We at last have the details of the proposed Conservative plan to send a signal by ""recognising marriage" in the tax system. The means of doing so is to allow one partner to use part (£750) of their spouses' personal allowance, as long as that is not already being utilised. So it depends on the main earner earning under £44,000, and the second earner still having a chunk of their personal allowance (£6475, or £9490+ for over 65s) left.
There is one previous problem which the new policy dodges: it can no longer be called the John Terry tax break, an idea which we think we may well have invented at Next Left before it was widely used elsewhere. If you want to commit adultery, remarry and keep your tax break, you will have to be a basic rate taxpayer. John Terry wannabees might be in, but not JT himself.
But here are three problems it still faces.
1. I suspect the direction of criticism of this policy may be about to change. Previously, David Cameron has said he wanted to "send a signal" that he valued marriage. That is controversial - for example, in preferring married couples to cohabiting couples - but it is obviously the point of the policy to do that. For the Conservatives, the gains of "valuing marriage" are clearly thought to outweigh the costs of liberal criticism of this.
That debate will continue. But it may be superseded, or at least joined, by another one.
The policy doesn't send a simple "pro-marriage signal" any more.
The core distinction is no longer between the married and the not married.
Instead, the policy now signals that some marriages are valued while others are not.
The result: Married couples who both work full-time are non-gainers from the policy, alongside long-term cohabiting couples with kids.
If the Conservatives think those marriages are equally valued, they do not wish to use the tax system to say that, and will use the tax system to say something else. So, one could quite legitimately conclude that they don't equally value those marriages.
As the policy is designed to "send a signal", it does not take much decoding to realise what that signal can be read as:
the Conservatives value marriages where one partner stays at home, and will change the tax system to benefit those married couples, but not married couples both in full-time work or the unmarried.
Now, gainers here would include working woman earning under £44,000 with husbands staying at home to look after the kids.
And much is being made of another "signal" sent by the inclusion of civil partnerships So it will also be happy day - worth £3 a week - for civil partnership couples where one partner earns nothing, or under £5750 too, (but not for those who both work and earn £6500+).
But my sense is that many might think the signal here is rather more "back to basics" and "back to the kitchen sink" because of the specific model of which married family units the Tory policy would exclusively benefit.
2. Another problem is identified by the Financial Times leader writer Christopher Cook, a highly incisive centre-right voice who has previously worked as an adviser to the Conservative party.
He has tweeted:
Politically, the £150 might be a mistake. It's small enough to sound like a joke and big enough to be expensive. Neither fish nor fowl.
This seems to me a good point. The risk here is that the £550 million cost of the policy could be seen to call into question whether the Conservatives' remain committed to deficit reduction as a top priority, while the £150 gain to married couples seems quite small.
Indeed, it has already been the subject of some mockery:
Labour supporting blogger Anthony Painter has tweeted:
Long time coming but it's now time for me to find a girl, settle down. There's £3 a week to be made
As Anthony believes in fair shares, he will be well aware that only £1.50 of that would be his.
3. One problem with signal-sending policies is that everybody gets the signal. The main contentiousness of this policy - which stirs strong opinions on both sides - has been an argument about whether it is fair. It is easy to come up with examples of how the policy offends fairness intutions - who would want to defend the exclusion of widowers from the policy, yet the inclusion of those on their fifth marriage? - and that is particularly important if the whole point is the signal-sending motivation.
The scale of the proposed change may also affect the public politics of this fair or not argument. Long-term cohabitees who think the point of the policy is to tell them that their choices are less valid are going to be equally offended by the principle of that whether they are missing out on a large tax break or a small one. Yet that may now be compounded if the beneficiaries are relatively agnostic about what they gain from the policy.
4. The scale of the policy may also lead to arguments about whether it is fairly pointless, and will have very few impacts on affecting marriage trends in society.
Certainly, it was always going to be unlikely that the "lever" of this tax break would have any effect on decisions to get married.
On the whole, that is probably a good thing. The evidence on the benefits of marriage remains contested, as the issue of causality remains very much unproven. But very few people would think that marriage decisions at the margin, where the tax break might prove the decisive 'nudge', are going to prove particularly strong marriages in the (perhaps unlikely) event that any such marriages were contracted.
This can be shown by looking at how the costs of getting married compare to the benefits of the policy.
If a couple who fit the criteria for the scheme could organise their wedding for under £1500, they could break even on the deal within a decade. With a still tight £3000 budget, that would be twenty years.
However, the average cost of a UK wedding is £11,000.
If you want to get married for the tax break, and spend that, then it is going to take 73 years and four months of wedded bliss before you are ahead on the tax break deal.
Finally, a declaration of interest: the author can be pro-marriage while arguing the above on the tax break question, and happens to have been married for nine years!
I do also think it is slightly odd that liberal-left can be so proud of enabling gay marriage (and rightly so) while still appearing to be unsure as to what it should say or where it stands on marriage more generally. My colleague Tim Horton has written an interesting essay on a shaping a pro-family politics of the left.
Yet perhaps those who want to "send a signal" about marriage mattering might both think harder about exactly what that signal is meant to be, and perhaps then identity ways to send the message which don't cost £550 million a year to the Exchequer.