Andrew Grice: 'Vote Tory for tax rises' – it's not as daft as it sounds

Inside Politics

Share
Related Topics

"The Tories should never do sex, drugs or popular culture," the Tory frontbencher told me with a rueful smile. "It always goes wrong." He was referring to Chris Grayling, the shadow Home Secretary, who likened conditions in "many parts" of Britain's cities to the drug and crime-ridden Baltimore portrayed in the brilliant American television series The Wire.

My Tory informant was right: Mr Grayling's speech has rebounded on him. He has upset the police in Manchester, where the Tories hold their annual conference in October, by claiming he witnessed an "urban war" involving gangs when he joined them on patrol this summer. The police say he did not see any serious crime. Mr Grayling, an attack dog who would need to be a different animal as Home Secretary, has clarified his remarks: he was not, he insists, claiming Moss Side was the same as Baltimore.

His intervention was not a one-off. The Tories dubbed this their "Broken Britain" week. Their timing was good: the week saw the release of official figures showing that more than one in six people lives in "workless households", the highest level since 1999.

The Tory offensive was more than a bit of headline-grabbing in the political close season. There are concerns among the cabal of Cameroons who run the party that it has become too focused on a single issue – the economy – and too associated with a single policy – spending cuts. I'm told the plan for the Manchester conference is to devote a day to "fixing our broken politics", another to "rebuilding a broken economy" and a third to "mending our broken society".

In a way, Mr Cameron has gone full circle. Before the economic crisis, his goal was to transform "society" in the way that Margaret Thatcher revitalised the economy. Then the unexpected global crisis meant that the economy had to take priority; voters would expect nothing less. Now some Tory strategists believe rebalancing is needed: although the public knows that spending must be cut, the endless speculation about "Tory cuts" could revive fears that the "same old Tories" were still the "nasty party," undoing Mr Cameron's successful rebranding work.

I detect the hand of Steve Hilton, Mr Cameron's chief strategist, who has returned from a spell living in California and has always been keen on the "broken society" message. Although Mr Hilton kept in close touch by phone and email, during his absence Mr Cameron's other influential backroom adviser, his communications chief Andy Coulson, recommended an "it's the economy, stupid" focus in the recession, on the grounds that voters were interested in little else.

Of course, the need to curb spending to balance nation's books makes it harder to tackle social problems. Although not every problem needs money thrown at it, increasingly sceptical voters know that they can't have their cake and eat it. Similarly, the Tories' claim to be the true "progressive" party, designed to woo natural Liberal Democrat supporters, will grate if all the Tories are associated with is not Mr Cameron's three-pronged mantra of "NHS" but "cuts, cuts, cuts".

But there would be little low-hanging fruit for an incoming Tory Government to put in its cuts basket. Tory welfare plans, still being drawn up, to tackle Labour's "dependency culture" may mean upfront costs. But where would the money come from?

There is a growing recognition among shadow Cabinet ministers that, if they win power, spending cuts could only be half the picture, as they would also need significant tax rises to fill the black hole in the public finances. That is why Mr Cameron and George Osborne won't rule out tax increases.

The big debate among the Tory high command now is whether to announce some tax increases before the general election. Mr Cameron is reluctant to unveil a detailed "shadow Budget". But there appears to be growing support for some tax rises to be disclosed, in line with the Cameron-Osborne promise to be "honest" with the voters, while portraying Gordon Brown as "in denial" about the need for cuts (an attack the Prime Minister will try to head off by acknowledging the need for big savings).

Announcing tax rises for Middle Britain before the election would be high risk. Tory traditionalists would hate it. They want tax cuts. But it could bring high rewards. The tax increases would be blamed on Labour mismanagement. And, if the deficit were brought under control, the Tories could fight the election after next on a manifesto based on tax cuts. It could be an attractive strategy.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A still from the BBC's new rap about the outbreak of WW1  

Why give the young such a bad rap?

David Lister
Israeli army soldiers take their positions  

Errors and Omissions: Some news reports don’t quite hit the right target

Guy Keleny
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice