You have to laugh at the audaciousness of the Brown change of strategy, from a “war on toffs” to fighting for the middle classes. He has also resurrected Blairism, even referring to his “friend” Tony, claiming “we have governed as New Labour and now we will campaign as New Labour.” His speech to the Fabians yesterday was ideologically Mandelsonian.
At first the Tories might be inclined to dismiss it as desperate political zig-zag forced on Brown and Balls by a cabinet that wisely wants to fight for middle-income swing votes rather than just core-votes in a defeatist retreat into welfarist clientèlism. Except middle-income voters are bound to ask: “What will the Tories do for us?”
The Tories mock “One minute Gordon Brown’s a class warrior, the next he is a friend of middle Britain … The idea that a man who has spent his whole career at war with the middle classes can be their champion is laughable”. They charge Gordon Brown with tax-bombing middle Britain, saying:
- He’s repeatedly hiked national insurance, hitting middle Britain again and again.
- He imposed a £100 billion pensions stealth tax.
- He hit first time buyers with a £1,500 rise in stamp duty.
- He imposed 111 tax rises.
Families on middle-incomes are entitled to ask where is the Tory commitment to roll-back those hikes? Will they remove the pensions stealth tax or stamp duty? How many of the 111 tax rises will they actually reverse?
The Tories give little sign that they plan to defend the middle-classes by reversing Gordon’s decade of attacks on them. The proposed marriage tax allowance is being watered down by Osborne, the Labour tax-bombs that CCHQ have warned us about in campaign posters since 1997 will not be defused. In fact the Tories are signalling they too will bomb low and middle income earners with their own 20% VAT bomb. Only the LibDems are offering a tax cut for low and middle income families, promising to put the tax threshold up from £6,500 to £10,000.
Gordon says social mobility is his new priority, yet the Labour Party has blocked council house sales, the single greatest boon to social mobility since free education for all. The LibDems and Tories should promise low-income, public sector tenants that they will bring back a programme of heavily discounted council house sales. Owning your own home is a great aspiration and a key driver of upward mobility.
The Tories are promising a lot of pain and little gain for the middle-classes. The transferable marriage allowance is a vote winner, higher inheritance tax allowances are another and radical education reform looks appealing to all those of us who can’t afford to send our kids to Eton. If the Tories are going to remove superfluous welfare benefits from those on middle to upper incomes they need to compensate us in return. If Osborne credibly matched the LibDem proposal to raise income tax thresholds to £10,000 they would seal the deal with middle England…