The Telegraph reports
that Alistair Darling will allow married couples to continue to pool their inheritance tax allowances. Downing Street has pressed the Treasury to abolish pooled allowances in order to demarcate between Labour, the party that promotes fairness, and the Tories, the party that entrenches privilege.
For all the recent polls and bravado, the near-bankrupt Labour party is still fighting an intensive rearguard. If it is avoid annihilation, the party has to hold on in Scotland, Wales and urban Northern England. Darling’s pledge illustrates that there is more than one way to fight a defensive battle. Theoretically, tax free pooled allowances worth up to £600,000 help middle income families weather the recession in the short term (obviously only in the event of a death) and plan for the future. In more prosperous Labour constituencies like Darling’s, which the high-tax Liberal Democrats and nationalist parties target, this generous pledge may prove decisive. On the other hand, the pledge undermines Brown’s voluble resentment of the ‘classist Tories and their rich friends’. The recently beleaguered Tories will be cook-a-hoop, and must emphasise that Brown has promised an inheritance tax cut until the electorate descends into narcolepsy.
It is an intriguing dilemma - Darling’s contemporary conciliation versus Brown’s dated defiance. Which tactic will deliver? Though I applaud Darling’s decision to exempt more people from this ludicrously archaic and disproportionate tax, he has rendered Labour’s most powerful rhetorical argument impotent; that can only damage Labour.