Sunday 24 August 2003

Into the lioness’s den

Yesterday afternoon I paid my latest visit to the Edinburgh Book Festival. The speaker was none other than that doyenne of politically correct thinking, Polly Toynbee. Her audience was predominantly young to middle aged, middle class, female, English and on her side. No economically illiterate comment went without applause. She wanted the minimum wage level increased to the level of the “more civilised” countries elsewhere in Europe. It was a pity though, said Polly, that unemployment was a bit high on the continent! The higher “minimum wage” in places like France and Germany means, of course, that for many the actual wage is zero.

Polly said that inheritance tax “gives to those who have”! A slip of the tongue, perhaps? She told us of when she had been covering George Bush’s election campaign and he had called for the “abolition of the death penalty”. A scoop, thought Polly. But no. GWB meant that he wanted to abolish America’s inheritance tax. Polly proclaimed to the audience: “Imagine calling inheritance tax ‘the death penalty.’” “But it is,” I shouted out. Four hundred angry leftists stared at me.

On and on she went. Prices in supermarkets are similar because “there is an unspoken cartel.” “Shouldn’t companies be run from the bottom up?” asked a questioner. Polly agreed. There is a “continuum of western countries that runs from high tax Sweden to low tax America.” Guess which one met with Polly’s approval? I waved my hand to point out that Scotland, not Sweden, has the highest level of state expenditure per-capita in Europe and that Sweden is now poorer than Mississippi. The chairwoman, Ruth Wishart, Scotland’s own Polly Toynbee, didn’t pick me to speak: my views on inheritance tax had probably put me beyond the pale. As I left, a young man turned to me saying, “Wasn’t that fantastic?” "Yes," I agreed. “It’s not every day that we get to hear the silliest woman in the country.”