For over thirty years, the Glasgow Media Group has linked the analysis of media content with the processes by which audiences receive and interpret messages. It has worked across a range of disciplines and well beyond the normal academic boundaries of communication studies. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Media Group should now turn its attention to media coverage of the national economic “crisis” and the need for cuts.
In an article in today’s Guardian, Professor Greg Philo, Research Director and one of the leading lights of the Glasgow Media Group asks why – amidst all the discussion of the deficit – there has been so little discussion in the media of how much wealth we have in Britain. The truth, of course, is that we are the sixth richest nation on earth with total personal wealth of £9,000bn. As Philo points out, this sum dwarfs the national debt.
Naturally, this wealth is overwhelmingly concentrated at the top. The richest 10% of Britons own £4,000bn, an average of £4m for each of the richest households. The poorest half own less than 10% of Britain’s wealth between them.
Most of the wealth owned by the richest 10% is held in property and pensions that would be relatively easily taxable. So Philo proposes a one-off tax on the very wealthy to wipe out the national debt. A simple 20% would do the trick. It would raise £800bn (the size of the national debt) and since much of the deficit is made up of interest on the national debt it would certainly help there too.
Now some will say that this is predictable stuff coming from the Glasgow Media Group. These were the people who brought you Bad News, More Bad News, Trade Unions & The Media, War & Peace News and more recently Market Killing. They are, in effect, the usual suspects. But the Media Group has also established an enviable, international reputation for backing its publications with copper bottomed research and its work on the national debt is no exception.
The Media Group commissioned a YouGov poll of almost 2200 people to compare attitudes towards a one-off wealth tax, a rise in VAT and cuts in public expenditure. The poll findings make fascinating reading and can be accessed in full from the Glasgow Media Group website.
They show a remarkable 75% in favour of a one-off wealth tax and just 10% opposed. Perhaps most remarkably these figures are virtually unchanged across all demographics. It doesn’t matter whether you are male or female, young or old, working or unemployed the figures barely change. It doesn’t even matter whether you are rich or poor. 75% of ABC1s support a one-off wealth tax compared with 73% of C2DEs. These are extraordinary polling figures given that there has been no public discussion of this proposal. By comparison, while the same poll showed some support for the need for spending cuts (with men significantly more in favour than women) the sample was split on the need for an increase in VAT (41% in favour, 40% against).
To be clear, there are arguments for and against a one-off wealth tax. On the one hand it would help re-circulate some of the money that currently resides in inflated property values and it would stimulate growth but on the other hand it may be difficult to calculate and collect.
In a sense this is beside the point. Lest we forget, there is now a coalition government that proposes to stay in power until 2015 and there is no chance of this or anything like it becoming government policy.
The important point is this. Philo’s one-off wealth tax proposal is as radical as it gets. It is so radical he had some considerable difficulty finding any national newspaper who would publish his article – even in the August “silly season”.
Yet this radical proposal is supported by 75% of over 2,000 people questioned in a YouGov poll. It is an astonishingly popular proposal and it carries a message for Labour’s leadership hopefuls. It’s time to think big and bold. The contenders could do worse than spend a few minutes perusing the figures on the Glasgow Media Group website.
John Underwood is a former director of communications of the Labour Party