Peter Hoskin

A sensible Tory rethink on marriage tax breaks

A sensible Tory rethink on marriage tax breaks
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There's something quite refreshing about David Cameron's plan to offer a tax break to married couples.  It says, simply: this is what I believe.  And it does so in spite of polling data and strategic arguments to the contrary.  This is one area where you certainly couldn't accuse the Tory leader of caring too much about what other people think. 

But refreshing or not, that doesn't make it good policy.  Of course, there's a tonne of empirical data which demonstrates the benefits of marriage.  That's important and persuasive.  But, as I've written before, there are reasons to doubt the efficacy of a tax break in particular.  And I don't think the next government will have enough fiscal space to implement ineffective policy, even if it does send out a strong message.

In which case, this revelation in Rachel Sylvester's column is quite significant:

"I am told that the Conservatives are now actively considering limiting the tax break initially to married parents of young children — with a promise that it would be extended to all spouses when the country’s finances allowed. 'If resources are limited then you have to prioritise,' says one Shadow Cabinet minister."

This makes sense.  The Tories would still get to broadcast a pro-marriage message, but it wouldn't be such a millstone around the neck of Chancellor Osborne.

There would, as Sylvester notes, be accusations of a Tory U-turn.  But, as Nick Clegg put it in a decent speech yesterday, "the politics of plenty are over" – policies which were made in sunnier times will need to be dropped in the battle against Gordon Brown's debt mountain.  I think the public are mature enough to recognise this fact, even if some of the Tories' opponents aren't.