Wednesday 22 April 2009

Impotent fury of the Tory blogs

The Tory blogs are all sound and fury over the budget - and the 50p rate on top earners in particular. Several argue that it is a distraction - but perhaps then it's strange that they haven't blogged about a different issue instead.

Tim Montgomerie calls for the Tories to come out against the 50p rate this weekend, noting that:

"The Tories' acquiescence on 45p invited today's move".

Its a very interesting point. He may well be right. Had the Conservative leadership decided to vigorously oppose the 45p rate last November, it could have been less likely that the government would have made a further progressive move today.

But they did not. Still, there is every sign that the Conservative leadership will not reverse the 50p move either. Unlike their activists and bloggers, David Cameron, George Osborne and Ken Clarke do not seem prepared to have a public argument with Labour about higher taxation at the top.

Iain Dale notes that 64% of Sky News viewers are against the 50p rate in a self-selecting poll. But the real public opinion polls showed a majority in favour before the public argument began.

The Conservative party leadership will have to decide whether to take the fight to Labour over the new tax rate - or whether to try and win and argument with many of their own activists about why they won't.

There is an enormous weakness in the 'death of New Labour' cliche that 'the government is abandoning the centre-ground'. The Tory frontbench reaction shows why this is nonsese. The new policy is in the centre-ground of British public opinion. The Tory leadership tacitly understands that, even if much of their party does not.

As I noted in November, when Iain Dale (who today instantly said that the Tories "must oppose" the new 50p rate) was happy to wait and see on 45p:

If you believed – as I believe most Conservatives do – that this was the wrong policy, you should say so. If you believe there are strong moral, economic and political arguments against higher taxation on top earners, then you would make that case. After all, your luck would really, really be in if your political opponents had declared the death of New Labour, vacated the centre-ground of British politics, abandoned Middle England and all the rest of the things you have all been saying.

Where’s the trap in that? It sounds like more of an open goal.

If that’s right, all Dave and George would have to do is to bang the ball into the net - stand up for their and your principles, oppose the policy, occupy the centre-ground and be carried shoulder high by the grateful denizens of Middle England into Downing Street.

So, what’s stopping them?

Are they insufficiently committed to the argument for lower taxes?

1 comment:

Zio Bastone said...

I hardly think that the new 50% rate has much to do with social policy or with the centre ground (which, incidentally seems to me as nebulous a term as 'Middle Britain'). It's about plugging a hole in the finances caused partly by the destruction wrought in the banking ecology under both the Conservatives and New Labour.

You might as well say that the fuel duty (which is not progressive, which also hits users of public transport and which will bring in more than the 50%) is either a victory for green politics (in which case why the further investment in North Sea oil?) or else a move to the 'right'.

It just doesn't work in that simplistic way.