Katy Balls

Boris Johnson’s tax gamble

Boris Johnson's tax gamble
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Will MPs go along with Boris Johnson's social care plans? On Tuesday, the Prime Minister is expected to share his plan to reform social care through a 1 per cent hike on national insurance with his cabinet before presenting it to MPs. Given raising national insurance amounts to breaking a manifesto pledge, there are already backbenchers who have gone public with their concerns. John Redwood has taken to social media to declare it a ‘bad idea’ while several ministers have voiced their opposition under anonymity.

Now Johnson's former aide Dominic Cummings has penned a blog calling ministers to challenge the Prime Minister over his plan: 'If you’re a cabinet minister and want to protect your own political position, I strongly suggest that over the next 48 hours you insist to the chief whip on full discussion on Tuesday of the whole plan for the policy, implementation, and communication — before any announcement, otherwise the PM should not expect me to defend it on TV’. Given Cummings is currently persona non grata in the Tory party, few will want to take him up on his offer. But the criticism does point to the political gamble Johnson is taking by choosing to break a manifesto pledge on tax. 

The belief in No. 10 is that Johnson is doing what other leaders have failed to do and will therefore stop social care being a tricky issue at the next election. MPs just need to think back to 2017 and the 'dementia tax' to see how the thorny topic can cause political damage. The concern among ministers is that the solution could bring big problems of its own. There is unease that social care will be funded through national insurance as it means those of working age will carry the burden for something that will in the immediate term largely benefit the retired and those who are asset rich. 

What's more, the bulk of the cabinet went into politics to lower taxes rather than raise them. As one red wall MP put it recently: ‘There’s a heap of big costs coming from promises that a lot of us feel no attachment to.' The biggest concern, however, speaking to ministers and MPs is the political ramifications of breaking a manifesto pledge. While Johnson will point to the pandemic as exceptional circumstances, it means that the next time Johnson makes a promise at an election, his opponents will have an easy time suggesting his promises can't be trusted.

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor.

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