David Cameron ensured yesterday that the Conservatives will be playing at home at next year’s general election – on their favourite “tax and spending” field.
His unexpected pledges of tax cuts delighted the Tory faithful and made his speech feel more like a mini-Budget than a conference speech. It may well persuade some natural supporters who are flirting with Ukip to come home to the Tories.
Labour complained, rightly, that the £7.2bn of tax reductions were “unfunded”. It is true that if Ed Miliband had promised something similar last week without saying where the money was coming from, he would have been crucified by the Tories and their newspaper allies. The Conservatives argue that they have a track record of cutting the deficit and will stick to it to make room for tax cuts.
Mr Cameron’s pledge will put pressure on Labour to spell out its plans in detail. The Tories hopes voters will suspect Labour will raise taxes and want to put the contrast in neon lighting.
A sensible way to resolve the inevitable tax and spending battle between the two biggest parties would be for the independent fiscal watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, to put the rival plans under its spotlight. Labour would allow this. George Osborne will not.
Mr Cameron’s speech was clever politics. For Labour, it was a painful reminder that Mr Miliband wasted his opportunity in his conference speech last week. Mr Cameron most certainly did not waste his.