Will Wednesday’s Budget herald the end of the 50p tax rate? It’s looking increasingly likely, with today’s Telegraph claiming that Osborne will replace it with a top rate of 45 per cent. Leaving the economic arguments aside, the consensus is that this will prove an unpopular move that could damage the Tories. Tim Montogmerie tweets that ‘if the post-Budget headlines are about 50p then Tories have a political problem’. The New Statesman's George Eaton writes that it ‘would do more to retoxify the Tory brand than any other measure’. But how dangerous a move is it?
Certainly, scrapping the 50p rate doesn’t poll well. Yesterday’s YouGov poll found 60 per cent opposed and just 27 per cent in favour. But then, a few weeks ago, they found 68 per cent against and 19 per cent for. So public opinion does seem to have shifted — at least slightly — in favour of scrapping it.
How has this happened? Maybe the news that the 50p rate is raising less than expected has turned some against it. Maybe that letter from small business owners calling for it to be cut changed a few minds.
But there has been one story bigger than any of these that may have done more to shift public opinion: the news that Osborne is likely to cut it. Back in January, the Tory leadership seemed committed to keeping the 50 rate, at least for the time being. Now, we’re told, they’re about to get rid of it. Since voters are more likely to support a policy if their party proposes it, you’d expect this to have shifted Tory voters towards scrapping it. And, indeed, that’s what YouGov shows: those who say they’d vote Tory have gone from 64-28 opposed in January to evenly split (45 for, 46 against) now, while the changes for Labour and Lib Dem voters are much smaller.