Labour has now reviewed the Harriet Harman interview on LBC in which she said ‘I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes’ and concluded that she wasn’t calling for the squeezed middle to pay more in tax than it currently is. Very few people can honestly say they are able to make crystal clear assertions in every broadcast appearance they make, but Harman, had she had any idea that CCHQ was listening to her interview, hoping for something juicy, could have clarified what she meant by adding ‘than those on low incomes’ to ‘I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes’ so that the Tories couldn’t suggest that she meant ‘than they currently do at the moment’.
A Labour spokesperson said:
‘The Labour Party wants to cut taxes for middle and low earners. Harriet Harman was clearly talking about the tax system as it is now where people on lower incomes pay less tax. It is deeply dishonest of David Cameron to suggest otherwise. It is the Tories who have raised tax 24 times, including raising VAT for hard-working families despite promising not to, and cut them for millionaires.’
Labour will now be hoping that this is the end of the row about Harriet Harman wanting to raise taxes, as even though this quote did not mean what Cameron argued it did, every time they are forced to deny that they want to raise taxes on middle earners, the suspicion in voters’ minds that this is exactly what Labour does want to do lingers a little longer.
And the Tories are hoping that it heralds lots of broadcast debate about whether Labour does want to raise taxes. They’re certainly keen to keep it going, with this poster (or infographic, as the Tories prefer it) appearing on Twitter already.
UPDATE, 16:45pm: Harman is keen to keep this row going. She has written to the Prime Minister to complain about his comments:
Dear Prime Minister,
You claimed at Prime Minister’s Questions today that “yesterday Labour announced – in an important announcement – that it is now their policy to put up taxes on middle income people”. This is not true. It is a lie.
In fact, as you surely know, since your own party circulated a transcript later, I had made a straightforward defence of our system of progressive taxation – the idea that people on higher incomes should – and do – pay more in tax overall than people on lower incomes. The full quote is here:
“But I would say Henry one of the things that I would argue that might, should probably make a really big difference to you is having a really good health service. Because you don’t want to have to pay for health insurance. You don’t want to have to pay to go pr ivate to get really good healthcare system. And I think that is not just for working class people it’s for middle class people as well. And the same with education, you know, really good school system that helps people from lower income families and middle income families as well so I think that actually the idea that there are some things that help people on low incomes and other that help people on middle incomes. Yes I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes. But actually they need those public services like the transport system.”
Harriet Harman, LBC, 14 July 2014
It is utterly clear that this is not a call for higher taxes, but a defence of a system which has previously commanded wide support, in which people on middle incomes contribute more than people on lower incomes.
While the principle of progressive taxation has been undermined in recent years, by your Government’s decision to raise VAT and to cut the top rate of tax for the highest earners, even you had not seriously questioned it until today.
Our politics, and the quality of public debate, requires that all participants, however much they may disagree, take part in good faith.
Harriet Harman MP
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party