Thursday, March 22, 2007

Simon Heffer: Wrong

Virtually a tautology I know, but really! That the most puce man in Britain continues to bloviate crapulently on the pages of the Telegraph is a source of considerable annoyance. On Saturday he claimed, preposterously, that putting up taxes on consumption made absolutely no difference to behaviour - his evidence being that people still smoked even though it was taxed. The man's a fool.

And so today, whinnying with pleasure that David Cameron was less quick on his feet than would have been ideal (though the Independent is markedly more charitable), this archpriest of bitter-enders pontificated:
As David Cameron and George Osborne banged on for months with their silly little catchphrase about "sharing the proceeds of growth", we could all see the hostage to fortune. A tax cut by Mr Brown, even one with more downright prestidigitation than would normally be found at a convention of the Magic Circle, would make the Tories look incredibly dumb. And, lo, it came to pass.
So, lets see. The Conservatives find a fluent and moderately plausible answer to the question of how you can cut taxes without simultaneously cutting spending. This phrase is rubbished by the Labour Party and by Simon Heffer. Gordon Brown then essentially adopts the basis of the idea, without doing it properly. This means that the next time the Conservatives talk about cutting taxes, and the Labour Party trumpet their 'spending slashed!' response, the Tories can point to Prudence over in the corner. 'There you are', they can say, 'even this grasping old curmudgeon got around to our way of thinking eventually. Imagine how much better it could be if it wasn't being implemented by an old-school class war tax-n-spender.'
The cosy cadre of Old Etonians around Mr Cameron has been good at coming up with the odd slogan, and better at ensuring that his image prevails over anything so vulgar as a policy.
Heffer as class warrior/man of the people is one of the more ridiculous postures I've seen. Alternatively I suppose it might just be old-fashioned jealousy...
First, consider that eye-watering figure of £674 billion annually of public spending. It may be insane for a potential Tory chancellor to promise a specific tax cut two or three years before taking office; but how sane is it for him to pretend, equally, that in such a gargantuan sum there is no scope for savings? Just one per cent of that would almost fund another 2p tax cut, for pity's sake...Just think of the headlines a Conservative government would get for doing that. Just think of the headlines it would get if it was really brave, and offered to cut a whole two per cent.
Terrific - and every single policy announcement/press conference/PMQs/interview from now until the election could be spent asking the Tory spokesman precisely what he was going to cut, and then sneering at the inevitable answer that 'we don't know yet - we'll find out when we get there.' Of course Public Spending should be cut - it's ludicrously high. But if you make your pledge - the solid basis behind your election manifesto - cuts in public spending you're offering up so large a hostage to fortune you might as well raise a glass to 10 more years of Labour.
Simon Heffer is an appalling idiot. This budget can be turned into a real advantage for the Tories. With any luck it has decontaminated the concept of tax cutting - turning the question from 'Are we spending enough on X?' - which has been the discourse since the late nineties, to 'Are we paying too much in tax?'. This is a much more profitable area for the Conservatives.


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