The Labour Party and Taxation: Party Identity and Political Purpose in Twentieth-Century Britain

The Labour Party and Taxation: Party Identity and Political Purpose in Twentieth-Century Britain

The Labour Party and Taxation: Party Identity and Political Purpose in Twentieth-Century Britain

The Labour Party and Taxation: Party Identity and Political Purpose in Twentieth-Century Britain

Synopsis

This is a political history of Labour's use of the tax system from 1906 to 1979; an epilogue brings the story up to the present, surveying New Labour's tax policies and dilemmas. Richard Whiting's lucid and readable study examines how Labour used taxation to further its political aims: to fund welfare, manage the economy, promote fairness and achieve greater equality. This study sheds new light on Labour's history, and is a valuable contribution to understanding both the tax structure and the politics of twentieth-century Britain more generally.

Excerpt

Although Labour only held office for two short periods down to 1931 its experience goes to the heart of the key themes of this book about the role of a party within the area of taxation. in particular, it explores the question of how far Labour was able to establish its legitimacy as a reforming party within two contexts for tax politics. One of these was presenting tax ideas to the people, where reforms had to be defended against popular instincts and prejudices, especially at election time. the other was arguing a case within the political institutions of the democracy, in royal commissions and in parliamentary committees, for example, which had a wholly different, and rather more academic, flavour than the popular domain. This period therefore establishes some early truths about the nature of tax politics and Labour's involvement in it.

Labour faced these demanding tests in what were two strongly contrasting periods. Before 1914 it had to establish itself within the Liberals' programme of reform and it had to make sure it was not a mere spectator of this reforming energy. After 1918 it had to adapt that inheritance to the much less promising conditions of the 1920s. Reform was no longer carrying all before it and the Conservatives were able to use an anti-socialist appeal which fed off the anxieties towards the modern tax state developed by the war. Although the Liberal Party had been displaced, Liberals interested in public finance were still able to watch their usurpers with a disdainful and critical eye.

Although Labour faced an uphill struggle, its own perspective and character changed considerably in these years. By the inter-war period Labour was no longer a trade union pressure group but a governing party, no longer proletarian but with a strong middle-class element. Ambitions developing in the 1920s had a different and more confident trajectory from those of the founding fathers. This chapter explores some of the contrasts and connections within this theme as it involves the party's tax policy, and in so doing pays particular attention to two individuals, Philip Snowden and Hugh Dalton. For Snowden . . .

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