Michael Brown: The real clash within the Tories is just beginning

The tussle over tax, delayed since Cameron's election, must now be played out

Share

Both Tories and Labour are missing the point about tax. The simple verity of the Thatcher tax policies of the 1980s has not changed. Tax cuts lead to economic growth. Tax rises, however, reduce the impact of economic growth.

Yet both parties claim that the country cannot afford "unfunded" tax cuts. Labour says the Tories are still on their slash and burn policies that would, if they implement Lord Forsyth's tax commission proposals in full, imply a cut in public services of £21bn. But public services are not ultimately paid for by our taxes; they are actually paid for only by a growing economy.

George Osborne replies that any tax cut recommended by the commission would only be implemented with a commensurate rise in environmental taxes. This is just plain daft. It means that the tax burden under the Tories would continue to be the same as under Labour - nearly as high as in the days of Denis Healey.

But the question is not whether the country can afford tax cuts. The country can no longer afford to pay the taxes demanded by government from the population. Britain's tax burden is growing faster than that of any other European country, with middle-class taxpayers working nearly half the year for the state. Failure to reduce, simplify and make fairer the burden and collection of taxes is actually reducing economic activity, lowering economic growth - and even reducing the total amount of revenue collected.

However much both parties want to shy away from the Thatcher tax policies of the 1980s, the experience of that era continues to provide the only basis for future economic growth. At a time when our taxes - corporate and personal - are increasing, the rest of the developed world is going in the opposite direction. Which means that we are becoming progressively less competitive.

Perhaps the starkest comment in Lord Forsyth's report is the quotation from Charlie McCreevy, the EU Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, who was previously the Irish Finance Minister. "Back in the 1990s, when I started cutting taxes, many people feared that the loss of revenue to the Exchequer would be massive and that the policy would have to be abandoned. But the opposite happened. Far from the policy causing an erosion of the Exchequer's revenue stream, reduced tax rates generated higher economic activity, greater taxpayer compliance and a surge in the tax take for the Exchequer."

This was precisely the experience of the UK during the previous decade under Thatcher, Howe and Lawson. After Geoffrey Howe reduced top rates and marginal rates of tax, revenue increased. And after Nigel Lawson's 1988 Budget reduced the top rate of tax to 40 per cent, the public sector borrowing requirement was converted to the public sector "debt repayment".

Both Labour and the Tories now seem to be stuck in the groove of "economic stability". George Osborne repeats the words as his central mantra. But there is nothing stable about economic stability. Such a policy is actually harmful to the British economy, impairing its competitiveness while reducing growth and opportunity for individuals and families. Without reform, according to Lord Forsyth, it will only get worse.

The political issues raised by the commission will spark a debate that can no longer be conducted behind closed doors. The right-wing groups comprising John Redwood's No Turning Back organisation, as well as the Thatcherite Conservative Way Forward - presided over by Lord Tebbit - will want to ensure that the uneasy truce with the Cameroons is broken. This tussle over tax cuts has been delayed since Mr Cameron's election, but will now have to be played out and resolved before next year's party conference.

Already, well-known right wingers such as Edward Leigh, Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, and the Eurosceptic former minister David Heathcoat Amory have enthusiastically embraced the commission's proposals. Mr Cameron would be ill advised to write off these and others (probably a majority of the backbenchers) as Thatcherite dinosaurs that can simply be ignored. Expect to read of serious rows within the backbench 1922 Committee over the coming weeks.

Every Tory leader since 1997 has had to face a fork in the road after about a year in office. Mr Cameron made it clear in his party conference speech at Bournemouth that there would be no return to tax cutting unless it could be afforded. Last year's battle for the party leadership may be over, but the real battle for the soul of the party is only just beginning.

mrbrown@talktalk.net

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Male Support Worker / Full Time Driver

£9464 - £12995 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will ne...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Product Development

£26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Product Development departm...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing and Business Development Officer

£19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hull based charity providing except...

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Female Support Worker

£9464 - £10396 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will ne...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Sir Trevor Nunn's stance on diversity is dangerous

David Lister
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Have you called the homeless 'the people you step over when coming out of the opera'? Then you too could get a peerage from David Cameron!

Lee Williams
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future