James Forsyth on the latest Spectator / Intelligence Squared debate
There was a particular buzz of anticipation before the latest Spectator / Intelligence2 debate – perhaps because the motion would materially affect the audience. Judging by appearances, I’d wager that almost all of them paid the top rate of tax and that north of 90 percent of them earned £100,000 a year, putting them in the sights of all those who think that the rich should pay more. If nothing else, the evening was going to settle whether or not Turkeys ever do vote for Christmas.
Evan Davis, the BBC’s former economics editor and now a presenter on the Today programme, was in the chair. This induced in me a Pavlovian longing for a cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice and I half expected members of the audience to dash out wailing ‘I’m going to be late.’ But Davis’s introduction of a stellar panel soon assured us that we were set for a treat at the end of the day rather than a stressful start to it.
John Kay, the distinguished Oxford economics don who had taught Davis at university, kicked off proceedings. He demonstrated that triangulation is as well understood amongst the Dreaming Spires as trigonometry. He started off by announcing that in the 1970s he had co-written a book saying that tax rates on the rich were far too high but he now thought they were rather too low. Established as the voice of moderation, Kay then took a few rather eloquent pot shots at the nom doms and private equity folk who pay, proportionately, so little in tax.
One felt that Kay had won over the audience. They sensed he wasn’t proposing to tax them too much more, but just enough to make them feel better about themselves.