Equally Incoherent

The Left is resurgent in the Labour Party, but its egalitarian agenda is utterly inconsistent

The Left is resurgent in the Labour Party. And after years of Blairite ideological fudging, many people claim to be pleased with Harriet Harman’s latest policy ideas, even if they disagree with leftist ideas. In The Times, Alice Thompson expressed her delight to behold a “conviction politician” with a “cogent philosophy”.

Ms Thompson is mistaking familiarity for cogency. The old-Labour egalitarian agenda is utterly incoherent. Consider its two most noteworthy recent victories: Ms Harman’s Equality Bill aimed at ensuring equal pay for women, and increasing the top rate of income tax to 50 per cent. At first sight, they seem to be based on the same devotion to equality. In fact, they are directly at odds with one another. 

Start with equal pay for women. This is derived from a more fundamental principle: namely, equal pay for equal work. Ms Harman does not believe that a woman who works for ten hours a week as a cleaner should earn the same as a male brain surgeon who works 50 hours a week. She believes that men and women who work at the same jobs, with the same skills, should be paid the same per hour.

But what Ms Harman and others on the Left fail to recognise is that the principle of equal pay for equal work is inconsistent with progressive taxation. If high earners pay a higher rate of tax than low earners, then it is impossible to have equal pay for equal work. 

Imagine a doctor who last year wrote a successful book in his spare time, such as Ben Goldacre, the author of the best-selling Bad Science. The royalties from this book might push him into the top tax bracket, meaning that all the income he earns from his doctoring will be taxed at 50 per cent. But then he will not receive the same pay for doing the same work as his colleagues who, lacking a significant additional source of income, are taxed at a lower rate.

Or take a more mundane example. Suppose an employer pays all his staff £10 an hour regardless of how many hours they work. How much these employees earn for an hour’s work then depends not only on the work itself, but also on how many hours they have previously worked and hence to which tax-bracket their wages are allocated. Same work, different pay. The Labour Left has never answered even the most basic question for egalitarians: namely, whether they favour equal treatment or equal outcomes. Conviction idiots.

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