The public is turning against chaotic conservatives


Every once in a while, a member of the Question Time audience manages to capture the current mood.

It happened when an elderly man told bickering Nigel Farage and Eddie Izzard to ‘shut up’ during a broadcast filmed ahead of the EU referendum in June 2016.

It happened when Eric Pickles, then chairman of the Conservative Party, was heckled so badly in 2009 that he was forced to concede, “I can never satisfy you guys.”

And it happened again on Thursday night when a smartly dressed 70-year-old hairdresser ripped Home Secretary Damian Hinds over Rishi Sunak’s spring statement.

“I can’t tell you how disappointed I am with your government. I really can’t put into words the mess you’ve created,” she said, clearly in anguish.

“I’ve sat through the pandemic and seen money fly away, money we could do well with now.”

Describing the government as “a disappointment,” she channeled Oscar Wilde by adding, “You know the cost of everything and the value of nothing,” before ending with a David Davis-esque fanfare: “I don’t know what to say. to you other than to all of you, go!

As it’s the BBC, you could have been forgiven for thinking she was probably a Labor activist in hiding – like one of those doctors dragged in to criticize the government’s handling of the pandemic during the lockdown, without revealing that they wore a red rosette on weekends.

Or maybe even a Liberal Democrat stooge, if such things still exist.

But the problem for the Chancellor – and by association, Boris Johnson – is that this woman, who spoke so critically of our elected officials, actually said she was a Tory voter. And she was disgusted with Wednesday’s mini budget.

Not without reason, she asked Hinds as the sole curator on the panel, “What do people who own businesses do for a living? The ripple effect is unthinkable.

Pondering a “tax plan” that offered nothing to small and medium-sized businesses and will see the Treasury reaping more of our hard-earned money in 2025 than last October, the lady in red was clearly right.

Because if they don’t stand up for low taxes, business owners and their hard-working employees, who the hell are the Conservatives for?

I would humbly suggest that you, dear reader, have a better idea of ​​what conservatism really is than most of the current Cabinet and, surely, the entire Treasury population at this time.

If I were Nigel Lawson, I would insist that Rishi Sunak remove my portrait from his desk and replace it with a photo of Gordon Brown instead.

Because if we’ve learned anything from Wednesday’s smoke and mirrors, tomorrow’s ‘ubershambles’ from a spring statement – it’s that the idea of ​​the chancellor being a Thatcherite is, like his offer of fly-Peter-to-pay-Paul tax, an illusion.

In fact, by some estimates, Mr Sunak has raised taxes more in two years than Gordon Brown has managed in all his 10 years of taxing and spending at the Treasury.

By comparison, as John Redwood pointed out this week, over all the Thatcher years, the basic income tax rate was reduced from 33% to 25%. The maximum rate of income tax has been reduced from 80% to 40%. The 15% surtax on investment income has been completely eliminated.

By the end of his term, not only had total income tax increased, but the wealthy had ended up paying more taxes as a proportion of the total, providing more money for public services and, more importantly: Economic Growth.

We know this staple brand of conservative economics still works because the corporate tax cut under David Cameron coincided with a 50% revenue boom. (And lo and behold, last year’s temporary stamp duty reduction has also led to a big boost in income, thanks to a currently booming housing market.)

I don’t know what happens to the Tory chancellors as soon as they walk through the doors of No 11. Perhaps that immediately provokes a fit of amnesia.

But Mr Sunak is the latest to fall victim to their trademark, apocalyptic, tax-everything-that-moves philosophy.

Indeed, the bean counters are so desperate to rob us of as much of our income as possible that they keep “forgetting” to tell us that the deficit is actually billions lower than they thought. It all rather pokes fun at their claim that they need a health and social care levy to raise an extra £12billion a year.

Taxes are set to reach their highest levels as a fraction of national income since Clement Atlee was Prime Minister and households face the worst hit per person disposable income since records began in the 1950s.

The braver thing to do would have been to scrap the tax rather than come up with a set of measures that are likely to be completely wiped out by inflation approaching 8% and a fiscal slowdown.

What difference does an increase in the National Insurance threshold or a 1 pence cut in income tax make when there is already a four year freeze on personal relief and a higher rate threshold ?

Indeed, as Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies pointed out on Thursday, raising the National Insurance floor and lowering the income tax rate benefits pensioners and non-wage earners in detriment of workers.

With no additional help for people running businesses and even recent middle-income graduates stung by a hike in payments following a change in the student loan system, one wonders who exactly the Tories are for. really “for”?

Maybe they don’t even know.

While I appreciate that the pandemic has done little to help national finances already badly damaged, in what post-Brexit world have we been promised a tax burden rivaling that of France?

Taxes are now expected to be more than 36% of UK GDP, up from 33% pre-Covid.

Mr Sunak’s decision to raise our corporate tax rate from next April could also make us less competitive than much of the EU just when we should be more competitive.

So it’s not Maggie’s politics but Macron’s – a politician who frankly embodies the “everything for everyone” approach. And therein lies the real problem for the Prime Minister. Everyone got mad at David Cameron and George Osborne’s 2012 budget, exemplified by two former public schoolboys who didn’t seem to know what a pie was.

But in many ways, Wednesday’s schizophrenic offering was far worse. Because he’s talking to a government that’s so unsure of what it is – or so divided about what its philosophy of governing the economy should be – that it thinks it’s okay to claim both reduce and increase taxes in the same breath.

Are they a social democratic party of public services, or are they for individual accountability and empowerment? Because they can’t be both.

If the Conservatives cannot decide what they stand for, then, like the lady of Question Time, the public will conclude that they stand for nothing at all.


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