I don't agree with Byers on this but ...
It was depressing to see the way in which Stephen Byers' floating of the idea of scrapping inheritance tax (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/5267836.stm) has been jumped on by more over-excitable Labour bloggers as evidence that he is "planning to defect to the Tories" (http://viva-freemania.blogspot.com/2006/08/will-byers-defect-to-tories.html) or is "economically illiterate" (http://letsbesensible.blogspot.com/2006/08/influence-of-bloggers-437.html) or is an "idiot" (http://newerlabour.blogspot.com/2006/08/byers-joins-idiot-brigade.html).
I don't agree with the full abolition he suggested for the simple reason that inherited wealth increases inequality and is un-meritocratic.
However, I understand why he said it: a tax that was created to cream off 40% of the wealth of the ultra-rich is, because of inflation, now hitting tens of thousands of relatively ordinary middle class suburbanites, just because their deceased parents have successfully paid off mortgages in places where house prices have gone through the roof. The people being hit by this are concentrated in London and the South East which is exactly where Labour has to win a string of marginal seats in order to win General Elections. For those of you from other parts of the country, the "huge inherited wealth" represented by an estate of £285,000 (the current threshold) would buy you a 2 bedroom ex-local authority flat where I live.
The Treasury already seems to have conceded this with a plan to up the threshold to £325,000 in 2010.
We ought to be celebrating the fact that there is at least one ex-Minister who when he puts pen to paper is trying to think up ideas to expand Labour's electoral appeal rather than trying to contract it back to the electoral laager of the 1980s, telling us what they are against rather than what they are for, or indulging in destructive and bitter personal attacks on the PM.
Byers has earnt the right to speak out on these issues. He has been commendably loyal since he left the Cabinet, despite the frustration he must feel about being stuck on the backbenches. He gets out and campaigns FOR Labour not AGAINST it. He knows about tax issues because he was the minister responsible for them when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury. As a Cabinet Minister at DTLR he was hugely popular with councillors as a Secretary of State who actually cared about local democracy rather than seeing councils as an obstacle to edicts from on high, and he was distinctively Labour in his approach - as in bringing Railtrack back into public ownership. I saw him in action earlier in his career as School Standards Minister when he intervened to start sorting out the mess that was education in Hackney - he had a formidable grasp of detail down to the staffing and exam results of individual local schools.
My instinct is abolition is wrong but a threshold increased to £400,000 would help stop this tax hitting people who are not mega-rich and who it was not intended to hit. And would show middle class voters we have not stopped caring about their issues. Because if we can't do that we stop winning elections and leave the poorest in society to the tender mercies of Dave Cameron and his old Etonian buddies, for whom £400k was probably the pocket money put in their accounts to see them through university.
Well done to Byers for having the courage to spark a debate on this. And shame on the ignorant response to it from some colleagues.