Simon Heffer is opining in his new online Mail slot on Osborne’s Autumn statement.
He sets out his 10 point plan to boost British growth. It’s all fairly vintage tax cutting Heffer stuff and unobjectionable, until he starts to give his prejudices their head.
He writes: “Increase taxes on anti-social items such as tobacco and off-sales of alcohol, and on gambling (including spread betting). Norman Lamont justified a tax on mobile phones, of all things, because they were anti-social. Taxing more heavily the drink that people buy in supermarkets - and which too many sit drinking on pavements - or the cigarettes that lead to illnesses which are such a burden on the NHS, would follow a similar principle. There is also no reason not to include a tax on grotesquely inflated Premiership football transfer fees, and on golden hellos and golden handshakes in the financial services sector. Most controversially, VAT could be introduced on foods deemed injurious to health – those with high fat content, for example.’’
I wonder whether Heffer delegated that bit to a trainee or whether he has finally lost it.
He decrees tobacco and alcohol to be anti-social. Well, we’ll be the judges of that, thank you Heffer.
It is a source of international wonder that alcohol is so scandalously expensive in this country, thanks to the extortionate levels of duty already levied on it. Incidentally, the UK ranks 14th out of 20 countries for alcohol consumption, below France and Germany.
Heffer is from Essex, an admirable county whose sons and daughters have achieved much, no doubt due, in no small part, to the strong influence of Calvinist Puritanism on that land.
Calvinism is famous for being an uncompromising doctrine, which takes a dim view of human enjoyment. Now all of us can, at times be irritated by our fellow creatures having a good time – Red Nose Day, for example, brings out the latent Calvinist in me – but it’s hardly reasonable that Heffer’s hang-ups should be translated into taxes on the rest of us.
Apart from a killjoy instinct, a big fib lies behind so much of this health fascism: namely that these vices are a net financial burden on the country. In truth drinkers, like smokers, contribute enough to the Exchequer by way of duty to pay for much of the NHS and, by dying earlier, save the country a fortune in pensions, plastic hips, bus passes, winter fuel allowances and all the rest of the costs of old age health care.
In these desperate economic times smoking and drinking are nothing less than a patriotic duty.