A Good Day To Bury Byers - He Resigns As Minister Of Transport May 2002.
In his budget speech in 1988, Nigel Lawson announced that he was cutting the top rate of income tax from 60% to 40%. This meant that in one fell swoop those on top earnings found themselves almost 50% better off - coining it under Thatcherism. The bulk of the Labour MPs in the Commons were incensed at the announcement. Alan Meale immediately shouted out "shame" from the back benches and I was one of a host of Labour MPs who joined in the call. The Speaker was obliged to suspend the Commons, to give us a cooling off period.
The gut reaction of many Labour MPs had changed by 1997, when we were elected on a manifesto which said that there would be no increase in income tax rates. I have always believed that we should have a progressive taxation system. One which provides for reductions in those tax rates which effect the poorer, with increases in the rates that effect the rich.
When I finally made it into a meeting in 10 Downing Street, I raised with Blair the possibility of removing our commitment to there being no income tax increases for the rich, at least at the subsequent general election. To which he replied "Harry, we can't go into a General Election promising to raise income tax." That seemed to me to be a permanent stance, for in a democracy there is always a coming election.
When I later raised the matter at a back-bench meeting in the Commons with the Chancellor, Gordon Brown replied that "nothing is set in concrete". With Alistair Darling's introduction of a 50% tax rate, it has taken some 10 years and a world economic slump to break through the concrete.
Leading the attack from within Labour ranks to the 50% rate is Stephen Byers. From December 1998 to June 2001 he was a disaster as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. In pursuing his private enterprise ideology, he undermined both of the areas he had responsibility for - trade and our industry. The manufacturing industry which disappeared on his watch would have had the competitive edge today, given the collapse in the value of sterling which makes exports cheaper and imports dearer.
Within the North East Derbyshire Constituency which I represented at the time,he facilitated the dramatic foreign take-over and closure of Biwater at Clay Cross. This was done despite Biwater being economically viable and having booming overseas order books for its ductile pipe production, with an annual turnover of £60 million (at 2000 prices) and a local work force of 700. Nor was he ignorant as to what he was doing; for the details of the workers case was put fully to the Commons, to his Department, to the media, to the Office of Fair Trading, to Tony Blair and repeatedly to himself.
I have no respect whatsoever for Stephen Byer's political views, including his recent attack in the Commons on the belated and modest move to a 50% tax rate.
This is the last time I had a go at Byers.