Andy McSmith's Diary: How the tone of George Osborne's trumpet tax was rapidly remixed


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Indy Politics

Never in the history of British fiscal policy has there been a tax that came and went faster than the trumpet tax. It was there in the morning: by the afternoon it was gone, leaving nothing but a cacophony of puns.

Michael Dugher, a Labour MP and fan of brass bands, came upon a note in a consultation paper on George Osborne’s proposal to give tax breaks to orchestras. It was proposed that tax relief would be available only to those orchestras that contained “string instruments, woodwind instruments, brass instruments and percussion instruments” – which ruled out brass bands, steel bands, bagpipe bands, string orchestras and many other combos.

It looked like another elitist measure by upper-class Tories wanting to subsidise their own evenings in the concert halls while making others pay for their entertainment. Dugher christened it the “trumpet tax”.

While protesters whipped up a fanfare of puns about being “brassed off” about a policy “trumpeted” by the Chancellor, the Treasury had a rapid rethink and announced that it had changed the score so that the tax break will be available to any ensemble of at least 12 musicians who “play instruments from one or more of the string, woodwind, brass and percussion sections”.

“That sound you can hear is not Osborne blowing his own trumpet: it’s the drum roll heralding a humiliating U-turn,” said Chris Bryant, shadow culture minister.

Alexander’s party piece

Speaker John Bercow was asked why he allowed Danny Alexander to use the House of Commons to deliver his “yellow Budget”, when it was really no more than a plug for the Liberal Democrat manifesto.

He replied that he does not have the power to block a government minister from delivering a statement at the despatch box. He can, however, let them know what he thinks. He made a pointed remark before Alexander started speaking about ministers making Commons statements “for purely party purposes”.

Last week, he sat through a statement by the Cabinet Office minister, Francis Maude, who is leaving the Commons, on what he had done to restrict the activities of civil service unions. “What was the point of that?” someone shouted as it came to an end. Bercow replied: “Well, it was apparently judged worthy of an oral statement.”

Getting ahead of herself

Sarah Sackman, Labour candidate in Finchley and Golders Green, appeared to get a bit ahead of herself, writing to The Hampstead and Highgate Express about local bus services. She signed herself: “Sarah Sackman, Labour MP for Finchley and Golders Green.”

Not yet. Mike Freer is Conservative MP for Finchley and Golders Green, at least for now.

A careless Flick

Flick Drummond, a Tory candidate with a good chance of winning in Portsmouth South, has caused a stir by suggesting that racists vote Ukip. During a hustings, she told the Ukip candidate, Steve Harris: “Steve, you might not be racist, but the people voting for you are, because I meet them every day on the doorstep.”

Nigel Farage told Portsmouth News that “it’s an incredibly stupid thing to have said”.

Meanwhile, in other Ukip news, the party’s only MEP in Scotland, David Coburn, has apologised for the interview in which he referred to Humza Yousaf, a prominent member of the SNP, as “Humza Yousaf, or as I call him, Abu Hamza”. 

David vs Goliath of Spin

Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s old spin doctor, has clawed his way back into the public eye.

Not everyone approves. “Why is Newsnight using Damian McBride as the Labour voice on the political panel?” David Prescott, son of the former Deputy Prime Minister and a Labour candidate, tweeted late on Budget day.

McBride replied: “Dunno, David Prescott – maybe cos I worked on 16 successful Labour Budgets & PBRs while you were jobbing round the media and PR industry.”