The BBC and Comedy Central are carrying news that there will be no new tax break for married couples in this year’s budget. The measure is in the coalition agreement, with Liberal Democrat MPs free to abstain. The BBC also reports significant unrest on the Conservative backbenches where many are calling for a new tax break to sugar the “pill” of equal marriage. However there are still plans to introduce a limited transferability of the personal allowance between partners this parliament.
I find the idea that the government knows the best way for you to define your relationship supremely arrogant, and the idea that it should offer a small bribe for your compliance absurd. Do these people not realise that society no longer moralises about relationships. These days it moralises about what you eat and drink and how much carbon you emit. Taxes on sugary drinks and minimum prices for alcohol are much closer to where society is at than incentives for marriage.
But I understand why some conservatives (and not just Conservatives) are filled with terror. They see prescriptive attitudes as part of the fabric of society and as these attitudes melt away they fear a descent into chaos. The reality is very different – people generally make better choices for themselves than authorities can make for them. What this means for the “fabric of society” is worth a book of its own, but concerns about the “youth of today” are nothing new. The atomised individual is probably not so atomised as they were before the internet. And with the dramatic long term decline in violence, it is doubtful much credit is due to the prescriptions of the past. So I would hazard that the fabric of society is doing just fine, in some ways is better than ever, and is enhanced not diminished by freedom, openness and tolerance.
But forgive me if I appeared earlier to support the shift in moral calculus from relationships to diet. What you put in your mouth is your own business, but how you treat other people is of supreme ethical significance. So shall we call for a tax break for those who behave decently to other people? (No we won’t.)
* Joe Otten is a councillor in Sheffield, and Friday editor of Liberal Democrat Voice