James Forsyth

The opening day of the long election campaign is a score draw in terms of media coverage but the big development is that Labour has lost one of its main tax dividing lines

The opening day of the long election campaign is a score draw in terms of media coverage but the big development is that Labour has lost one of its main tax dividing lines
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During an election campaign, the press like to obsess about who won the day. Up until 3pm, the consensus was that the Tories had. The media was pointing out just how absurd it was for Labour to criticise another party for having black holes in its fiscal plans. But then came David Cameron’s marriage gaffe which has evened up the coverage on the evening news broadcasts with the Six o’clock news going particularly hard on the issue. Cameron’s credibility is central to the Tory campaign so anything that depletes that is bad news for them.

But in the long term, I think the most significant development today is one that is not getting much coverage on the TV news: Darling’s refusal to commit to not raising VAT. As the extremely well-sourced Patrick Hennessy revealed in December, Labour planned to run a campaign warning that the Tories would raise VAT. As one senior Labour figure told Patrick, “We were determined to be able to pledge that we would hold VAT at 17.5 per cent so we could hammer the Tories over putting it up to 20 per cent.” But this strategy, as Danny Finkelstein points out, can’t work if the Labour Chancellor won’t commit to not raising VAT. In other words, unless Darling shifts his position, Labour has lost one of its main tax dividing lines.