Voices: Do Boris, Gary Lineker and me count as ‘working people’, Sir Keir?

Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves during a visit to Morrisons in Wiltshire  (PA)
Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves during a visit to Morrisons in Wiltshire (PA)

Lately, I’ve been wondering whether I’m one of those that Rachel Reeves is referring to when she says “working people”. That’s because, as everyone surely knows by now, The Changed Labour Party – as they may as well rebrand themselves – is very much not going to increase taxes on working people.

So I guess if you’re a wage slave, as I am, and receive no other income from any other source, then you’re alright.


So that would, or should, mean that my council tax won’t go up, or won’t go up by more than general inflation, or by the cap councils have to work under. Yet council tax, obviously very much paid by working people, isn’t one of the holy trinity of imposts – income tax, national insurance and VAT – explicitly stated by the shadow chancellor.

So what if you receive some modest dividends from your shares in BT? Or the interest on your building society account? Or capital gains on the sale of some shares? If you work for a living, does that mean you’re going to be treated differently from, say, someone who’s retired?

Reeves says people who’ve worked all their lives and saved up also count as “working people”. So even though they don’t go out to a job anymore, they too won’t have to pay extra tax on income that isn’t wages.

I think what Reeves has in mind is what we used to call “the idle rich”, or Marx would term the “rentier class”. People such as the non-doms, who she freely offers up as prime examples of people who aren’t working people.

What we might call the “non-working classes” are surely going to get hammered in Starmer’s Britain, but, aside from the super-rich non-doms with their peculiar status, who are these people?

Landlords, probably, living off the working families who rent their properties. But then again, what if they came from a poor background, and found themselves letting out a former home for fairly modest returns? The landed gentry aren’t employed by anyone and they live off the fat of the land. But then again, running their huge estates and developing them could count as work.

What about the many millions of small business people who are self-employed and would, technically, fall into that category as well – capitalists who only take a “wage” from a company that they in fact own. Presumably these energetic souls, when they come to retire and sell the company they own, shouldn’t be paying capital gains tax on the proceeds?

Does the notoriously lazy and now-loaded Boris Johnson count as a “working person”? Does Gary Lineker, as a freelancer rather than a direct employee of the BBC? He’s pretty well-off, too, but, he works for his living. Does Rishi Sunak count, rich in his own right but also married to a billionaire’s daughter?

Rupert Murdoch? He’s plainly of retirement age and enjoying the fruits of his past tireless endeavours. Will Rupert pay more tax in his twilight years? How shall we categorise his nemesis, Hugh Grant, effortlessly playing a version of himself in every film he’s made? Call that working for a living? Nigella Lawson? She works, even if she too makes it look like fun.

"Working people" is perhaps meant to mean “working classes”, but we’ve not agreed for years about what that means. Or perhaps it’s supposed to be people who are a step up the class ladder than those referenced in the Pulp song, “Common People” – and who’d wanna live like them?

In fact, the only person I can think of that couldn’t possibly fall into the Reeves dedication of “working people” is the Duke of York, the very definition of the idle rich. But, prosperous and well-connected as Prince Andrew is, he’s not going to be able to single-handedly fund the “decade of renewal” we’re promised.

The point, I suppose, is that the pledge not to raise taxes on working people cannot be converted into a clause in a finance bill. A tax lawyer would have enormous fun with it in a court, and it’s an unworkable answer to an important question.

Raising tax rates on substantial rental income, dividends, and capital gains is fine, as long as you tell people that’s what you’re going to do. Taxing “unearned income” – arguably a misnomer – differently has been done by governments of all kinds for decades.

Labour also says, as a last line of defence, that nothing in the manifesto requires such increases. Again, fine; but what about things that cannot be foreseen in any manifesto – wars, pandemics, global slumps, or truly “black swan” events?

Reeves says she can’t write five years of budgets in advance, which is fair, but by ruling things out with such ambiguous language that is exactly what she is doing.

You can’t responsibly give everyone the impression their taxes cannot ever go up. One day some very disgruntled “working people” will remind the Labour government about the rash promises they made in 2024.