One of the key dividing lines in 2015 will be over what sort of action each of the parties proposes to take over filling the financial black hole. The choice is between tax rises and spending cuts, and the Tories were first out of the blocks to make clear that they want to focus on spending cuts, specifically shaving more money from the welfare bill, as part of their election offer. James first revealed this in his Mail on Sunday column in June, and then George Osborne ruled out tax rises at a press gallery lunch the following month. At the time, he said:
‘I think this can be delivered through spending and savings both in welfare and in departments, and there is no need for tax rises to contribute to that fiscal consolidation.’
He also opened a specific challenge to the Liberal Democrats and Labour party to explain what taxes they fancied putting up instead of cutting spending further.
But when David Cameron was interviewed on the Marr Show today, he took a roughly similar line, but didn’t quite seem confident enough to rule out tax rises. Here’s a transcript of the exchange on tax rises:
Cameron: Frankly looking ahead if we’re going to get to grips with the problems of the cost of living that people face, we’ve got to say to people we’re not going to go on putting up taxes, the rest of the deficit reduction programme that George Osborne has set out we believe we can do that by continuing to bear down on spending.
Marr: No tax rises, ok.
Cameron: No, what I want to see us is go on helping hardworking people, particularly low-paid people to keep more of their own money to spend as they choose, and we have 25 million people have got a tax cut because of the lifting of the personal allowance. We have taken over two million people out of tax altogether.
Why couldn’t he just say ‘yes, vote Conservative for no more tax rises’, rather than saying that the Tories will continue to bear down on spending without the commitment that there will be no more tax rises? It’s an important distinction as the Prime Minister clearly isn’t confident enough to pledge that there will be no tax rises. Clearly he remembers his own ‘read my lips’ moment over pensioner benefits in the last election campaign. But perhaps he also remembers the difficulty that a pledge on tax caused John Major. The former PM repeatedly promised to cut taxes as part of his 1992 election campaign, and spent the rest of his tenure being upbraided for doing the opposite. Perhaps once bitten, twice shy isn’t a bad thing in the long run.