Tax is a big idea

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Steve Richards argues in the Guardian this morning that Ed Miliband may be right, and that ideas could be the factor that determines the outcome of the next general election.

This does not always happen, of course. The cult of personality is powerful. There are, however, moments when ideas can be pivotal. 1945 was one. 1979 was another.

Now I am not going to be so bold as to suggest that Labour is going to offer anything so radical a shift in the political mood as happened then. That would be very far from the truth. It is too mainstream in its economic thinking at present to offer anything like such a paradigm shift, and I see little prospect of that changing over the next few months. But that does not mean ideas will not matter for two reasons.

The first is there is no big personality in the forthcoming election. That, I think, is a fact. If Cameron was he would have won in 2010, and did not. Miliband says he is not. Clegg is history and Farage is already, I suspect, a spent and slightly comedic character (words, I hope, I do not live to regret).

And then there is the fact that it is all too obvious that the current government has no new ideas. It demanded a five year term in office and can think of nothing to do with it. This year's legislative programme is threadbare. The 'big ideas' it has claimed to deliver including dismantling the NHS, threatening the effective supply of education and ruining the lives of millions into misery whilst imposing cuts that have not created prosperity are unpopular.

In that case it is up to opposition parties - and Labour has to take the lead - to deliver big ideas. Tax is one such big idea.

I have already suggested this year that the shadow economy is much bigger than HMRC suggest it is.

Tax debt is not under control.

Progress is being made on tax avoidance, but by no means enough.

Tax reliefs for big business are running out of control.

Even on business tax the bias in favour of big business and its owners against honest small businesses is becoming uncomfortably apparent.

The merit that a strong and enforced tax system has to offer is then a big idea whose time has come.

Invest in HMRC. Stop the tax cheats. Collect the debt. Close the loopholes. Make the system progressive. Be proactive in stopping international tax abuse. All make sense.

And all make money. Not one costs a net penny.

If balancing the books is the aim (rightly or wrongly) then making tax work for the benefit of ordinary people is one of the biggest possible ideas for the next general election. But, will anyone be brave enough to say so?