Leading article: Populist and eye-catching, but beset by vagueness


Despite the calls from Blackpool for Gordon Brown to "bring it on", it is painfully obvious that the goal of the Tory leadership over the next few days of the Conservative conference will be to stave off an autumn general election. The opinion polls are simply too unfavourable for David Cameron and his advisers genuinely to desire a contest at this stage. And that is the rather desperate light in which yesterday's taxation proposals from the Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, must be viewed.

There were some eye-catching proposals from Mr Osborne. His pledge to raise the inheritance tax threshold from £300,000 to £1m was red meat for tax-cutting Tory traditionalists. And it is also likely to be popular in marginal constituencies in the south, where booming house prices have pushed many middle class families into the liability bracket. His pledge to scrap stamp duty for first-time buyers on homes worth up to £250,000 is also likely to be strike a chord in areas where house prices have been breaking records and swathes of people are excluded from getting on to the property ladder.

These new promises are just about in keeping with the long-standing Conservative pledge that there will be no up-front, un-costed, tax cuts in the next Tory election manifesto. We are told that the cost of these cuts to the exchequer (£3.1bn from inheritance tax and £400m from stamp duty) will be paid for by a £25,000 fee charged to some 150,000 wealthy business people who register abroad for tax purposes, so called "non-domiciled" UK residents. This is clever politics from the Conservatives. It will be difficult for Mr Brown to criticise this tax raising measure as he has promised to "review" non-domicile tax status himself for some time. And the public's attitudes to tax-avoiding billionaires have changed of late thanks to the furore over the activities of private equity magnates and the uncertainty generated by the credit crisis. The threat from ultra-wealthy financiers that they will take their business elsewhere if tax loopholes are closed has lost some of its credibility in recent months.

But there is some disconcerting vagueness about the Conservative tax plans as they presently stand. Hints of tax cuts for families funded from savings in the welfare bill look dangerously like an un-costed pledge. The Conservatives rightly criticised Mr Brown for pulling this trick when he was Chancellor. Yet now they seem to be doing the exact same thing. This might get them out of a hole in the short term, but it could be damaging to the party's fiscal credibility when an election does come.

Even more worrying is the apparent marginalisation of the party's green tax proposals. The word being put about in Blackpool is that Mr Cameron has rejected some of the main environmental tax proposals contained in the recent "Quality of Life" policy review, including the sensible idea of charging VAT on domestic flights to discourage air travel where a low-carbon alternative is available.

There is a serious danger that Mr Cameron's actions on the environment will not live up to his rhetoric. To fail to follow through on his green pledges would be a major strategic misjudgement for Mr Cameron. It would also be to miss an opportunity. A poll published yesterday showed that a majority of voters, even Conservatives, favour the thrust of the tax proposals that emerged from the "Quality of Life" commission.

The flavour of yesterday's proposals is populist and also rather rushed. There was nothing, for instance, on business taxes or personal taxation. Yet, as the Conservatives conceded themselves yesterday, this is merely a starter, and the main course with regard to taxation is still to come. We must hope that the taste improves as the meal goes on.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Database Administrator

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...

Deputy Head of Science

£22000 - £36000 per annum + MPR / UPR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our cli...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

My limerick response to Mike Read’s Ukip Calypso

Simon Kelner
The number of ring ouzels have seen a 30 per cent decline in the last 10 years  

How the sight of flocks of ring ouzels helps to turn autumn into the new spring

Michael McCarthy
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London