The Liberal Democrats have accused the Conservatives of trying to steal their flagship policy for the next general election, to raise the personal tax allowance to £12,500.
In a sign that two Coalition parties are already going their separate ways ahead of the 2015 election, the Lib Dems and Tories are both seeking the credit for the decision to increase the allowance to £10,000 from next April.
Nick Clegg’s party has already announced plans to include a pledge to raise it to the level of the minimum wage, currently £12,500, in its 2015 election manifesto. Now the Tories are considering an identical promise as they draw up measures to help the low-paid and ensure that “hardworking families” benefit from the economic recovery. The move would also allow David Cameron to answer Labour claims that the Tories are a “party for the rich.”
Tory officials said no decisions have been made on their manifesto but insisted that raising the income tax threshold to £10,000 was “a decision taken by a Conservative Chancellor".
But Danny Alexander, the Lib Dem Chief Treasury Secretary, who is normally a loyal deputy to George Osborne, hit out at the Tories’ move last night. He said: “At every Budget and autumn statement since , Nick Clegg and I have made increasing the personal allowance our number one priority. The same cannot be said of the Tories. Before the election it was inheritance tax cuts for the very wealthy. Then it was reducing the top rate of tax. And at their conference last month it was a tax break for married couples.”
Mr Alexander accused the Tories of claiming that raising the personal allowance to £10,000 was “their idea all along”. He recalled that Mr Cameron told Mr Clegg during one of the TV debates between the party leaders in 2010: “We cannot afford it.”
He insisted: “This is the Government’s income tax policy only because the Lib Dems fought for it.”
Writing on the Lib Dem Voice website, the Lib Dem Treasury minister said: “When it comes to the general election, there will be only one party with a track record of promising tax cuts on the front page of its manifesto and delivering them to the pockets of low and middle income families up and down the country. That is the Liberal Democrats.
“The other parties may try to imitate our policy. But if you’re after the real thing, you need the Lib Dems in government. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery. But on this occasion, it won’t work. My message to the Tories is simple – don’t waste your breath. This is the Lib Dems’ policy and everybody knows it.”
The two Coalition parties may have a similar dispute over the pupil premium, which channels money to schools for children from poor families. The Lib Dems claim they proposed it first, even though it featured in the Tories’ 2010 manifesto, and were more prepared to back it with hard cash when the Coalition was formed.