When George Osborne announced that he was abolishing child benefit payment for higher earners back in October, he told the Conservative annual conference: "A system that taxes working people at high rates only to give it back in child benefit is very difficult to justify."
It would indeed be difficult to justify, if it actually happened. But in the intervening months, the Treasury has done the maths and some interesting statistics have emerged.
The first is that a top-rate taxpayer could get back in child benefit what he or she is paying in income tax only by claiming for at least 10 children. Not many people are that fecund.
Statistic two: across the country there are 365 people claiming child benefit for 10 or more children.
Statistic three: as far as the Treasury can ascertain, none of those 365 is a top-rate taxpayer. In summary, there is not a single known example anywhere of "a system that taxes working people at high rates only to give it back in child benefit".
Pasty tax started with George's hero, Lawson
When the Chancellor announced his now notorious tax on pasties and hot pies, he claimed to be closing a loophole that had existed "for 20 years or more". He was actually understating the case. The Labour Party has dug up a letter written to a Labour MP in April 1984 by the then Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, whom Osborne is known to hold in very high regard.
Lawson explained: "The VAT extension on hot takeaway food which I announced in the Budget applies to food and drink which has been deliberately heated so that it can be consumed while still hot. It does not apply to food and drink that has cooled to room temperature by the time it is sold or to things like pies and pasties which are warm because they are freshly baked and not to enable them to be consumed while still hot."
Lawson was getting a lot of stick because he had just put VAT on fish and chips, but it was no anomaly that pasties were spared. It was the conscious policy of one of Osborne's political heroes.
Cameron chum lands A4e job
According to David Cameron's biographers, Francis Elliott and James Hanning, there was a time when the PM might have envied George Bridges, who was four years younger but rising faster up that narrow career path for young aspirants who go from being political advisers to running the country.
But Bridges' political career never quite took off, and he went into public relations instead. He has now landed the job of rescuing the reputation of A4e, the company hired by the Government to find work for the unemployed, which has been hit by allegations of fraud.
Prince Philip still has gift of the gaffe
The Queen and Prince Philip were on a visit to north London yesterday when they came upon David Miller, a 60-year-old man in a mobility scooter. Proving that his penchant for making risky remarks has not dimmed with age, the Prince inquired: "How many people have you knocked over this morning on that thing?" None, was the answer. Mr Miller said afterwards: "No offence was taken."
Campbell deigns to chair hit show
It is one of those remarks that sticks in the mind. Some years ago your diarist was discussing the BBC's long-running show Have I Got News for You with the then political editor of the Daily Mirror, who stated emphatically that it was one programme he would never go on.
Other journalists could only dream of being important enough to be invited on but Alastair Campbell – for it was he – was just approaching that level of celebrity where an invitation might come his way. Years have passed, he is older, he takes himself less seriously, and he has relented. He is one of the guest chairmen the BBC has lined up for the show's 43rd series, starting on 13 April.Reuse content