By acting as fools, jesters in mediaeval courts deployed the power of laughter to get away with uttering uncomfortable truths in the presence of kings. Today, Britain’s Palace of Westminster is full of fools: but no-one is laughing.
Take the case of the alarming rise in house prices, which is causing panic in David Cameron’s coalition government. The rise is outpacing affordability. People are being locked out of the housing sector by the day. But the problem is not a shortage of land: there is enough “brownfield” land in English towns for 2.5 million new homes – enough to keep the building industry busy for the next 18 years. But builders prefer to exploit greenfield sites on the edge of towns: cheaper and quicker, so the profits are greater.
Now the UK Treasury, we are told (Daily Telegraph, June 9), is planning to hand out tax incentives to builders who construct on derelict urban sites. The impact of such incentives? The benefits will be capitalised into higher prices. Owners will speculatively hang on to their land, blighting the communities that need affordable homes.
Eric Pickles is playing the fool in the Whitehall department charged with overseeing the wellbeing of Communities and Local Government. As the Secretary of State, he should be warning that his government’s tax incentives will deepen the housing crisis. But his lips are sealed. Instead, he is applying the black art of false propaganda against the Labour Party.
It appears that Her Majesty’s Opposition is considering whether to re-impose the property tax on farmland. The tax was abolished in 1929. The benefit went exclusively to land owners, not tenant farmers, in the form of a rise in rents.
Mr Pickles claims that the property tax would drive up the price of food and “decimate the farming industry”.
No, it would not. The only effect would be to reduce the price of farmland by a corresponding sum. This, alas, would not be sufficient to correct the gross distortions in the market for agricultural land, which is rigged by courtesy of Her Majesty’s fiscal policies.
The Palace of Westminster needs jesters willing to utter the uncomfortable truths. Fools do stalk the corridors of power, but no-one is laughing.