In the latest policy screw-up, Labour back-benchers are screaming about a planned 200 pound ($396) tax increase on any high-carbon-emitting vehicle registered in the past seven years. Even green-minded politicians realize that punishing citizens for their past purchases won't shrink Britain's carbon footprint today.
Lawmakers are also panning a prospective 2-pence-per-liter hike in the fuel tax just weeks after the Brown government had to abandon separate plans to effectively raise the lowest income-tax rate to 20% from 10%. The latter move, which would have raised taxes on millions of workers at the bottom of the pay scale, figured heavily in Labour's disastrous results in the May 1 local elections and last Thursday's loss of an ultrasafe parliamentary seat in a by-election.
Mr. Brown doesn't only soak the poor. There's also been tremendous blowback from the œ30,000-a-year levy he and Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling want to slap on wealthy foreigners who live and work in Britain but claim residency - and keep most of their taxable assets - elsewhere. The government finally agreed to modify this new tax on "nondomiciled" residents. But it remains to be seen whether the tax drives away some of the very workers who have helped London become a financial powerhouse.
Some of Mr. Brown's policy problems are older than his premiership. Take the collapse of mortgage lender Northern Rock last autumn, a situation that the government promptly and repeatedly botched. It quickly became apparent that part of the blame lay in Mr. Brown's decision years earlier, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, to divide banking supervision among three different departments. This unwieldy "tripartite" arrangement made it more difficult for regulators to spot banks in danger before it was too late and to respond to a snowballing crisis.
Mr. Brown's once-solid reputation as an able steward of the economy is fading. As in the U.S., British homeowners worry that their country's housing bubble will burst; consumers are struggling with soaring grocery and gasoline bills. One wonders whether Britain was simply riding the wave of world-wide growth in the past decade of Labour rule - and if it might have done even better had the Chancellor not increased public spending from 37% of GDP in 1999-2000 to more than 41% in each of the last four budgets.
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