But the leadership has rarely been willing to challenge the party activists, despite the public rebranding message. And it is trying hard to now duck an inheritance tax fight while the decision to back the government's plans for a 45p income tax rate on earnings over £150,000 (the top 1% of the income range) are coming under fire. Boris Johnson and Norman Tebbit have found common cause with the Telegraph, ConservativeHome and Iain Dale. I haven't heard many people who are not on the Tory frontbench defending the leadership.
Tebbit warns that voters could desert the Tories over this.
What makes this a slightly Alice in Wonderland debate is the bizarre lack of recognition of how strongly the public support the new top rate - including most Tory voters too. (This was also the feature of the initial 'death of New Labour' media coverage). It would be difficult to find a policy with a stronger 'one nation' cross-class, cross-party appeal, if one listens less to the commentariat and more to the public themselves.
YouGov found 72% support for the new top rate, immediately after the pre-budget report (PDF file)
Reducing tax allowances from 2010 for people earning more than £100,000 a year and increasing the top rate of income tax in 2011 from 40% to 45% for those earning more than £150,000 a year:
I support this measure 72
I oppose this measure 17
Don’t know 11
These are the results among all voters, in a poll where the Tories led Labour by 40% to 36% with the LibDems on 14%. The YouGov website does not have the breakdown by party and social class (which I will request) but that 72% must certainly include clear majorities of Conservative as well as Labour voters.
Indeed, a YouGov/Fabian poll well before the current financial crisis found that a majority of Tory voters would back a still higher top rate than that currently proposed.
In Autumn 2007, we polled on the question of a 50p top rate on earnings over £100,00. This had 67% support, with 25% against. That included 55% of Tory voters (with 40% opposed), alongside 78% of Labour voters and 80% of LibDems. ABC1 voters backed the measure by 68% to 26%, and C2DE voters by 67% to 24%. Those earning over £50,000 backed a higher top rate by 57% to 39%. With majority support in every region (60% in London; 67% in the South and Midlands; 70% in the north).