Alex Massie

Soak the Old

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So George Osborne has received a kicking in today's press. That's what happens when you try to disguise a tax-raising budget as a tax-cutting affair. This is also a fine lesson in press management. For when you leak everything else in the budget do not be surprised if the press - bastards hungry for novelty and all that - leap upon the sneaky little tax rise that you did not leak in advance. It's that odd thing called "news", you see. And, again, perhaps Osborne has been just a little bit too clever by half.

His so-called "Granny Tax" was a classic ploy of the kind oft-favoured by Gordon Brown, slipped into the budget and mentioned only fleetingly in the hope no-one would notice. It turns out that tinkering George is Gordon's son and heir. At the very least Osborne should have made a proper argument for his decision instead of trying to finesse it so it seemed as though it weren't what it actually is.

The substance of the matter is a different thing and here, for once, Osborne has it right. Why should the wealthiest generation of pensioners this country has ever known be spared a modest tax increase at a time when everyone else is expected to pay more and when, incidentally, the old receive a greater share of public spending than they can have at any previous point in this island's history. This is all perfectly proper, for sure, and we should love the elderly as individuals even as we also worry about the costs of an ageing population. (Partial solution? More, not less, immigration.)

Pensioners vote and the young do not so it is not a surprise that politicians are wary of taking on the grey lobby. Nevertheless, in tough times it's not plainly obvious that pensioners, already excused National Insurance, should receive more generous allowances than non-pensioners. And for all the chuntering about the "Granny Tax" it is not as though Osborne made a radical or, if you prefer, modest proposal along the lines of offering tax credits or generous allowances to the heirs of pensioners who plump for voluntary, patriotic euthanasia...

UPDATE: Daniel Knowles has a typically astute take on all this.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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