OPINION Tory tax views send out mixed messages

Most of us like to get back into work mode slowly after the summer holiday but David Cameron doesn't have that luxury. For the Tory leader it's straight on to the Today programme to talk about tax.

Whelan: ‘People think they may have to pay the tax and have aspirations to join the bracket of those who do’
Whelan: ‘People think they may have to pay the tax and have aspirations to join the bracket of those who do’

While Cameron has been away, his party has been launching its economic commission. As is the way these days, bits were leaked out a week in advance and for the Tories this was a total triumph.

When the Sunday papers ran initial stories about the John Redwood report, the instant reaction of the BBC was to replay the old John Redwood tape of the former Welsh minister pretending to sing the Welsh national anthem. But a complaint to the BBC from Tory spin doctors got unexpected results – it apologised. When the report was launched, the BBC coverage was almost fawning.

This, however, wasn’t just because the BBC is so easily bullied. The report proposed a tax cut that would benefit just about every BBC reporter – at least when they die.

The proposal to axe inheritance tax wasn’t just praised by the BBC; the newspapers loved it too. Just ask yourself how many editors live in a house worth less than £300,000 (the current threshold for paying the tax)? ‘Thumbs up for Tory tax plans’ roared The Sun, despite the fact that very few of their readers are actually affected by inheritance tax. Indeed, only six per cent of the population are.

The reality is that people think they may have to pay the tax and have aspirations to join the bracket of those who do.

I will never forget the day John Smith launched his ‘shadow bud-get’ during the 1992 election. Eighty per cent were to be better off, we boasted. But that meant 20 per cent would be worse off. In reality, many more people had the aspirations to join that top-earning 20 per cent.

The Tories were not the first to propose the abolition of inheritance tax. Remember when Blairite Stephen Byers suggested it? The Brown team went into overdrive attacking him, significantly at that time from the left. This time though the attack on the Tories was different.

Chancellor Alistair Darling went on about irresponsible, unfunded tax cuts and said he would look at raising the threshold for inheritance tax. You bet he will, and watch it rise at the next budget by another £50,000.

Given the Tory leader’s interview on the Today programme, that might not be necessary. David Cameron didn’t whole-heartedly back the plans and reverted to his ‘no cuts without economic stability’ line. As a former PR man, he should know better than to send mixed messages. I could just hear John Redwood spluttering into his cornflakes.

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