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Opinion: Britain’s politics of “fairness” stops tax reform

No candidates offer the dose of Thatcherism that UK economy needs.

Britain's opposition Conservative Party leader David Cameron, left, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, right, take part in the third and final televised party leaders' election campaign debate in Birmingham, April 29, 2010. (Jeff Overs/BBC/Reuters)

WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the people of Britain will choose their next government.

Recent polls indicate that David Cameron’s Conservative Party will win, albeit narrowly. What Cameron will do with his mandate is anyone’s guess. The Tories have moved to the middle of the political spectrum, jettisoning much of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy of expanding economic freedom.

Indeed, Britons may be forgiven for seeing little difference between the Conservatives on the one hand, and the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats on the other hand. That is a shame, for Britain’s economy, like that of much of Europe, calls for a large dose of Thatcherism.

Britain has given the world freedom as we know it. From the signing of the Magna Charta through the Glorious Revolution to the English Bill of Rights, the English strove to protect their freedoms and limit the power of the monarchy.

This proud history was all but ignored during the three prime ministerial debates that took place in April.

During the last debate, for example, Cameron, Gordon Brown of the Labour Party and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats used the word “freedom” only two times, according to my count of the BBC transcript. They said the word “free” five times — but all in the context of the supposedly “free” services that they promised to lavish on the electorate. The words “responsible” and “responsibility” fared somewhat better — four times. But the winning words were “fair” and “fairness.” They were mentioned 22 times — almost always in connection with taxing the rich.

Here is a typical example from Brown, the current prime minister: “We’ve set out a four-year deficit reduction plan and that starts from 2011. It’s designed to have tax rises that are fair, spending cuts that are equitable, and at the same time growth in the economy that is essential for recovery. Our four-year deficit reduction plans include a rise in the top rate of tax above £100,000, taking away pension tax reliefs for those above £100,000 at a higher rate and a National Insurance rise.”

 This threat by Brown — who has already increased the top rate of income tax from 40 percent to 50 percent — was unopposed by either Clegg or the supposedly business-friendly Cameron.