Peter Hoskin

The Tories must ready themselves for the coming tax battle

The Tories must ready themselves for the coming tax battle
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You may not agree with the specifics, but one of the successes of the Lib Dem conference so far has been to shift the debate about our fiscal recovery from one wholly about spending cuts to one about tax changes too.  This is a necessary step.  For reasons which have been delved into by Danny Finkelstein, spending restraint alone won't be enough to tackle Brown's debt mountain.  There will have to be tax rises.  And, what's more, they will have to be efficient and - as far as possible - fair.

These points are made by Jackie Ashley in today's Guardian, who argues that Labour should move as quickly as possible onto the issue of taxes, because they're getting routed when it comes to spending cuts.  Personally, I have little doubt that they'll do just that - and soon.  In Labour circles, there's a lot of talk about how Sweden relied more heavily on tax rises than Canada when it came to dealing with their own fiscal crisis in the 1990s.  And we've seen before how keen Brown is to set tax traps for the Tories by introducing political measures which he can spin as ways to get the deficit down.   

All of which means that Cameron & Co. need to be ready to start talking taxes.  Not only will they need some proposals of their own, but they'll need responses for when Labour caricature Tory measures as "for the (rich) few," as they surely will.  What, for instance, if Brown decides to to lower the threshold for the 50p tax rate?  Will the Tories oppose it, as they should?  And, if they do, how would they put their case?

These are the sorts of questions that you suspect George Osborne will have to face over the coming weeks.  Does he have the answers?  Well, word is that he may devote some of his conference speech to deficit-reducing tax measures.  So watch this space.