The best policy idea to come out of LibDem conference was Danny Alexander’s call for tax thresholds to be raised to £12,500, effectively taking minimum wage earners out of income tax. Reversing Gordon Brown’s complicated tax – the – poor – and – pay – them – benefits strategy. Brown effectively and deliberately made those in work on low earnings recipients of welfare benefits. Brown wanted everyone to be on state benefits (welfare “universalism”) for purely political reasons so as to maximise buy-in from all classes into the welfare state. Hence the cynical Brown/Balls attachment to child benefit for millionaire mums and winter fuel allowances for Michael Winner.
Raising the tax threshold is simple, has popular appeal and will benefit those on low earnings proportionately more than those on higher earnings. It will take some pressure off the “squeezed middle” and won’t increase the welfare trap. It isn’t a perfect policy, prominent Orange-booker Mark Littlewood, a wonk the Institute for Economic Affairs, is wary that it will result in millions of voters being unaffected by the basic rate of income tax who therefore won’t be incentivised to vote for parties and policies that favour lower taxes. He fears that low-earners will have no reason to buy-in to tax cuts if they are taken out of the income tax bracket entirely.
The organised opposition to this policy however is coming from the left-wing, EU-funded think-tank IPPR. The IPPR was founded and funded by the unions back in the Kinnock era to drag the Labour Party to the centre, in the post New Labour era and under new management it is dragging the Labour Party away from the centre towards the left. IPPR is arguing against raising tax thresholds because it won’t help the poorest who are on benefits and not working. This criticism cuts no ice because tax cuts, by definition, are designed to help taxpayers. IPPR argues that targeting benefits, sprecifically towards childcare, would be more effective and cheaper. It is as if they are speaking a different language, the problem of welfare dependency won’t be solved by paying out more benefits.
Nevertheless Guido wishes IPPR well, their wonkish sophistry may well appeal to Ed Miliband. If in 2015 the coalition parties are standing on a platform of reducing taxes on the working poor with the Labour Party standing on a platform of taxing the poor, Miliband will be on the wrong side of the dividing line. “Vote Labour and tax the poor” is a winning campaign slogan – for the coalition parties.