Sebastian Payne

Should politicians leave the wealthy alone?

Should politicians leave the wealthy alone?
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Bashing the rich has become trendy. Last night, the Spectator hosted a debate at the Guildhall School of Drama on whether the rich have contributed their fair share to society, or if we should ramp up wealth taxes. It’s a very emotive topic and each of the speakers made a solid case for and against the motion: politicians should leave the wealthy alone — they already contribute more than their fair share.

Proposing the motion, Spectator editor Fraser Nelson described how London is a city ‘shaped by the super rich,’ pointing out the number of places that serve a £20 vodka martini. But Fraser argued that society needs these wealthy people and taxing them more isn’t the best way to get money out of them. 80 per cent of those on Britain's rich list are self-made, which shows that Britain is a country that rewards wealth creators. He encouraged the audience to ‘vote for the politics of answers, not the politics of anger.’

Author and Guardian columnist Owen Jones was first to speak against the motion, arguing that the thousand richest people in Britain have seen their wealth double in recent years while the poorest have suffered. Instead of huge pay rises for CEOs, Owen said that employees should be paid more. Citing Starbucks as an example, he argued that the richest are richer than they've ever been and the world won't come crashing down if they paid a little bit more tax.

Spectator associate editor Toby Young also spoke for the motion, explaining how poverty has fallen across the globe and outlined some of the ways the coalition government has helped tackle it — through education and taxation changes. He also argued that food banks are not a good measurement of food poverty.

Author Jack Monroe spoke against the motion, telling Toby ‘it’s a disgrace we need food banks in the first place’. In a very emotive speech, she argued that there is a difference between quoting poverty statistics and living through poverty — having experienced it herself. Jack said that a more equal Britain could be built by cracking down on tax avoidance and paying a living wage.

Spear's magazine editor William Cash argued that the rich should be left alone, saying that we shouldn't demonise the wealthy but make the most of the money in Britain. William said that hospitals and doctors cannot be paid for if there is no money in the first place. He went on to suggest that the best to fight inequality is to create opportunities for everyone.

Finally, the Green MEP Molly Scott Cato spoke in favour of chasing the rich and argued that those who are wealthy tend to come from wealthy families. She described her pursuit of tax avoiders, pointing out that the number of tax inspectors in the EU has actually fallen. Molly argued that the concentration of wealth is 'corroding our society and democracy'.

Before the debate, 192 were for the motion, 140 against and 77 undecided. After the speeches and Q&A, 232 were for the motion, 160 against and 24 undecided — so the motion was duly carried.

Watch the debate in full: