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Hugo Rifkind

Why my friends love the idea of a nasty, stupid mansion tax

Plus: nightwear visions of MPs in their PJs

4 October 2014

9:00 AM

4 October 2014

9:00 AM

I see all the flaws with a mansion tax, I really do. And yet some little piece of me, some tribal chip within my soul, rejoices at the thought of one. So do not expect the sympathy of the young, you owners of ‘perfectly normal houses’, now classed, however bizarrely, as the homes of the super-rich. For they will turn away from you when the taxman comes knocking, with a sudden geronticidal steel in their eyes. And you may be hurt, and you may feel righteously aggrieved. But do not be surprised.

I live in London, in a house which is not a mansion. Indeed, it is probably not even half of a mansion. For seasoned watchers of property in London — which is many people in London — that brief description (particularly the ‘probably’) will be enough for you to pinpoint my circumstances. It’s a terrace in a decentish part of London, near a goodish school. A hundred miles north they would keep goats in a tumbly wreck like this, or more likely have knocked it down to build something more sensible and less picturesque. Yet here and now, I am among the golden elect. Yes, I have a handful of peers who live in better homes. But I have many, many more who live in worse.

These are not society’s disadvantaged, not even nearly. Nor are they the very young, with unknowable futures full of possibility. They are graduates and professionals in their thirties or forties. Often they have a kid or two and they cram themselves into garden flats, if they are lucky. Barring massive inheritance or lottery win, these people — and there are legions of them — will never afford the likes of my probably-not-even-half-a-mansion, unless they leave their city, go north and kick out the aforementioned goats. Work hard, strive, save; nope, it just isn’t going to happen. And that’s not prophesy. That’s maths.

So if you are to take anything from this column, then let it be a simple appreciation of the sheer infuriating, dangerous tactlessness — there is no other word; it is tactlessness — of telling these people that a £2 million house is a perfectly normal one. Because in doing so, you are also reminding them that something so mundane as perfect normality has become a thing they will never, ever, even nearly afford.


That’s it. That’s my whole point. I don’t defend Labour’s mansion tax ­proposal — I think it is nasty and stupid. ­Clearly, it will widen inequality, not diminish it, for London has no shortage of people prepared to buy £2 million houses, tax or not. Enforcement will be an expensive disaster. Worst of all, it will tangibly bugger up some people’s lives, and I’m not a fan of the state buggering up lives, be it through mansion taxes or bedroom taxes or other taxes in between. Fix the farce of council tax, by all means, but don’t do this. It is the politics of envy. Of course it is. Of course.

Yet envy isn’t always irrational. So whether this ever happens or not, you happy old folk in your perfectly normal houses, spare a thought for the world you have left behind. And if HMRC ever does come scraping at your door, try to understand the curled lip of your exact counterparts 30 years down the line. Who may see your problems and acknowledge them, but who will also struggle, in all brutal honesty, to give any sort of a damn.

The pyjamas of power

Anyway, enough of all that. Let’s talk pyjamas. Specifically, let’s talk paisley pyjamas. Never mind what poor Mr Newmark had hanging out of his; concentrate on the garment itself. You never think of politicians in pyjamas. Although now I’ve started, and I just can’t stop.

David Cameron, I suspect, used to sleep in tracky bottoms and a Smiths T-shirt until really quite recently. These days, though, it’ll be a suit of something expensive and slinky, maybe black satin, or green. While Ed Miliband’s pyjama situation you just know will be chaos. Possibly he still wears the now tight and farcical Thomas the Tank Engine ones he had when he was 11. Keeps meaning to buy new ones, never does.

Ed Balls will sleep in black shorts and string vest. I am certain of this, but cannot say why. Likewise, I think we can all be sure that William Hague has — if only ­latterly — taken to sleeping in a kaftan. George Osborne, if he does not sleep in a dinner jacket, in a coffin, probably wears boxer shorts and a T-shirt he owned as a Young Conservative. Chuka Umunna will sleep in only Calvin Klein briefs, all the better to catch a glimpse of himself in the mirror on his ceiling. Eric Pickles I see in a giant romper suit. I wish I did not see this. But I do.

Nigel Farage will sleep in his clothes, probably in a chair. Theresa May will not sleep, so this will not be an issue. Alex Salmond may have some sort of slimy cocoon, as larvae do. Nick Clegg will sleep nude, for all Liberal Democrats do. Except for Vince Cable, who will wear a sensible BHS buttoning two-piece, unironed and probably maroon.

Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.


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