Fairly or unfairly, the Tory party--as the party’s own focus group show--is seen as the party of privilege by many swing voters. Two-thirds of the shadow cabinet are millionaires and to compound this perception problem, both the leader and the shadow chancellor come from moneyed backgrounds.
In these circumstances, it would be a huge liability for the Tories to go into the next election calling for cuts in public spending combined with an increase in the threshold for inheritance tax and bringing the top rate of income tax back to 40p for those earning over £150,000 a year. It would look like the Tories are looking after their friends while the rest of the country bears the pain of the recession.
I can already hear Coffee Housers—including several of my colleagues—protesting, that this is giving into the politics of envy, denying the importance of wealth creation and allowing Brown to set the terms of debate. And yes, in a way it is. But it would be folly for this Tory party at this time to get into what would be agenda dominating debate about the top rate of tax and inheritance tax. Far better for the party to keep the focus on Labour’s economic mismanagement, the comprehensive failure of pouring money into unreformed public services and the need for a supply-side revolution in public services and the overall importance of low taxation to the economy. Indeed, there’s one upfront tax cut I think the Tories should major on: preventing the rise in employer’s national insurance contributions.
To raise the tax on jobs at a time of rapidly rising unemployment is job-destroying madness. For those of us who want to fight a battle about the importance of low taxes to the economy, this is far better strategic ground than the rate of income tax for the super-rich or inheritance tax. Standing by your principles doesn’t require you to fight at a time and place of your opponent’s choosing.