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  • Polls and Pain: Tax and Election Manifestos

    2 June 2017

    Polls and Pain: Tax and Election Manifestos

    We are now, of course, just days away from the second General Election in a shade over two years and with each successive voter survey, there seems less certainty about the outcome.

    Given that when the Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced she was going to the polls six weeks ago most pundits and bookmakers alike were proclaiming her victory as somewhat pre-ordained, it is no little turnaround.

    I thought that it might be helpful, therefore, to offer a professional and strictly non-partisan opinion of what has – perhaps not surprisingly – become a key policy battleground as the main parties attempt to persuade the electorate of their individual merits; namely, tax.

    Glancing over their manifestos, what is most noticeable is the varying amount of detail provided by the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

    As the party which has occupied at least a half share in ruling administrations over the last seven years, one might have expected the Tories to underline progress made and the fine detail of plans for the future.

    However, Mrs May chooses to take a rather different tack.

    Apart from the pledges to deliver low taxes, the most substantial references are to plans for a freeze on VAT, an increase in personal allowances over the course of the next three years and a determination to crack down on tax evasion which takes up three paragraphs of the 84-page document.

    The absence of detail is in the marked contrast with Labour, which has produced a 10-page pamphlet setting out a “Tax Transparency and Enforcement Programme” acting as a rider to proposals for a “Fair Taxation System” in its full manifesto.

    This additional programme amounts to a bold and not uncontroversial plan of action, scrutinising the affairs of corporations, millionaires and MPs.

    The latest opinion polls suggest, though, that it could require the coalition support of the Scottish National Party to translate into policy, if the kind of substantial shift in the electoral landscape desired by Jeremy Corbyn fails to materialise.

    Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats’ principal commitment is to raise income tax by one penny to fund the NHS and social care services, a policy augmented by a levy on sugary drinks and a drop in Corporation Tax to stimulate enterprise.

    What effect these specific ideas will ultimately have on senior political figures’ chances of forming the next Government is anybody’s guess. Even so, they hint at other stylistic differences in leadership.

    Theresa May’s message is precisely the same as that expressed in relation to the ongoing tug of war with Brussels over Brexit – the negotiations about negotiations, so to speak.

    That appeal for voters’ trust is very much at odds with the direct tone of Jeremy Corbyn and colleagues.

    They have made no apology for the strident, almost Marmite-like nature of their campaign. “You might not like what we have to say,” Labour appears to declare to a population eagerly clutching its ballot papers, “but you can’t say that you haven’t been warned about what we intend to do”.

    It may well be that veering away from what might be construed as awkward emerging news stories – such as one in the Telegraph about HMRC figures showing a 10 per cent rise in individuals paying the top rate of income tax over the course of the last year – plays into Mrs May’s hands.

    After all, it is uncertain just how many people pore over the fine detail contained in manifestos and door-drops before casting their votes.

    We must simply wait until the hustling on the hustings is done. Only then, will we be able to see which of the major parties is able to turn ideas – be they brief or substantive – into policy and impact on bank balances and bottom lines across the country.