Apr 102012

Once upon a time there was something called ‘tax’, which was a system of levies intended to fill the treasury vaults or, in the distant past, the royal coffers. Of course no one ever liked paying taxes very much, not ever, taxesbut at least the concept was easy enough to grasp and to justify. In a well-ordered society there should be funds available to meet the cost of communal needs, like defence forces, administration, health care, education, the police, the judiciary etc., and everyone should contribute.

We may have groaned about having to pay taxes, but at least we could understand why it was necessary. Now, all that seems to have changed. A pending announcement from the government about the much-heralded Green Deal illustrates just how far we have departed from the old concept of taxation. We’ll come to that in a moment, but first let’s look at a couple of stages in the evolution of taxes during the last few decades.

The idea of imposing taxes to change people’s behaviour, rather than merely to fund public services, is not new. Inflating the cost of alcohol in order to curb excess drinking, while at the same time diverting vast amounts from our pockets to the Treasury for the public good of course has long been a sure-fire earner for Chancellors of the Exchequer. By the middle of the last century, taxes on tobacco were fulfilling the same role, and the term ‘sin tax’ had entered the vocabulary.

This subterfuge has proved very successful, always providing that our political masters are careful not to reduce our smoking and drinking too much, which would kill the goose which lays the golden eggs. ‘Sin’, as a Bishop once said, ‘is always with us’, and a long succession of cash strapped governments have good reason to give thanks for that it is so.

Then came the age of Blair and Brown, when the electorate was encouraged to passively connive at the world of smoke and mirrors that those two arch deceivers inhabited.

Among their crowning glories was the concept of the ‘stealth tax’, by means of which vast amounts were unobtrusively siphoned from the national lottery and from pension contributions, to fund public services, in the hope that no one would notice what was going on. Money that we innocently thought we were spending just as we pleased was in fact ending up in the same place as our income tax, but without it appearing that taxation had increased.

Now, with a very strange coalition of the left leaning Liberals, and the supposedly right leaning Conservatives somehow managing to cling to power, probably for no other reason than that the electorate would find any alternative even less credible, we seem to have entered the age of the SUPER-STEALTH TAX: a means of taxation so devious that the government’s grubby little hands don’t even touch the money that is extracted from our pockets and spent at their behest not ours.

Call me old fashioned, but I do believe that when I’ve paid income tax, national insurance, rates, road tax, VAT, capital gains tax, stamp duty, and all the rest of the direct and indirect levies imposed on my financial resources by government, I have discharged my fiscal obligations like a good citizen. Whatever is left is mine to spend, or save, in whatever way I choose.

Well not any more it isn’t!

The first SUPER-STEALTH TAX was a hangover from the Blair and Brown years, and the scenario went something like this. Give companies, usually foreign multinationals, which can be persuaded to build alternative energy schemes, like wind farms, what amounts to a monopoly in which the power distributors are required to buy every last kilowatt that they can produce, however uncompetitive and erratic that supply might be. In addition, require the distributors to pay the producer a price set by the government not by the market, which wouldn’t touch such crazy projects with a barge pole and make that price at least double the cost of conventional electricity. Then allow the distributors to pass the outrageous additional costs straight on to the customer by adding it to their bills.

Is this taxation?

Well it is certainly a means of providing massive subsidies to the alternative energy industry, on behalf of government, so that it will invest in producing goods and services for which there would otherwise be insufficient demand to make such projects viable. And there is no doubt that this bit of legerdemain encroaches on my freedom to deploy the residue of my money after taxation in just the way that I choose. Apparently politicians have now determined just how I should spend another tranche of my money, and that is all about fulfilling their policy objectives, not my desires. That is a situation that sounds awfully like taxation to me.

Christopher Booker has an excellent article in the Daily Mail today highlighting another, and potentially much more potent, SUPER-STEALTH TAX . In this case, poor old Joe public will only be able to get permission for home improvements, such as a new conservatory, if they first spend thousands of pounds to bring the whole house up to an ideal state of energy efficiency in terms of insulation and draft proofing. As this ploy is part of the Green Deal, I assume that the government will be on hand to offer a twenty-five year loan to defray at least some of the costs, the idea being that the additional insulation will pay for itself by means of reduced energy bills: a very questionable proposition indeed. Be that as it may, the loan will be repaid as part of the electricity bills.

What is certain is that yet more of my money must be spent on a government scheme, at the government’s direction, and not as I choose, in order to be able to obtain permission to make improvements to my house.

