Tribune leader, 26 April 1991
Michael Heseltine’s scheme for local government finance has pleased his party, which is hardly surprising. Just about anything that was not poll tax and did not involve an explicit admission that Labour was right all along would have done nicely for the desperate Tories. A tax that can be portrayed as a means of ensuring smaller average bills must seem little less than a godsend.
The problem, however, as Bryan Gould said immediately after the announcement of the new “council tax” on Tuesday, is that, by refusing to admit that Labour was right all along – in other words, by refusing to go back to the rates – the Tories have opted for a scheme that is not only impossible to introduce for several years but is also patently unfair. The “banding” system for Mr Heseltine’s new tax and the reintroduction of 100 per cent rebates mark a belated admission that “ability to pay” has to be taken into account hi local taxation. But the way the “banding” has been set up means that the very richest will get off with disproportionately small bills.
Getting this message across in the last week of the local election campaign will be quite a challenge amid the clouds of sycophantic Tory hype in the newspapers. It is unlikely, however, that the Tories will reap too many benefits from Mr Heseltine’s announcement. His coup de theatre cannot obliterate the popular sense that the poll tax fiasco has revealed the Tories as incompetent and pig-headed; still less can it conceal the extent of the economic crisis in which the Tories have landed us. Labour is still set to do well on May 2.
Germany moves Left
The extraordinary result in the Rhineland-Palatinate Land elections at the weekend, which saw the Social Democrats take 45 per cent of the vote, pushing Helmut Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union into a poor second place with 39 per cent, is cause for rejoicing for the Left not just in Germany but throughout Europe.
If the SPD can win hi Rhineland-Palatinate, it can sweep Germany. Its victory ends 44 years of CDU hegemony in one of Germany’s most prosperous states, just five months after Chancellor Kohl won a dramatic general election victory on the back of his success in securing unification of the two Germanies.
Mr Kohl has now lost his majority in the Bundesrat, Germany’s upper house, and his grip on power, so recently seemingly unassailable, suddenly looks tenuous. Put simply, the West Germans recognise that Mr Kohl lied to them about the costs of unification, while the SPD told the truth. Mr Kohl’s party is worn out ideologically, charmless and vulnerable.
These are early days, but the prospects for an SPD-dominated government hi Germany are now better than at any time since 1983. And that, given the central role of Germany in Europe, means that the prospects for a Europe dominated by social democracy are better than at any time in living memory.
The last thing Labour needs right now is to start working on the assumption that a future SPD general election victory will sort out all its problems: there was too much of that attitude in the late eighties, when Labour’s belief in the inevitability of SPD victory took the place that should have been occupied by serious thought about European security policy. Nevertheless, the Rhineland-Palatinate election result gives real cause for renewed hope. It is now up to the SPD to sustain it.