‘As the scheming by Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt unfolded, the Business Secretary ate haddock with an old friend. “We had a good talk which did not focus on events back at Westminster. When I got back, I put out a statement suggesting that it was a very minor storm in an even smaller teacup. I called it right. By teatime it had become a two-hour wonder.”’
Mandelson must eat at a Gladstonean pace. The Business Secretary is in ‘Kindly Pussycat’ mode, relishing the consolidation of his position following the failed putsch (which is surely nothing more than coincidence). He is determined that tax rates remain competitive and that the 50% levy be reduced at the first opportunity:
‘“Private enterprise and initiative is going to be the principal driver of economic growth. That’s why it’s very important to preserve the competitive regime of business taxation.”
He also argues, for the first time, that the 50p top tax rate should be ditched as soon as possible. “Personally, I would favour, when financial circumstances permit, for the top rate to come down, just as it has gone up when times were hard. If we [the Labour Government] had an ideological objection to the top rate being at 40 per cent, why did we keep it there for so long? It was only financial circumstances that forced us to take a different view. Just as we took a view in one set of circumstances, we can take a different view in another.”’
Also, Mandelson claims that the government is united behind his plans. Even Ed Balls is onside, and always has been: Mandelson has no recollection of Balls’ wish to extend the 50% rate to those earning above £100,000. But there’s nothing Damascene about Balls. His every utterance is prefixed and suffixed with the refrain: “New Labour”; but dividing lines about “the many not the few” persist in between. And what of Brown? Organ grinders lurk behind their monkeys. If there is a budget before the election, Mandelson will have his work cut out ensuring that our tax rates don't become any less competitive.