As has been heavily trailed upon both radio and television, today is Budget Day. At some point in the last twenty years I cannot identify, after many years of stopping work – clearing my afternoon – and religiously watching or listening to ‘live’ coverage of this occasional parliamentary set-piece in search of enlightenment, joy or anguish, I finally learned that the practice was pointless. Far better to wait until the evening national news and receive a brief summary, plus (presumably) more useful analysis than that being offered by the experts and pundits flying blind and improvising as the Chancellor of the Exchequer actually made his speech.
My avowed political-scepticism causes me to return again and again to what seem (to me at least) to be examples of rank stupidity committed by politicians and their advisers or public relations strategists.
In the Tories’ case, one of their biggest PR problems – in terms of putting the electorate off, if not actively losing votes – is the perception that they are the party of the wealthy and privileged. I’m not pronouncing as to whether this perception is correct or erroneous, I’m just stating it as a fact.
Faced with this, it seems logical to me, the one thing the Tory party should spend time seeking to avoid is announcing or implementing policies that reinforce this perception. There are a hell of a lot more voters on the electoral register who don’t regard themselves as privileged and wealthy than there are who do.
All that said, down through history, the Tory party keeps shooting itself in the foot in this respect.
Never mind that Labour prime minister Gordon Brown only raised the rate to 50p during his last ‘trapped in his bunker’ days in power as a deliberate attempt to bugger up Tory strategies if they should win the 2010 General Election.
The Tory-led Coalition government’s reduction of the rate to 45p was always going to be a hostage to fortune.
It has allowed Labour and other opposition parties to claim ever since that this was a classic Tory leadership sop to its rich, privileged, toff supporters and friends, especially at a time when a supposedly-draconian ‘austerity’ programme was being imposed upon everyone else.
Just as bad – in terms of PR – was one of the main arguments deployed by the Tories in defending the reduction in the rate, i.e. that (counter-intuitively, you might think) a 45p top rate would actually result in more tax being paid by those affected than a 50p one.
All this demonstrated to those opposed to the cut was that, when you are wealthy and privileged, you effectively have the capability to decide how much tax you choose to pay. This via the theory that, with a lower tax rate, the wealthy and privileged will spend less time and money employing expensive professional advisers to devise ways of avoiding [never evading, of course] having to pay the greater 50p tax rate.
For those unlikely to be affected by either the 50p or 45p tax rate, this point simply reinforces the suspicion that the wealthy and privileged are deliberately being given an easy ride and not having to take their share of the public ‘pain’ caused by the nation’s economic woes.
And so, for the past five years, the Labour party has been able to rant about ‘the Tories helping their own at the expense of everyone else’ – no doubt to considerable electoral effect when the 2015 General Election comes around.
I’m no Tory strategist, but if I had been, I’d have been banging on – until I was blue in the face – at David Cameron not to reduce the top rate of tax to 45p. It would just reinforce the perception that the Tories care more about the rich and powerful than they do about ordinary people, and gives Labour a stick to beat the Tories with … so why do it?
Again, only yesterday, we had the announcement that the Coalition government is going to provide families with ‘up to £2,000 per child’ in childcare subsidies as part of a drive to help working couples go to work. Never mind the obvious opposition point that, on the face of it, this seems to discriminate against families where one parent decides to stay at home to look after their child or children. What is just as – if not more – offensive is that this subsidy will be available for couples who earn up to £150,000 each.
What does that say to the vast majority of people in the country, who earn the average rate of pay (is that £26,000?) or less?
I’ll tell you.
That the Coalition is (once again) ‘looking after its own’.
When – if ever – will the Tory party strategists wake up to this problem?
Frankly, if the Tories are turfed into opposition at the 2015 General Election, they will have only themselves to blame.