The power of fairytales

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As the FT reports this morning:

Once upon a time there lived a noble and chivalrous group of knights in a great big castle called the Stock Exchange.

It may sound like a children’s fairy story, but these were the words used by John Redwood in 1984 as he outlined the radical ideas underpinning what was to become the “Big Bang” — the most fundamental overhaul the City of London has seen.

Now, whilst it has to be said straight away that John Redwood has been telling similar fairy tales ever since, as have the vast majority on the political and economic right, there is something important to note in this story, and that is the power of simple narratives.

Redwood undoubtedly knew this; he spun a yarn of right against wrong and privilege preserving wealth by denying access to others. It was utter baloney; all he did was shift the locus of privilege to a new group in society, but that is not the point I want to make here. By reducing his demand to such apparently simple story telling he pretty much got his way.

We've learned the power of that in the tax just narrative although we have avoided the need for fiction: the reality of what happens in tax havens, big business and the shadow economy is all too real to require invention. All we need to do was tell it as it is to make real progress.

But that story still needs to be told and so do others, not least when it comes to the need for a level playing field for all business to compete upon when it comes to the need to beat domestic small business tax evasion and the need to create greater equity in society by ensuring that all pay their fair share in taxes.

It's vital that we do not let the right keep possession of the economic narrative, not least because we have a vastly better moral tale to tell, and all good narratives are based on that at the end of the day.