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Balls’s 50p Tax Plan Turns The Editors Blue

Last Updated: Friday, January 31st, 2014

During the run-up to the 1997 election, as Tony Blair’s poll lead over the Conservatives stretched ever-longer, an ingenious suggestion was made as to how he could make it unchallengeable.

Charles Moore, the Spectator columnist (as he still is) and Daily Telegraph editor (as he then was) wrote that all Blair had to do to guarantee a landslide in 1997 was to pledge not to raise the top rate of tax.

Moore’s logic was that, since the editors of newspapers paid that rate, a solemn pledge that it wouldn’t rise would remove their last lingering reason not to desert John Major’s ailing wreck of a Party and hitch their fortunes to Blair’s bandwagon.

Blair duly promised not to raise the top rate, the Murdoch stable smiled on New Labour, and the party won by a landslide.  The Mail and Telegraph stuck with the Tories, but with no conviction.  The Moore gambit had worked.

This week, we have seen how a pledge to raise the top rate of tax can have precisely the opposite effect.

  • Last weekend, Ed Balls told a Fabian conference that a Labour Government would take the top rate back to 50p.
  • On Monday, the Financial Times, which remains a critic of the Conservatives on Europe and immigration (and to some degree on the economy) warned of Labour’s growing gulf with business…Tax rises and interventionism are a poor recipe for Britain.” (It said.)
  • On Tuesday, the Daily Telegraph, which has been critical of David Cameron and not unhelpful to Tory rebels, sharply changed tack:David Cameron’s economic medicine is working – Tories should support him,” its leader column declared.
  • On Thursday, the Spectator, which has a long record of Euro-scepticism stretching back over 30 years, pitched in, describing this week’s Conservative would-be amenders of the Immigration Bill as “rebels without a cause”.
  • On the same day, the Times splashed with the following headline: Labour’s spending spree to cost £25bn”.  The story seems to have come straight from the Tories, complete with quote from Mark Garnier, a Conservative member of the Treasury Select Committee.

This quadruple event seems to have marked something of a sea-change, and that it followed the Balls announcement cannot be a coincidence.

Very simply, the restoration of the 50p rate may be popular with most voters, who don’t pay it, but it is rather less so with the people who edit them and own them, do do.  The anti-Moore gambit, as it were, is already having an effect.

More widely, there is a growing sense that a Miliband Government would not represent a return to the New Labour or even the Brown years.  It would, in crude terms, be more left-wing.

The Labour leader’s big idea is “predistribution”.  Essentially, this means having to find another source for paying the bills for public services and the welfare state other than the taxpayer – who is increasingly reluctant to do so.

That source is the only one left: business.  Miliband’s big policy announcement in the conference season – his proposed energy price-capping – has been read by business as a sign of things to come.

Balls’s 50p plan is being seen as another such indication.  A rallying-round the Tory banner by the right-of-centre papers would not win Cameron the next election – not remotely.  But it would make his task quite a bit easier and Miliband’s more difficult.

By Paul Goodman

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Paul Goodman: The bristling tensions between David Cameron and Theresa May  “It is a strange but true fact that there has been no face-to-face meeting between the Esher and Walton MP and Home Office Ministers to discuss his proposals since Christmas.  He insisted yesterday that his plan was legal and workable; May counter-insisted that the opposite is true.  Since the two are colleagues, one would have thought that either she or Mark Harper, the Immigration Minister, would have sat down with Raab to try to hammer out their differences.  Instead, the Home Office tabled a late blizzard of amendments, thus hoping that Raab’s one wouldn’t be called.  This was no way to run a railroad.  May and Raab have clashed before – over men, work and feminism.  It rather looks as though she was determined to freeze out the Esher and Walton MP and his plan.” Read more: http://is.gd/g0peVN

Peter Hoskin: Pinning Down Miliband – Labour’s fiscal plan   “This deficit pledge still has some worth, particularly for its clarity. It jettisons the “rolling, five-year period” that Osborne uses for his own deficit rule – and that was always a bit peculiar – and replaces it with a set five-year period. Also, the “current budget” measure is more straightforward than the “cyclically-adjusted current budget”, which makes greater demands of forecasters’ imaginations. Most importantly, however, it commits Labour to delivering some degree of austerity. If the OBR has it right, the deficit on the current budget will be around £50 billion at the time of the next election. That’s £50 billion of fiscal consolidation that, in the event of a Labour victory, Balls will have to achieve on top of what the Coalition has already done.” Read more: http://is.gd/dHcEpz

Jaber Jabbour: Why I, a liberal immigrant from Syria, joined the Conservatives   “During the recent past, a number of decisions and statements by Conservatives have made me less confused about my core political identity.  Some of these are: 1) Parliament’s vote against the possibility to intervene in Syria.  The credit goes to the Prime Minister for holding the vote and to Conservative backbenchers for voting independently – thus reversing the trend of Bush-Blair alliance and restraining Obama. 2) Boris Johnson’s unconventional views on immigration and George Osborne’s announcement about making it easier for Chinese people to visit the UK. 3) The shift towards a more inclusive foreign policy, as illustrated by the change in stance on Iran and through encouraging more trade with China. 4) David Cameron’s push towards more social equality, tolerance and fairness, despite having to take difficult decisions.” Read more: http://is.gd/ryxAeP

Stephen Tall: The Rennard affair shows LibDem strengths as well as weaknesses   What could Clegg have done to prevent all this? If we could rewind the clock to 2008, the answer would be simple. When allegations first surfaced against Lord Rennard, who was then still chief executive, the party should have taken them far more seriously and launched a proper investigation. But Clegg, less than 18 months into the job, pre-occupied with many other worrisome priorities, and eager to avoid a messy confrontation with Rennard, tried to keep a safe distance. For a while it worked. None of the women making the allegations went public, while Rennard himself – whose position had been weakened by allegations about his expenses as a peer – was eased out of his role in 2009. As Clegg put it a year ago on LBC: “I felt it was time for a change at the top of the professional party. His health was poor and that was the immediate reason he left but of course these things were in the background.” Read more: http://is.gd/68WzYg

Mark Wallace: As the increasingly bitter war in Thirsk and Malton shows, it’s time we reformed deselections   “No doubt local and personal circumstances are at work in this story, but it’s a symptom of a wider problem. The current process for holding sitting MPs to account is inadequate – whether you think Thirsk and Malton is a group of reasonable people unhappy with a difficult MP or a group of anti-woman troublemakers causing havoc, this mess could and should have been avoided. The process for selecting candidates has happily become much more open and democratic of late. Now it’s time reselections and deselections were reformed, too. If it was routine for every MP to seek reselection by a ballot at a meeting of local party members, we would not only have a lot less confusion and scandal – we would see greater accountability within our party.” Read more: http://is.gd/RCQsaK

By Paul Goodman

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