Blog: The press's hysterical reaction to 50p tax shows how out of touch they have become

Ed Balls under fire for saying wealthiest should pay more
Ed Balls under fire for saying wealthiest should pay more
Adam Bienkov By

There is a well-worn claim on Fleet Street that newspapers merely reflect the views and prejudices of their readers.

If the British press is overwhelmingly right-wing then that is because the public are too, so the story goes.

The apocalyptic reaction in the papers to Labour's pledge to reintroduce the 50p top rate of tax has finally exposed that for the lie it is.

Ed Balls proposal has been submitted to three days of savaging by the press. Editorial after editorial has described the plans as "economic vandalism" and a reckless return to 1970's socialism.

So why is this? Are the papers merely reflecting the views of their readers? Hardly.

George Osborne's decision two years ago to cut taxes for Britain's highest earning people, while imposing austerity on everybody else, was catastrophically unpopular.

Support for Osborne and the Conservative party crashed immediately and the party has not recorded a single lead in the opinion polls ever since.

Ed Balls' proposal to reinstate the top rate of tax meanwhile is overwhelmingly popular, with one poll this weekend finding 60% of voters support the move. Even right-wing voters back the proposal, with 40% of people who voted for the Conservatives in 2010 agreeing with Balls.

So why the dismal reaction from the press? It can't be to sell papers. Nor is it likely to be in defence of readers, the vast majority of whom will never earn above £150,000.

Nor can it be out of any great philosophical principle, having silently endured almost ten years of a 60p rate under Margaret Thatcher.

So perhaps there is some other motivation. Perhaps Paul Dacre, who earned £1.8 million for editing the Daily Mail last year, is simply motivated by public spiritedness.

And perhaps Boris Johnson, who earns £250,000 a year for writing his column in the Telegraph has some deeper philanthropic motive for his call for the top rate of tax to be cut to 40p.

But whatever the reason, the British press has this week shown how deeply out of touch with public opinion it has become.

And by joining them, the Conservative party has placed itself firmly on the wrong side of voters as well.

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