Opinion

Left of Europe?

South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint likes to claim that President Barack Obama is to the “left of Europe.” He would do well to acquaint himself with what’s actually happening on the other side of the pond — that is, if he cares to tether himself to reality.

Take as the prime example Britain, where the Liberal Democrat tail is not just wagging vigorously the Conservative dog in the country’s coalition government but hurling it around with abandon. This week the Liberal Democrats have been holding their party conference in the hometown of the Beatles, Liverpool, and unveiling policies that amount to nothing short of a declaration of war on middle Britain. Success is to be punished, aspiration deterred and all in the name of something the Liberal Democrats like to call “social justice.”

According to “social justice,” the wealthy have not been taxed enough, despite the fact that Britons are now taxed more than the Germans. And “social justice” dictates that the wealthy, middle-income earners and small business owners should stop running off to tax accountants to try to reduce the government’s take. At the conference, the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, equated legitimate tax planning with illegal tax evasion. People who pay accountants to minimize their tax bills are behaving like “benefit cheats,” he sniffed. So much for the rule of law.

Clegg and the chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, announced also that half of all the people paying the new 50 percent top tax rate will have their finances raked over by a dedicated team of revenue investigators every year.

And to add insult to injury, middle-class families could be forced to undergo lie detector tests if they are suspected of tax evasion.

This despite the Coalition’s promise when entering office that it would roll back the intrusive state fashioned by the previous Labour government and expand freedom and strengthen civil liberties. Back then, Clegg talked about “an administration united behind three key principles — freedom, fairness and responsibility.”

And as deputy prime minister he’s meant to be leading the Coalition’s “Freedom Programme.” On a government Web site that invites the public to offer suggestions on how the state can be restrained and individual liberty enhanced are these stirring words from Clegg: “We’re working to create a more open and less intrusive society through our Programme for Government. We want to restore Britain’s traditions of freedom and fairness, and free our society of unnecessary laws and regulations — both for individuals and businesses.” It is almost as though Clegg thinks that lie-detector tests date back to the Magna Carta.

But then what politicians say are their goals when entering office and what they do can be two very different things. On arriving at Downing Street in 1979, Margaret Thatcher quoted St. Francis of Assisi: “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.” I supported Thatcher but I have to say she didn’t bring harmony and I don’t think in her heart she thought she would.