Cameron’s conference: Giveaway budgets are dead! Long live giveaway speeches!

by Stephen Tall on October 2, 2014

David CameronPoliticians don’t do giveaway budgets any more. It seems just too blatant to ‘bribe’ voters a matter of weeks before an election. Instead politicians now do giveaway leaders’ speeches.

Nick Clegg pulled a policy rabbit out of the hat last year by finding a spare £500m a year for free school meals for infants.

And yesterday David Cameron pulled two policy rabbits out of his top hat by announcing tax-cuts for basic-rate taxpayers (extending the personal allowance to £12,500) and higher-rate taxpayers (raising the threshold at which it becomes payable to £50,000) over the course of the next parliament.

This Tory pledge to extend the personal allowance — we really can’t call it a tax-cut for low-earners any more: most of those who benefit come from better-off households — provoked lots of outrage from Lib Dems.

Some pointed out that this was our idea. Forgive me if I excuse myself from joining the chorus of “But we thought of it first!” Others pointed out that it was an unfunded promise. True, but so’s ours.

Lib Dems should be pleased when our ideas go viral. Most of our policies are so beyond the mainstream — pro-EU, pro-immigration, pro-PR, pro-green taxes — that we should erupt in joy on those occasions our policies are nicked by a rival party. Ditto Labour’s nabbing of the mansion tax.

Besides, the Tories aren’t the only ones ‘guilty’ of stealing their opponents’ ideas and passing them off as their own: how often has “freezing Council Tax” (a Tory idea anathema to liberals who want to see more powers vested in local councils) been championed within Lib Dem documents praising what we’ve achieved in government?

Cameron’s vow to cut taxes has, predictably, wowed the right-wing press. Today’s Financial Times is pretty much alone in seeing the Prime Minister’s new clothes for what they are: nakedly unaffordable policies which are either delusional (he actually does think these tax-cuts can be afforded while abolishing the deficit and protecting key public services) or just plain deceitful (he actually knows it can’t be afforded but reckons the public is willing to put hope before expectation). As John McDermott points out:

To make all this add up, the cuts will either be even deeper than announced, the deficit won’t actually be closed, or some taxes will go up after all. Something has to give – but it doesn’t look like it will be those on higher incomes.

But don’t worry. The voters are too smart to be taken in by politicians’ promises these days. Aren’t they?

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.