Alex Massie

The New Class War

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James argues, quite correctly in my view, that it is now clear that Gordon Brown is preparing to run a campaign arguing that, as Brother Forsyth puts it, "a Cameron government will be a government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich." Ben Brogan makes the same point in his column today: 

In a fight to the death, there is no longer any point pretending to govern in the national interest. As it was in the beginning for Labour, so shall it be in the end: class war, plain and simple. Soak the rich, crow about it, and damn the consequences.

This is what the Conservatives' website promises on taxation:

•    We will freeze council tax for two years by reducing wasteful spending on advertising and consultancy in central government

    •    We will introduce a £50bn National Loan Guarantee Scheme to underwrite
bank lending to businesses and get credit flowing again

    •    We will provide tax cuts for new jobs with a £2.6bn package of tax breaks to get people into work, funded by money that would otherwise go on unemployment benefit

    •    We will cut the main rate of corporation tax to 25p and the small companies' rate to 20p, paid for by scrapping complex reliefs and allowances

    •    We will give small and medium-sized businesses a six-month VAT holiday, funded by a 7.5% interest rate on delayed payments

    •    We will cut National Insurance by 1% for six months for firms with fewer than five employees, paid for from the above changes to the company tax regime 

    •    We will abolish Stamp Duty for nine out of ten first-time buyers and raise the Inheritance Tax threshold to £1 million. Both of these changes will be funded by a flat-rate charge on non-domiciles.

" Brown's economic mismanagement means we can’t offer big upfront net tax cuts like some other countries."



On one level this is symbolic stuff and, sure, symbols matter. But if you offer a clear and, alas, easily-demagogued commitment to reducing taxes on the rich while offering little to nothing for those on average wages then you can't really or honestly complain if this is used against you.

That doesn't mean I think the Tories should drop their inheritance tax proposals (not least because they're not wholly unreasonable) but it does suggest they offer something more to the guy earning £20,000 a year.

Of course, the Tories might argue, with some reason, that a freeze on Council Tax benefits the average family in real terms. True. But "real terms" tax benefits are a tougher sell than actual-see-it-in-your-pay-packet reductions. And, in any case, for the minority of people paying attention to the Tories' localism project, freezing Council Tax makes one wonder (again!) how genuine their commitment to localism really is. Making councils even more dependent upon central government for their financing does not seem an obvious way of increasing local flexibility and accountablility. In other words, one part of the Tory "message" contradicts another part of it.

So while I might - nay, do! - find Labour's "class war" rhetoric tedious and juvenile it's not immediately obvious that the Tories haven't, in some ways, invited it upon themselves.

*Note, however, that this is to be paid for by "reducing wasteful spending on advertising and consultancy in central government." That smacks of back-of-an-envelope scribbling if ever any promise did.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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