James Daley: Sorry, Gordon, still not good enough
Saturday 17 May 2008
Seven years ago, when I voted Labour for the first time, I truly believed that Gordon Brown and Tony Blair stood for the same things I did. The UK economy was being managed to reap the benefits of the thriving capitalist society that I lived in, while the fruits of this prosperity were being redistributed to help the poorest members of our communities out of poverty and back on to their feet. That was the theory, anyway.
During the early years of New Labour, Brown was portrayed as the iron socialist Chancellor, while Blair was the more progressive centrist Prime Minister. And when Blair finally left office last summer, my biggest fear was that the Labour Party would take a dangerous lurch to the left, as Brown finally lost his counterbalance.
What really happened, however, has been truly extraordinary – Brown lurched off to the right. Although it's now been more than a month since the rebellion against the scrapping of the 10p rate of income tax began to gather pace, its ramifications are still being felt, both in the Labour Party and in people's pockets. And, as a Labour supporter, I'm still aghast that any Labour Chancellor – let alone one who professes to come from a socialist background – could do what Brown and his policy wonks did.
To increase the tax bills of five million of Britain's poorest citizens was bad enough. But to put the money into the pockets of the middle classes was truly perverse – a complete reversal of the values that I believed New Labour stood for.
Before Alistair Darling announced his package of measures to undo this catastrophic piece of policy this week, most single people earning between about £5,500 and £12,000 a year had seen their tax bills increase (some had even doubled) between March and April. Meanwhile, those living comfortably on about £30,000 had found themselves paying about £25 less in tax each month.
When the Government finally caved in to pressure to reverse these changes, I breathed a sigh of relief. While it was embarrassing, how could Brown ever win back the trust of Labour's core voters if he refused to back down on a policy that took from the poor and gave to the rich?
But what came in its place this week was not good enough. By simply raising the minimum threshold at which everyone in the country pays tax, the Government did indeed succeed in helping some of those it had hurt. But it still left about one million of its poorest citizens paying more tax than they had done in March, while putting yet another £120 a year into the pockets of the middle classes.
This was hardly the Robin Hood manoeuvre we'd all been hoping for – the Sheriff of Nottingham's mark was still all over it.
While Darling also tacked on a bunch of additional measures to try to buy a few extra votes in the forthcoming Crewe and Nantwich by-election, many of these played to the middle classes as well. More help for first-time buyers, for example, might sound like a cuddly old Labour policy, but house prices are now so inflated that even with Government help, you need to be earning a good salary to think about getting your foot on the property ladder. Enhancing protection for depositors in banks – another new policy – is also hardly going to help those with no savings.
Although I'm sad to say it, I'm not sure I would have been able to vote for the party I love if I had the chance to do so in Crewe on Thursday. Brown has got much more work to do if he's going to convince me that they have not abandoned the principles I voted for.
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