Imagine a red bus taking a tour of the country. “The Robin Hood Tax could raise £90million a week. Let’s give it to our NHS. Let’s Take Back Control”.
It may sound familiar. But this bus is actually rooted in reality.
Economists say the Robin Hood Tax – a tiny tax on bankers – really could raise £4.7billion a year for the NHS.
“By modernising the UK’s current Robin Hood Tax on shares, the additional revenue could plug last year’s NHS funding gap, fix the social care crisis and hire 20,000 new teachers with money left over to build more than 70,000 affordable homes,” says David Hillman, from the Robin Hood Tax campaign.
It’s hard to imagine that this week is only the first anniversary of the Lying Bus. One year ago yesterday, the Leave Campaign set sail from the unwitting town of Truro in Cornwall in a £400,000 battle bus – actually a coach – emblazoned with lies.
“We send the EU £350million a week,” the bus shouted, in enormous letters. “Let’s fund our NHS instead. Vote Leave”. It was like a one-vehicle fake news-making machine.
It had barely left its parking bay before Vote Leave’s central claim had earned a rebuke from the UK Statistics Authority, which branded it “irresponsible”.
The NHS complained about Vote Leave’s use of its logo saying its “distinctive brand is rightly protected against exploitation”.
And the Department of Health declared that “the idea that Brexit will somehow ‘save’ the NHS is fanciful”.
Tory chairwoman of the Health Select Committee Dr Sarah Wollaston quit the Leave campaign immediately. “I could not have set foot on a battle bus that has at the heart of its campaign a figure that I know to be untrue,” she said.
Never mind that campaigners pointed out the bus was manufactured in Poland by a German company. Never mind that its passenger, Boris Johnson, was waving an EU-protected Cornish pasty.
None of this mattered. Brexit voters up and down the country repeatedly quoted the £350m figure as fact to me and many others during the referendum campaign. Often it was the only ‘fact’ they could recite.
Vote Leave won, and the rest is history. Nigel Farage distanced himself from the claim immediately the result of the referendum became known.
None of the architects of the Lying Bus ever faced any consequence. The pasty-eating passenger, Boris Johnson, is now actually the Foreign Secretary.
A year later, and we are in a new election cycle. Labour’s manifesto has just been leaked. It is a bold, ambitious programme that needs paying for.
Could it finally be time for a Robin Hood Tax that would modernise a 322-year-old ‘stamp duty’ on shares by removing loopholes and extending it to similar financial products like share and credit derivatives and corporate bonds?
At a fringe meeting at last year’s Labour conference, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell called it “an idea that’s time may have come”.
The power of the Vote Leave bus’s slogan came from a known fact – that the NHS cannot go on as it is. Britain needs a radical solution. But unlike other countries, we have reached for the wrong one.
Since Brexit, a group of powerful, smart countries have been getting much more serious about a Robin Hood Tax.
In recent months, core details of what such a tax could look like have been agreed by Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Belgium, Greece, Slovenia and Slovakia.
The EU Tax Commissioner Pierre Moscovici has hailed the landmark decision as “very important progress”.
One reason countries like the idea of transaction taxes is that they are likely to help reduce the number of the riskiest trades, the type of ‘casino banking’ which helped trigger the 2008 financial crisis. They are also one of the cheapest taxes to collect.
But, just as importantly, a Robin Hood Tax could radically change a Britain bankrupted by the banks, and morally bankrupted by years of austerity, providing desperately needed cash for schools, hospitals, policing, children and social care.
Just 10 days of a financial transaction tax could provide an extra 3,500 hospital beds each year – enough to prevent the annual winter bed crisis.
Four months of the Robin Hood Tax could train enough nurses to fill every NHS vacancy.
Seven more weeks of the tax could solve the adult social care crisis for this year.
If Labour gets aboard the ‘Truth Bus’ when it officially launches its manifesto, it will be a fitting way to mark the anniversary of UK politics’ most far-reaching lie.