And the purpose of all this seems to be two-fold: firstly to meet carbon reduction targets set by the European Union, which have been made even more unrealistic by Ed Miliband’s amplification of them in his Carbon Act, and secondly, in order to fulfil the coalition’s promise of creating a green industrial revolution, with tens of thousands of new jobs being created in the ‘energy efficiency’ industry. The latter is of course crucial to the coalition’s promise that unemployment caused by cuts in the public sector will be mopped up by new opportunities in the private sector.

But there does seem to be a tiny flaw in the government’s logic here. Jobs in the public sector, which were paid for out of taxation, are apparently to be replaced by jobs that are payed for by a SUPER-STEALTH TAX imposed on householders who are unfortunate enough to own property that is not perfectly insulated which is most of us rather in the way of the punitive sin taxes imposed on drinkers and smokers. So jobs funded by overt taxation are to be replaced by jobs funded by covert taxation.

Can anyone come up with a better name for this form of fiscal shenanigans than SUPER_STEALTH TAX? Because the sooner it’s branded and labelled, the sooner the dangers it poses can be addressed, and a political class that increasingly seems disposed to play the electorate for suckers, whether it’s over MP’s expenses, selling ministerial influence, or over regulation and loss of sovereignty, can be kicked back into line, even if only temporarily.

It’s not that I’m against efficient home insulation in fact I think that it is a very worthwhile exercise provided that it is likely to be cost-effective. It’s just that I do wonder how the political life of this country will be affected when the electorate really tumbles to what’s going on.

20 Responses to “Welcome to the age of SUPER-STEALTH TAX”

  1. TonyN

    I get the impression that the electorate is so bowed by taxes and general green lunacy that they will just shrug and get on with their lives, knowing there is not a thing they can do about it, and that changing one set of idiots for another at a general election won’t change things in the slightest as they all come from the same mould.

    This is very dangerous for our democracy but I don’t know where the next genuine leader- who has the interests of the British public at heart-is coming from.

  2. “Can anyone come up with a better name for this form of fiscal shenanigans than SUPER_STEALTH TAX? ”

    Not necessarily better but ‘extortion’ seems to fit the bill.

    And its ‘justification’ is a fraud.

  3. tonyb;

    I take your point entirely, but also wonder at what stage government will add the straw which breaks the camel’s back. So this is interesting:

    Daily Mail poll at http://www.dailymail.co.uk scroll down the page

    Should the Government scrap green taxes?

    Thank you for voting

    The chattering classes love being niffy about the Daily Mail, but in terms of circulation it has clout being second only to The Sun. Also, it arguably numbers more tax payers, and more vocal tax payers, among it’s readership.

  4. Tonyb,

    I agree with TonyN. There must come a time when the worm turns. I see the quoted poll figures, which are encouraging coming from the likely voters, but, as you say, who are people going to find to vote for. Unfortunately, because of this, any change is likely to take some unexpected form, not a comfy return to common sense.

  5. Tim Yeo of the CCC was on BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme this week and seemed aware, to a certain extent, of the potential difficulties facing the government if they go ahead with this:

    Tim Yeo: My concern is entirely a practical one. I desperately want British homes and buildings to be more energy-efficient. I want the public to really play their part in enthusiastically responding to the opportunity of the Green Deal. I’m afraid that there’s a risk – a real risk – that the practical effect of this proposal may be to make people – to put people off, make them less enthusiastic. What we want to do is to see people volunteering to make their homes more energy efficient, not compelling them when they’re carrying out some unconnected alteration.

    Sarah Montague: And if the price of that is that we cannot be more ambitious in our – what we’re aiming for with our carbon dioxide reductions, is that a price worth paying?

    Tim Yeo: No, we’ve got to remain very ambitious. The carbon emissions from buildings are a very high percentage of the total emissions, and we’ve got to get them down. That also, incidentally, is about how we generate the electricity which some people use to heat their homes, but – no, we mustn’t cut down on our ambitions. What we have to do is to try and make the public share those ambitions. I fully support the way the government’s approached this through the Green Deal. I want to see people doing this, I want Britain to be the most energy-efficient country in the world, over the next decade, and the Green Deal is part of that. But what we have to do, if we’re going to really achieve that goal, we have to make sure the public are out there in front, saying “Yes, please let’s get on with this”, rather than saying to someone “Well, you’ve got to do something you don’t really want to do.”

    “What we have to do is to try and make the public share those ambitions.” I think that scenario is somewhat unlikely now.

  6. Greg Barker has an article answering criticisms of the Green Deal at
    with the possibility of comments (and answers from Greg?)

