'They say you have to be incredibly intelligent to come up with seriously stupid ideas. Which explains why cerebral Tory peer David Willetts is nicknamed ‘Two Brains’,' writes Richard Littlejohn
They say you have to be incredibly intelligent to come up with seriously stupid ideas. Which explains why cerebral Tory peer David Willetts is nicknamed ‘Two Brains’.
His latest stroke of genius involves fleecing baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1966, to bail out hard-up millennials.
‘The time has come,’ 61-year-old Willetts said yesterday, ‘when we boomers are going to have to reach into our own pockets.
The alternative could be an extra 15p on the basic rate of tax, paid largely by our kids.
‘Is that kind of tax really the legacy we — a generation who own half the nation’s wealth — want to bequeath our children and grandchildren? This is the moment the chickens come home to roost . . .’
To meet soaring welfare and education bills, and the infinitely ravenous demands of the NHS, the Willetts Masterplan proposes imposing new ‘wealth’ taxes on the over-50s.
That would include a one per cent levy on all homes valued at more than £100,000. In other words, all properties, other than those uninhabitable back-to-back slums in rundown Northern inner cities, either being bulldozed or flogged off for a quid.
The average house price in Britain is £226,000. Under the Willetts formula, the owner of such a property would be landed with an extra annual tax bill of around £1,250.
In London, where the average price is £729,000, that would translate into an additional £6,300 a year, give or take.
Where are people supposed to find that kind of money? Plenty of so-called ‘wealthy’ baby boomers are retired, on fixed incomes.
According to the latest figures, the average pension is £19,900 a year.
Even the majority of younger baby boomers have passed their peak earnings years.
Many 50-somethings find themselves both unemployed and unemployable, because they’re considered either too old or lacking in the necessary skills to cope with our thrusting digital economy.
Others are forced to take jobs way below the level of their qualifications and abilities.
What’s more, a significant number of those lucky enough still to be in gainful employment are obliged — largely without complaint — to subsidise their adult children and elderly parents.
The Bank of Mum and Dad (BMD) is one of the busiest and most overstretched financial institutions in Britain.
And, unlike RBS and the rest, the BMD can’t expect any taxpayer bailout when it goes bust.
Moreover, baby boomers have been paying taxes faithfully for four decades in anticipation of a long, reasonably comfortable retirement.
'Gordon Brown’s greedy smash-and-grab tax raid destroyed one of the world’s finest private pension systems'
Yet millions now face the prospect of working in B&Q until they drop or scraping by on what’s left of their pensions and savings, after both have been repeatedly plundered and devalued by successive governments.
(Not that any of this will have much effect on Willetts himself. After failing in his ambition to become a European Commissioner, when he stood down as an MP in 2015, he was given the consolation prize of a seat in the Lords — where he will be entitled to claim his £300-a-day attendance allowance in perpetuity, on top of his index-linked, taxpayer-funded MP’s pension.)
OK, I accept that my generation’s family homes are often worth many multiples of what we paid for them.
But even if you downsize to free up more money for your golden years, the Treasury will hammer you for thousands of pounds in stamp duty when you buy somewhere smaller.
And here’s where we get to the nub of the problem — and the real reason behind the Willetts Masterplan. Rather than facing up to the future, taking the ‘tough decisions’ they’re always banging on about, the politicians find it easier to pass the buck — and the bills — on to the rest of us.
Yes, housing, education and healthcare are all under pressure. Whose fault’s that?
It’s been obvious for as long as I can remember that we would one day have to make provision for a population living longer than ever.
But the politicians have carried on behaving as if there’s no tomorrow, milking taxpayers to fund their short-term ambitions.
Gordon Brown’s greedy smash-and-grab tax raid destroyed one of the world’s finest private pension systems because he needed the money for a massive expansion of self-indulgent state spending, designed to bribe people into voting Labour.
Not for nothing did I dub him The Man Who Stole Your Old Age.
It’s also been glaringly obvious that the NHS, like the European Union, is an idea way beyond its expiry date.
But rather than grasp the nettle and introduce sensible reforms that would make the health service fit for the 21st century, politicians of every stripe have simply continued to throw taxpayers’ money at it.
When ‘tough’ decisions are called for, they inevitably get it hopelessly wrong. As universities minister, Willetts presided over a threefold increase in student fees to pay for higher education.
A proper ‘blue-skies thinker’ would have addressed the central problem and abolished the multiplicity of Mickey Mouse courses introduced to meet Labour’s ludicrous promise to send 50 per cent of school leavers to pretend ‘universities’.
'The Prime Minister, as part of her Brexit concessions, has agreed that the EU will still have a significant say in who can move to Britain'
When baby boomers like me were growing up, only a tiny minority of us went on to university. Most of us — me included — left school at 16 and started earning a living.
As for housing (cue Hovis music), I began married life in a two-up, two-down terrace with an outside toilet and a coal-store, which we knocked together to create a downstairs bathroom.
We didn’t have the same exaggerated sense of entitlement as today’s millennials. Look, I sympathise with those struggling to get on the housing ladder. But they don’t make it easy on themselves.
The other day I stumbled across one of those property shows on satellite telly, featuring a young couple looking to buy their first home in North London, a part of the world I know well.
They couldn’t afford to live where they wanted, but they turned up their noses at a more reasonably priced flat two stops (about five minutes) further away on the Underground — because they’d be ‘too far’ from the pub that was the centre of their social life.
Still, I digress. We all know why housing, especially in London, is so expensive.
As I wrote when Mother Theresa first announced her intention to build more homes back in November: We don’t have a housing crisis, we have a population crisis.
Unlimited mass immigration under Labour and Tory governments has placed intolerable pressure on not just schools and hospitals, roads and railways, but private housing, too.
Still they come — more than 300,000 last year.
And the Prime Minister, as part of her Brexit concessions, has agreed that the EU will still have a significant say in who can move to Britain.
So much for taking back control of our borders.
But rather than admit this, we get lumbered with half-witted sticking plaster solutions like the latest Willetts plan to blame it on the baby boomers.
He will only succeed in fuelling still further the millennials’ resentment, which is currently being exploited cynically by the Corbynistas.
And quite apart from alienating what’s left of the Tory base (just as the ‘dementia tax’ did at the last election), even if implemented in full, this new tax grab would only raise £9 billion a year.
That’s £5 billion less than we’re currently doling out in foreign aid.
Two Brains? As Eric Morecambe used to say: ‘This boy’s a fool.’
'Emily Maitlis first came to my attention when she read the local BBC news in London, standing up, wearing short skirts'
Emily Maitlis first came to my attention when she read the local BBC news in London, standing up, wearing short skirts and leaning against a chrome balcony rail.
Rather ungallantly, I wrote that it made her look like a pole-dancer. But, undoubtedly, it got her noticed.
Recently, Emily’s been complaining that she’s not paid as much as fellow male presenters on Newsnight.
Now she’s protesting that the camera angles on the BBC2 show are too revealing, like ‘upskirt’ photos taken by the paparazzi of female celebs climbing out of taxis.
‘You never know if they’re going to get your knickers,’ she said.
Call me a sexist pig, but couldn’t she just put on a gown that touches the ground.
'Now she’s protesting that the camera angles on the BBC2 show are too revealing, like ‘upskirt’ photos taken by the paparazzi of female celebs climbing out of taxis'