Magazine article Public Finance

Pay Your Taxes and Save the Planet

Magazine article Public Finance

Pay Your Taxes and Save the Planet

Article excerpt

At some point most afternoons I find myself flicking through galleries of photos for possible inclusion in the next day's newspaper.

There are the usual selection of bombings, crime scenes, politicians, the weather, celebrities, footballers and, increasingly, polar bears. These snarling carnivores must have hired the Saatchi brothers because their makeover has been remarkable from savage seal slaughterers to poster creatures for the environment in a few bounds.

The trick has clearly impressed Alistair Darling, who this week tried to emulate our new ursine friends. And of course there is a touch of the snow bear about the chancellor: the fluffy white hair, the oh-so-gentle eyes, although the eyebrows are more suggestive of panda than polar.

And so, learning from the bears, Darling has tried to remake himself and the government in the image of green crusaders. And yes, just like the savage brutes of the slush-caps, you can pay heavily for getting too close.

Happily, Darling bounded into the greenery of the Commons for his first Budget as chancellor, his tousled white fur glistening, to announce the environmental measures which would help save the planet.

Gas-guzzling cars, air passengers et al took a hammering. The global menace that is the plastic shopping bag is facing a potential clampdown. That cuddly Darling may have been raising our taxes, but only for the good of the world.

Of course, there was the odd hiccup. The increase in fuel duty might have helped the planet but it made the political environment just a little too hot, so that one was parked for a few months. But don't worry: he announced even higher charges to come when oil prices are lower.

Air taxes are, of course, flavour of the month - rather like the third runway at Heathrow, to which the government seems committed.

What exactly is the principle behind these hikes? Are they really intended to change behaviour through the principle of the polluter pays? Or is it simply to make people pay?

One can easily imagine the scene in the chancellor's office some weeks back as officials briefed Darling on the tightness of the public finances.

"Never mind, chancellor, there are always the good taxes. Green, plastic bag, cigarette and alcohol taxes; air and Chelsea tractor taxes. You don't have to bury these on page 93 of the Budget notes. You can proclaim them loud and proud.'

'But haven't we always made these fiscally neutral?' he asks.

'Maybe so, chancellor, but has that effected the kind of behavioural change we need? Perhaps it's time to forego our neutrality? And the money won't half come in handy.'

'By God, you're right. …

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