Gordon Brown’s dramatic and humiliating climbdown on the abolition of the 10p tax rate averted at least one disaster: the Prime Minister was facing a knife-edge Commons vote next Monday over Frank Field’s amendment of the Finance Bill, and one that might have spelt oblivion if the government had lost. With a panicked series of compensatory measures, and a desperate plea for mercy from his parliamentary party, Mr Brown was able to see off this particular mutiny. But there is still plenty for him to worry about.
Next Thursday, the PM faces another vote of confidence in the elections to 135 English local authorities, all Welsh councils, and the London assembly — not to mention the gripping contest between Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson. Mr Brown’s aides are desperate that these elections, and especially the mayoral battle, should not be seen as a referendum on the government’s national performance. Too bad: all such elections are invariably and inevitably interpreted as national opinion polls.
We deal elsewhere in this issue with Mr Johnson, for whom our support has always been and remains unequivocal: he ought to become London’s Mayor next Thursday. Even though the 10p tax rebellion has been averted, the saga of this particular mutiny has dramatised much that is wrong with the Brown regime. It is instructive, in particular, to go back to the Budget of March 2007 when the abolition of the 10p tax rate was first announced by Chancellor Brown.
As we pointed out at the time: ‘He did only one thing that no one was expecting — cutting basic-rate income tax by two pence — but he instantly took the benefit away again by abolishing the 10p tax band and other changes: in its totality, this was actually a tax-raising budget.’