Left of Europe?

Jamie Dettmer Contributor
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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.

And what else is in the hearts of Liberal Democrats when it comes to middle Britain? So far since taking office, a day has hardly gone by without the Liberal Democrats digging not just at the wealthy but at the middle-class, with a new fee, levy or tax being announced or a benefit withdrawn. The avalanche may go some way to explain why the outcry was muted in response to the lie-detector proposals. Middle Britain is just reeling at what is coming at them.

While Barack Obama wants tax cuts for small businesses and an extension of the Bush tax cuts for all but two percent of Americans, the Coalition is sticking it to the equivalent sections of Britain’s population.

In the names of “social justice” and “social mobility,” Britain’s energy secretary, Chris Huhne (yes, another Liberal Democrat), is proposing massive new green taxes on motorists and vacationers so that the proportion of government revenue raised by environmental taxes would jump from 7.7 percent to 10 percent. Alas, the revenue raised by green taxes wouldn’t be earmarked for green projects; instead, that revenue would go towards helping low earners.

The country’s business secretary, Vince Cable (yes, another Liberal Democrat), is backing a new graduate tax linked to earnings to support Britain’s hard-pressed universities. But it doesn’t stop there. When asked recently what he would consider success, Cable responded: “a tax system that means people at the bottom end of the scale pay less and at the top end of the scale pay more.” Britain already has a progressive tax system, but it isn’t enough for Cable, as success for him is to have overseen a massive redistribution of wealth.

Aside from banging on about taxes, the business secretary has spent a great deal of time lambasting the country’s business leaders and bankers, accusing them of being “spivs and gamblers” in the “murky world of capitalism.” Yes, you read that right. This is Britain’s business secretary speaking.

Middle Britain has also had to endure a hike in the capital gains tax and lecture after lecture from Clegg and Liberal Democrats (and, amazingly, one or two Conservatives) about social mobility and how middle-class kids should be streamed away from good public schools by the use of quotas.

Where are the Liberal Democrats’ government partners on all of this? Recently, Conservative leaders have been rather silent. Clegg and his party now boast that they have helped to release the “inner liberal in the Conservatives.” But not when it comes to Conservative Party activists, who are becoming increasingly restless.

So Senator DeMint, do you still think President Obama is to the “left of Europe”?

Jamie Dettmer is a former political writer for The Times and The Sunday Telegraph. He blogs at www.jamiedettmer.com.