The three main parties are having a fight about tax today. It’s the day the rise in the personal allowance comes into effect, and David Cameron will give a speech describing what is to most people the Easter Bank Holiday as ‘Money-Back Monday’ (which sounds a bit like a gameshow in a pound shop) and claiming tat up to 94 per cent of households are better off under the tax and benefit changes that come into effect this year.
Ed Balls is also working today while the rest of Britain heads to the beach and scratches its head about how to sort out the garden: the Shadow Chancellor is also giving a speech in which he will say that the Tory record on tax is ‘millions pay more, millionaires pay less’. Even though David Cameron has ruled out a rise in VAT after the election, Balls will continue to warn that the Tories might put it up anyway, saying this would amount to a £1,440 blow to families.
Of course the Lib Dems are making a noise today as well, complaining about both main parties. Nick Clegg is pointing to analysis by his own party that Labour’s tax plans would leave 24 million people £340 a year worse off, while Danny Alexander is accusing the Tories of ‘breathtaking hypocrisy’ for trying to take the credit for raising the personal allowance. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has given an interview to the Independent in which he also claims that a Conservative minister told him during Budget meetings in 2012 that ‘you take care of the workers and we’ll take care of the bosses’. It’s a powerful claim because it rings true, particularly for that Budget, which was the messiest of all, not just in terms of hopeless U-turns, but also in terms of messaging, with the Tories accepting now that while cutting the top rate of tax was right, it didn’t half damage their brand. But one saving grace for the Conservatives as they respond to Alexander’s claim is that he has been making interventions along these lines for a while, which may weaken the force of the blow.
Although today is the day the tax changes come into effect, it seems odd that the parties are bothering to use today as an air war day at all. Naturally they laid off action on the doorstep over the weekend, and George Osborne gave an interview from a garden centre yesterday, presumably to show that he too was doing what everyone else does over the four-day weekend. This week is supposed, in the Tory view at least, to be the week when voters really start to think about the election. But today is a gloriously sunny day, and families are less likely to be poring over their tax arrangements than they are over guidebooks on which is the best beach to visit, or over what plants they want to buy for their gardens. Will anyone really pay that much attention to the three parties scrapping away on a bank holiday?