  7. Just 24 Guardian readers have commented on the Minister’s article. Not a lot for a scheme that’s supposed to interest millions of householders. Now Leo Hickman has put up an article on the same subject to try and drum up some interest. I like this comment by Albedo

    If you sup with the government it is best to sup with a long spoon.
    The payback periods are long and politicians have short memories.
    Do not forget that government has no money. it can only lend you, or subsidise you, with money that it intends to extract from you the taxpayer later on


  8. TonyN I think you have hit the public mood very well. The current levels of taxation are nothing short of theft, and all three parties have boxed themselves into a corner. Representatives of all three parties are moralising on our behalf over wanting to pay our fair share of tax. Wrong I pay 40% and resent every penny over 20% because with so much of our money it just encourages them to waste more. Tonyb, I wouldn’t be so pessimistic. I can see some light at the end of the tunnel, but I can’t tell just how long the tunnel is. Let me explain.

    The public mode is/was encapsulated in the recent Bradford by-election. The vote was for none of the above and George Galloway for all his faults is no fool and was able to cynically exploit the situation. Even the turnout was much higher than for a usual by-election although as always the MSM have failed to keep up. UKIP with its less than clear and fuzzy policies on anything other than on Europe, completely failed, demonstrating that Farage and his cohorts don’t understand what it is that we are all upset at. But it was a warning shot that I’m sure Cameron, Clegg and Miliband completely miss the point of, and will not cause them to change before next election. All three of them are toast.

    On all fronts there is an assault on the CAGW con. In Queensland the state government has changed and with a delicious sense of irony the new leader has appointed the ex-climate change apparatchik as the person to dismantle all the apparatus of climate change. He is also the husband of the losing labour leader adding further salt to the wound. We see the EU for the first time being beaten back on its ludicrous and high handed carbon tax on aviation. This wasn’t just a step too far, but an attempt to impose a tax way outside anything closely resembling their jurisdiction. Give enough rope as they say.

    But looming just around the corner is the financial Armageddon that we are being told constantly has been averted. Several large banks in Europe are insolvent, in the same way that HBOS was. We are rapidly reaching the point where the US will finally pull the plug (Obama has been hugely damaging here by underhandedly supporting the EU) and try and save their own Banks, many of which are way too far in hock to Europe. It’s the fallout from this that will be the catalyst for real political change both sides of the Atlantic.

    I have come to the view that Global warming was never about science and has always been political. I acknowledge that all the hard work by sceptical blogs has played a part in raising public awareness of the issues, and has been an absolutely necessary step in the process, but if the financial environment was still as in 2005/6 we would be even further mired in green crap.

    I don’t these day read WUWT or Bishop Hill etc other than see if anything interesting is happening. These sights now cater to the newly inquisitive but add little to the debate. Outside of climate science it is becoming increasingly obvious that consensus science has been distorting the truth across a whole range of disciplines. WUWT is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success by not opening up and allowing the challenging a whole range of matters. In it attempt to not to appear out of the mainstream it is not focusing on new research, or old research that disagrees with the mainstream.

    For me I think I have constantly emphasised two things. One we should have kept the science argument on CO2 and ignored temperature, and that it would be the money running out that would precipitate change. Well the money has run out, despite what you here from the BBC or the FT and my research into CO2 has now convinced me there is no such thing as the greenhouse effect and the even all those very clever and eminent sceptical scientist that say the greenhouse effect is real but negligible are wrong. It’s negligible because it doesn’t exist.

    The key to my view on CO2 are the Dinosaurs. Can anyone guess why?

  9. I think that Geoff’s observation catches the present mood: boredom and indifference so far as CAGW is concerned. That certainly bodes ill for warmist politicians — and that’s most politicians — when measures like wind subsidies and reqirements to insulate property prior to home improvement begin to really bite. There is nothing like realising that your pocket is being picked for banishing ennui and triggering a violent reaction.

  10. Peter G:

    I certainly recognise a scenario where the financial cataclism which is threatening the Euro area leads to its collapse and with it the political authority of the EU. And although the EU seems to have played a far less important part in the UNFCCC’s attempt to launch a binding global agreement on carbon emission reduction than might have been expected, if the 27 nations suddenly find that they are no longer bound to a common policy on AGW that really would spell the end of the process.

    But what about these Dinosaurs?

  11. TonyN your #9 Indifference is a good word to use, especially about many who still have jobs in the south of the country. But the attitude amongst many of them is we can still have it all; many of them are the products of the age of stupid, and many entered the workforce in the 90’s. It’s only when they can no longer go on holiday because the credit card is maxed out, or they lose their house that they will start to focus. AGW is not something that will win an election, but if a politician has the right attitude towards spending it is a perfect vehicle example for them to illustrate their case. This is where the importance of all the sceptic blogs comes in having raised people awareness.

