his campaign bashing the rich, Ken Livingstone. But Ken has realised that a mansion tax might cost Boris votes – and anything that does that has to be exploited to the full, regardless of how phony it makes you look. Don’t expect it to stop him criticising Boris for campaigning against the 50p tax rate, mind.
What always surprises me is how many on the left quite sincerely see Ken as a man of consistency and principle. They forget that in between his pre-2000 and post-2008 banker-bashing phases, he was a staunch defender of the erstwhile Masters of the Universe, fiercely opposing a tax on non-dom financiers and writing in 2006 that the “light regulation” of the City must be “defended against all comers” as “one of the cornerstones of London’s success.” (Sunday Times, 17.12.06, paywall.)
The truth, and the left might as well face it, is that Ken will say or do literally anything if he thinks it’s good for him, personally or electorally. That, perhaps, is the most important effect of the tax-dodging story: bringing more and more of Ken’s own supporters face to face with the inescapable reality of the man they idolised. Best of luck getting those Fulham currency traders to vote for you, by the way, Ken.