Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Worse than a crime

As the Duc d'Enghien said of Talleyrand, this was worse than a crime, it was a blunder. The problem that Brown's government has, and it has been a problem for the ten years of New Labour, is that they are so routinely disingenuous on tax and spend figures that an attitude of overwhelming cynicism has become hard-wired. In Brown's last budget he announced a two pence 'cut' in income tax that turned out to be a modest increase. In Darling's first PBR-CSR he seemed to announce a review of Inheritance Tax, 'doubling' the threshold for married and civil-partnered couples to £700,000. Apart from predicatable cries that they had stolen Tory clothes, it looked like it wa sabout to neutralise the IHT issue - one that had played particularly well for the Tories at conference and in the polls.
But. What looked like a tax cut was nothing of the sort. It was, in essence, a simplification of rules relating to married couples that have existed for years. There is no harm in this, and it could have been sold quite effectively along the lines of 'as house prices have risen and families that cannot be considered rich are now liable to pay inheritance tax, we believe that we should remove from the the need for complicated financial planning'. Something like that anyway. Instead, by selling this as a tax cut to match the Tories, Darling and Brown have traded one day's moderately favourable press coverage for yet more confirmation that they don't tell the truth on financial policy.
And it's worse than that. Labour have: specifically recognised marriage as worthy of a 'tax cut'; sold the pass on tax policy to the Tories; and done so incompetently. It will still take a lot for the memories of Black Wednesday to be erased completely, but Labour are doing their best.

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