26 APRIL 1975, Page 8

The ever-encroaching state

Patrick Cosgrave

Even my warmest admirer would never describe me as being outstandingly efficient in the conduct of my personal affairs. A negative judgement would be applied especially to my handling of money. Not only am I extravagant, but the complications of tax law as applied to myself escape me completely; and even when my accountant explains them to me in great detail (as he did last week — hence this article) I remain befogged.

That introduction serves to explain why tax inspectors and other bureaucrats with whom I have had dealings are entitled to feel tried by me. The political point I want to make involves an explanation of why I feel I have a right to feel tried by politicians; especially socialist politicians. Of course I am not the only one to feel tried: millions of my fellow-citizens feel, I am sure, exactly the same way. However, it has always been the case that the truth of a truism is fully grasped by the individual only when it hits him personally in the back of the neck. After my accountant had explained all sorts of things to me — including the advisability of becoming a company — came the Budget. On Budget day I, as usual, rose at five a.m. and worked for three hours on a book. The rest of the morning was spent at work on an article. In the afternoon I did a long broadcasting stint and wrote another article. Finally, I did another broadcast, came home and spent a couple of hours catching up on my office work. Discounting salaries and all other forms of regular or recurring income I had earned on that day a fairly substantial sum. The following day I telephoned my accountant — the idea for this article having already begun to germinate in my mind — and asked him how much of it I was likely to be able to keep. He is a specialist in sepulchral laughs: he gave one and told me. I fell into a depression and began to wonder what the devil the point was.

Now, as I say, many have had exactly that sort of reaction to the relationship between money earned and money kept before, so I am not making any claim to originality. I myself should long ago have articulated both to myself and to my readers the sense of bitter hopelessness [felt last Wednesday morning. But I am, anyway, articulating it now.

Back in 1969, when Mr Edward Heath was preparing Conservative plans to simplify and reduce personal taxation, there was a recurring and rather academic argument about whether high taxation impeded enterprise or not. Mr Heath believed most strongly that it did; but a number of journalists and sociologists told him and the public that there was no evidence to support his point of view. Because of the unfortunate history of the Heath government the matter was never really put to the general test. Anyway, as Tory research in 1971 demonstrated, reductions in personal taxation of the middle classes did not, in that year, amount to a great deal. I have no doubt at all — as my readers will have guessed by now — that Mr Heath was absolutely right in his belief. I find it absurd to the point of evil that anybody as highly trained as I am, who works as hard as I do, should need special advice to tell him how much of his own money he owns, or spend an inordinate amount of time and energy — as I would have to, without an accountant — filling in forms for the Inland Revenue. Now, 1 do not say that my talents as a journalist, historian or literary critic are indispensable to the community; but I cannot believe, when somebody who loves his work as much as I do feels that the next time he takes a day off from the office he should spend it walking the dogs, that people far more important to the indispensable task of national recovery do not feel much the same.

I cannot say how it is in business, but the work of an experienced writer or scholar does not often produce massive rewards: the Frederick Forsythes or the John le Carres are pretty rare. Apart from a few exceptional Columnists most journalists, if they earn well, do so by performing a multiplicity of jobs. The individual fee for a radio appearance, say, or a book review, is small. It is especially small if one considers the amount of preparation over the years, foresight and judgement required to put one in a position where one is reasonably often asked to appear on programmes, or write book reviews. Then, too, the high earning period is often quite a short one: producers or editors can become tired of one's voice or words, and they cast around for somebody new. Every political or economic journalist knows the experience of the lucky streak, when one is in intense demand; and of the barren period when nobody seems to want one's services; and everybody in that position knows the intense desire to preserve a reasonable amount of what is taken in the good times. Only the other day, for example, I had a letter from a friend — one of the most brilliant economists in the country, who is quite certainly important to the national future — who has had a good run and whose services are much in demand at home and abroad. He declined my invitation to dinner, saying that he would be in America — and that he intended to stay there, for tax reasons.

Nor is this merely a complaint about money. The grievance lies in the citizen's whole attitude to an ever encroaching state. Both Mr

• Foot — and how greatly fallen is that libertarian — and Mrs Castle, in commenting on the plight of the self-employed in the face of the staggering burdens recently imposed on them, have recently suggested that the answer

is to become employed. How, for heaven's sake, does a novelist or a painter become employed? One can, of course, as I do, hold a salaried job and do one's writing in one's spare time — as, in my case, from five o'clock in the morning. But not everybody has the will to do that; and many writers or painters would find that the more creative side of their work suffered grievously if they did. Mr Foot and Mrs Castle simply offer evidence of the increasing, and increasingly staggering, contempt felt for the individual by ministers.

Such is the case in many fields besides the financial. Everywhere enterprise is choked and initiative prevented by the encroachment of the tentacles of the state. And there is, in consequence, a rapid decline in public morality. I know almost nobody who does not regard the taxation system as unfair; and who does not resent both it and other measures of state socialism. The results of this increasingly deep feeling are two. First, thrift is denied and those who would save become feckless spenders. Second, the ties of loyalty that once bound the citizen to the state become loosened, as the citizen increasingly begins to think of the state as his enemy. I doubt if anybody could fix a figure very accurately, but I feel sure that there is a point up to which most citizens would readily accept some confiscation of their income, to pay for defence, social services, education or whatever; but there is also a point beyond which confiscation becomes unacceptable. And once that point is passed the citizen begins to resent, not just all the confiscation, but even that part which, in different circumstances, he would have found acceptable. He begins, that is, not merely to resent the more ridiculous aspects of government spending — like, say the massive Wedgwood Elenn interventions in industry — but the good causes as well, like education and social welfare.

But can the state now be rolled back? Or have we gone so far into the mire of state bureaucracy that nothing can now extract us from it? I have just been re-reading Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne's admirable book Whatever Happened to the Quiet Revolution? which is the former Tory MP's analysis of what went wrong with Mr Heath's initially brave attempt to roll back the state. What is hard to remember now, but what Mr Bruce Gardyne recalls sharply to the mind, is the feeling of hope that accompanied Mr Heath's success in that blazing summer of 1970. It was a hope confirmed by his celebrated speech to party conference the following October, when , he declared his intention of tackling the machine of state to ensure that "government withdraws from all those activities no longer necessary either because of the passage of time, or because they are better done outside government, or because they should rightly be carried on, if wanted at all, by individual or voluntary effort." And he added that he wanted to encourage individuals "more and more to take their own decisions, to stand on their own feet, to accept responsibility for themselves and their families."

It does not matter for the purposes of my present argument that Mr Heath failed. What matters was the decisive success of his appeal in 1970, an appeal to freedom. Of course left-wing critics of what are commonly called Selsdon policies have tried to caricature them as inhumane or hard-hearted. But, as I say, only in a society which is fundamentally free, and in which citizens are able to take decisions for themselves, and able to save and provide for the , future, is there any hope of establishing a) collective social morality which will make individuals not merely good citizens, but good fellow citizens as well. It is in the dank world of the all-powerful state that men lose their feeling for their fellows as well as for their own independence. Whether the state can be rolled back or not — and we would have to start by greatly simplifying and reducing taxation — I cannot tell. But the British people have already shown themselves more than willing to vote for a party which undertakes to have a try.