Saturday 21 March 2009

What does the 45p row reveal about project Cameron?

There is quite a row going on over on the right about the new 45p rate of tax for top earners. (And note how Boris Johnson again keeps his ambitious eye on preparing his pitch for a future Tory leadership contest, which I think he hopes to contest around 2018).

But readers of Next Left will have seen this one coming. You did hear it here first! On the Sunday evening as the news of a new top rate broke last November, I must have been among the first to predict that the Tory leadership would not want to be on the wrong side of public opinion (and a majority of their own voters), and my guess was that "despite internal wailing, their manifesto at the next election won't dare to oppose it".

Which led to this exchange on Iain Dale's blog, with the grand fromage of the Tory blogosphere himself, after he had declared 'the death of New Labour'.

"I am certain that a clear majority of Tory voters will back this .. Are you sure you know which way your leadership will jump on this", I asked.

“Yes, I am sure”, he replied.

By that Wednesday, the emerging evidence suggested that the Tory leadership was quietly preparing to accept the new top rate. But Iain was happy at that stage, and argued that his response to me had enough ambiguity in it that it didn't (necessarily) mean that he was sure they would oppose it, though that seemed the natural reading since he had declared "the death of New Labour" and his opposition to class politics. (But what was the top rate during the 1983-87 Parliament? If you want an example of class-based redistribution in politics, try the 1988 budget; or doesn't redistribution upwards count?)

Anyway, Iain is certainly sure they should oppose it now. So is Tim Montgomerie, who thinks George Osborne needs to "get a grip". Perhaps they will prevail, as ConservativeHome's campaigning against the Cameron-Osborne plan to stick to Labour tax plans did.

But I doubt it. Indeed Montgomerie wrote yesterday that this move "betrays" the leadership's instinct to be pro-high tax and spending, compared to the desires of the party's minimal state right. And perhaps it does: the leadership appears to be conservative in its instincts and policies. (And why should Montgomerie be surprised: hasn't he noticed that - Reagan and Thatcher included - none of the right's heroes ever significantly shrink the state, do they?).

And so the broader question of who can best decode the riddle of the red, green and true blue enigma that is project Cameron continues. But I think the evidence for my thesis which I set out in Progress this month - - Cameronism as the politics of a high Tory Court is stacking up strongly.

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