James Kirkup James Kirkup

What the campaign to abolish inheritance tax tells us about British politics

Liz Truss (Credit: Getty images)

The Daily Telegraph, where I worked for a decade, has launched a campaign for the abolition of inheritance tax (IHT). It’s backed by at least 50 Conservative MPs, including one former prime minister, Liz Truss.

That campaign, and its likely impact, reveal some noteworthy things about British politics, media and society.

  1. The influence of experts is often very limited

This observation won’t surprise most readers here, but I think it’s still worth making. I like IHT and so do a lot of people like me: professional policy wonks and economists, who proliferate at Westminster and often get a lot of prominence in political debate – especially on Twitter. 

My technocratic tribe largely regards inherited wealth as harmful to social mobility and economic efficiency. We’d rather see large accumulations of wealth redistributed by the state than cascade down to children who may already have enjoyed significant economic and social advantages.

We often have charts to prove our points. We get particularly enraged by arguments like ‘it’s double taxation’, since ‘double taxation’ is commonplace and unremarked on elsewhere. Every pound of taxed income that you spend on VAT-rated items, for example, is being taxed twice. That’s life, folks. 

There are various other clever points I could rehearse here, but I won’t. Because what we think doesn’t really matter. Public opinion is almost entirely unmoved by another round of clever nerds like me making the case for IHT.

We’re all scared of dying and one of the few sources of comfort is the idea that when we do, we can leave something behind for the people we love; the power of that feeling is so strong that it doesn’t matter if your estate isn’t in any danger of incurring IHT. You’re still very likely to hate the idea of that tax and support its reduction.

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