Starmer’s sly dig over private school tax stirs up hornet’s nest that could leave him stung | Adam Boulton | Politics News
Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer is having to adjust his approach to the third Prime Minister’s Questions.
With Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, he’s in his comfort zone as a prosecutor. King’s Senior Counsel and Counsel and former director of public prosecutors have carefully assembled the case against his opponents for their documented failures and personal misconduct.
The sober family man Rishi Sunak with a pledge to restore “accountability” in government presents a more difficult goal. About the only thing that Starmer can hit him with is that the prime minister is very rich.
He’s the richest member of government and probably in the Commons, thanks in large part to his wife, with whom his family founded the tech company Infosys.
At this week’s PMQs, Starmer must have felt that she had found a fertile avenue of attack by going public about the tax status of private schools. Opinion polls consistently show that only 10% of those surveyed think they should keep their charitable status without further reform and exempt them from VAT at 20% on tuition fees.
Since only 7% of children go to independent schools (increasing to 10% in the sixth sample), Starmer must have calculated that most people are either indifferent or hostile to those who use them. He may be right. Labour’s intent to levy tuition fees was largely ignored in Corbyn’s manifesto at the last election.
But to draw attention to his continued support of the plan and personalize his attack, Starmer stirred up a nest of wasps that could get him stung. Education and the school you and your child attend are sensitive topics that many people have conflicting feelings about.
Starmer has been adamant that Sunak’s wealth has nothing to do with their political battle. He defended the prime minister’s use of private GPs on the grounds that many people come privately to operate. However, he led his main assault on PMQs this week with a sly dig at the expensive and elite private school the prime minister attended and which he personally donated to. £100,000 for this school.
“The University of Winchester has a sailing club, a rifle club and an extensive art collection. The university charges tuition fees of more than £45,000 a year,” Starmer told the House of Commons. “Why is the prime minister giving Winchester nearly £6m in taxpayer money this year, in what his Minister for Upgrades calls ‘serious state support’?”
Sunak responded by defending the government’s record in state education, but as Starmer continued to play the man: “Should those £6 million of taxpayer dollars be spent on the rifle schools in Winchester or raising standards in Southampton?” [where Sunak grew up] The prime minister replied kindly:
“Whenever the Opposition Leader attacks me about the school I attended, he is attacking the aspirations of millions of hard-working people in this country. He is attacking people like my parents. This is a country that believes in opportunity, not resentment. He doesn’t understand that, and that’s why he’s unfit to lead the country.”
Jealousy politics rarely play well for Labor
Starmer’s focus on the subject is a significant development.
Since becoming party leader, he has tried to reassure voters that Labor will not make a Jeremy Corbyn radical abandon current policies if he wins the next election. Attacking private schools is red meat for Labor activists right off Corbyn’s wish list, which may be less appealing to wavering voters. It has also allowed the Conservatives to attack the house with traditional counterattacks, accusing “class warfare”, which has so far worked against Starmer.
Some in the Labor Party have some consolation that Starmer appears to have been urged to set up private schools by a persistent campaign against his plans in the Daily Mail., a relentless cheerleader for the aspirations and woes of the Labor Party. A veteran of the Labor government finally bluntly criticized Starmer to The Times: “It’s bold. Or as Tony put it, bold but stupid.”
Whatever its merits, “envy politics”, or seen as against social aspirations, rarely works well for Labor. If it works Margaret “Let some grow up” Thatcher will never serve as prime minister for 11 years. Voters also don’t seem to care much where their leaders went to school, otherwise Britain wouldn’t have had a string of Old Etonian prime ministers like David Cameron and Boris Johnson or real is Tony Blair – educated at Fettes College, the most luxurious school in the UK. Scotland.
The economic arguments are not as clear-cut as the Starmer or Conservative ministers suggest. For starters, taxpayers don’t “give” £1.7 billion a year to independent schools as Starmer claims. The Treasury simply doesn’t raise that potential amount from taxes by not imposing VAT on schools that are registered as Charity. According to the Daily Mail, a “double tantrum” that also ends forgiveness for business rates could add up to £150m.
Jeremy Hunt, the prime minister, has claimed there will be no net profit to the national finances as 90,000 of the 500,000 children currently studying in independent schools will pay the price. Finding them a place in public schools will cost more in an already overstretched budget than the money raised.
He is using calculations commissioned by the Council of Independent Schools, which Labor calls “lobbyists”. But Labour’s favorite peer-reviewed study from IFS is inconclusive. Luke Sibieta, an IFS researcher, said demand fell slightly as fees rose 23% between 2010 and 2020.
Little evidence of aversion to private schools
A gradual increase over a decade is not the same as a one-time 20% tax increase after the cost of living crisis. In response to complaints that private schools are being subsidized through the tax system, some parents responded that they themselves were subsidizing public schools by paying taxes where their children did not attend. .
There is little evidence of widespread aversion to private schools. Only 10% support tax exemption in YouGov poll. More than 24% think private schools could retain them if they did more for public schools. About 19% don’t know.
Many of the larger schools provide facilities and expertise to the local community, under the close supervision of the Charity Commission. One-fifth of children attending private schools receive tuition assistance. Obligations and, perhaps, the inclination to do these things might disappear if charity status were abolished.
Instead of squeezing private schools and disgruntled those who attend, it would be easy if Labor had a plan to ban private schools. There is an argument supported by Fiona Millar, partner of Alastair Campbell, that this would be beneficial because all parents and children would be invested in a unified system of state.
But this is not Labor policy, nor can it last as long as Labor defends the rights and choices of parents including religious, major and grammar schools as well as homeschooling. .
Today, many in the Labor Party do not want to delve into this issue at all.
A century ago Charlie Falconer was appointed to the Lords because he could not find a seat to become an MP. The selection committee rejected him because he refused to take his children out of the private school. One of those sons, Hamish, educated at Westminster School, is running to be the Labor Party’s potential parliamentary candidate for Lincoln in the next election.
Sir Keir Starmer’s alma mater, Reigate Grammar, had to pay fees while he was there, although he was exempt. He would be advised to rethink the role of personal attacks in his welcomes at PMQS.