  12. Dinosaurs, if you believe in all we know about aerodynamics then the large flying creatures from 150 to 65 million years ago could not fly if our atmosphere was as it is today. Read this for starters from 2000. 12 years ago this should have been enough to stop the CO2 demonising and get some proper research going. There is more to come.


  13. So glad it’s spring and Harmless Sky is in bloom again. What better way of wasting an afternoon than a discussion about tax and dinosaurs? Especially as I’ve already wasted the morning discussing folk music at Climate Resistance, philosophy at Bishop Hill, and which way up is North in the Orion Nebula at Omnologos.
    Peter Geany:
    The article on a high pressure CO2-rich atmosphere in the past is very interesting. What would be the effect for large land-based dinosaurs though? Many were so heavy that they coudn’t walk on solid ground. It is assumed that they must have spent their entire lives paddling in lakes. This sounds very dangerous, evolutionarily speaking. I know frogs do it, but they can hop, and move from pond to pond if they need to – but diploducuses?

  14. Geoff you are on the right track so read this. I’m not saying everything is right but it gets the thought processes working again, and is something we can debate.

    Also I have been following lots of links to the sun, not from the establishment but from those whose ideas and voices are extinguished. And guess what, it looks like climate science all over again. The only differences being we don’t realise the billions they are wasting chasing ghosts (LHC) In the case of climate science its gone too far and I think we have opened sciences Pandora’s box.

    If I said the Sun is a neutron star would you think I’m mad?

    Now I must get back to the painting

  15. The non-interest in the two Green Deal articles at the Guardian is quite astonishing. Three comments on Leo Hickman’s article today, and one on Greg Barker’s. Given that Hickman’s article is part of his ongoing attempt to engage readers in dialogue, and his articles usually attract hundreds of comments, this looks like a mass boycott.
    It could be that people have rumbled the point that TonyN makes in the article, that:

    the purpose of all this seems to be two-fold: firstly to meet carbon reduction targets set by the European Union, … and secondly, in order to fulfil the coalition’s promise of creating a green industrial revolution, with tens of thousands of new jobs being created in the ‘energy efficiency’ industry.

    and are simply not buying it. (Added to the fact that they’re simply not buying anything, because of the dire economic situation)

    Peter Geany: As an alternative to the neutron star theory, try this

  16. Which of the following hurts a politician’s, or a journalist’s, career prospects more: being ignored or being contradicted an involved in controversy?

    The non-event at the Graun seems really promising.

  17. TonyN #16
    I’m not sure it’ll have much effect on the Minister’s career prospects, since only a few hundred people will ever know about it, and Leo Hickman must have a hide like an elephant by now.
    It’s probably the Graun’s CommentisFree page which comes off worst. The minister won’t be anxious to come back after such a frigid welcome. Not long ago, they had top names writing guest articles on their environment pages like Sir Nicholas Professor Lord Stern, and even the great John Prescott. Imagine their surprise when the Graun’s readers turn out to be 80% sceptic!
    But the Graun’s Environment editor may have other things on his mind soon. See comment #14 by Vinny Burgoo at
    Anyone had any experience of the Press Complaints Commission?

  18. Geoff Thanks for the link. Yes this is another version of what the sun could be. I will study this in detail. I think the point I was trying to make, poorly as it turns out is that we don’t really know what the sun is, and that the consensus science that it is a hydrogen ball fussing into He just doesn’t add up. If the inner Planets are predominantly iron then the Sun must be made of the same stuff.

    We get handed physical pieces to the jigsaw of our evolution but from time to time we ignore them.

  19. According to the Telegraph, the government now appear to be backing away from the tax, due to “staunch opposition”:

    Tory ministers are said to be furious that people who want to extend their homes or build conservatories will be forced to pay for extra insulation themselves or sign up to the Government’s “Green Deal”, which provides loans to install energy-saving insulation that must be paid back with interest.

    The disclosures come as ministers also prepare to pull back from onshore wind farms, after more than 100 backbench Conservative MPs mounted a rebellion against turbines blighting rural areas.

    And according to the Guardian, Chris Huhne is less than pleased:

    However, the Guardian commentariat seem to be generally as impressed with Chris Huhne as they were with Greg Barker.

  20. I suspect that the TV licence isn’t officially counted as a tax. It is. A tax used to pay for the government propaganda netwrok. Particularly offencsive to those who do not vote for the officially approve3d parties. we are ecxpected to pay for a propagandaervice” from which anybody who shares our views is blatantly censored.

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