Election 2001: Honesty Is the Best Fiscal Policy; Terry Grimley Asks If It Isn't Time British Politicians Treated Us to a More Grown-Up Debate about Taxing and Spending

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Byline: Terry Grimley

For the first time in my adult life I am not sure how - if at all - I am going to vote in this election.

But come June 7, I might just be tempted to put my cross next to the name of the Lib Dem candidate, if only because this is the only party brave enough to tell us a simple truth: if you want better public services, you have to be willing to pay for them.

One of the most striking features of British politics in the last few years has been the demonisation of tax. I forget which politician I heard the other morning - it doesn't matter, they are mostly interchangeable - talking breezily about how the Government snatches your money and you never see it again.

Really? It seems to me that you see your money again whenever you set foot in a hospital or a school. You can see it unexpectedly, and alarmingly, when you're out walking the green and pleasant hills and are suddenly buzzed by a low-flying military aircraft. With a bit of luck, you'll see it if you are ever unfortunate enough to have to dial 999.

So this simplistic equation of taxation with theft is self-evident tosh. How come, then, that it has become one of the great unchallenged political orthodoxies of our time?

In this election, the three main parties are offering a clear spectrum of policies on tax, with the Tories at the opposite end to the Lib Dems, offering to tax less and spend more.

I have no idea how this policy will play with the country but I wonder whether it does not over-play the self-interest card.

Cynics may argue that the British electorate are on the whole unprincipled, self-interested and hypocritical (tending to be sentimental about nurses while voting for tax cuts) but I wonder whether they are really ready to be convinced you can have something for nothing.

The Lib Dems, of course, can afford high moral principles since there is no prospect of them forming a government. But Labour is boxed in, still traumatised by its 18 years in the wilderness and clearly terrified of having the old tax-and-spend label hung around its neck.

It isn't that I am arguing for a high-tax, Scandinavian-style society - merely for a recognition of how things actually are. It has become commonplace in this country to talk about a feelgood factor as though that could simply be equated with how much money we have in our pockets - whereas in fact many of the factors determining our sense of well-being, like healthcare, education, crime, the environment or public transport, lie outside the power of individuals to influence. …