The Daily Mail's bizarre attack on Clegg's tax plan

The paper defines "the middle class" as anyone earning over £50,000. But only 10% do.

When the Daily Mail declares that Nick Clegg is planning to "soak the middle class", before adding that the Deputy Prime Minister "wants to hit millions earning over £50,000 with higher tax bills", you could be forgiven for assuming that the former does not refer to the latter.

As the Office for National Statistics reported last year, the median full-time UK salary is £26,200. Those who earn at least twice as much (as only 10% do) are not, despite the Mail's protestations, entirely representative of the country's middle class. Nor are those whose homes are worth than £1m (as just 3.1% of properties are) easily identifiable as standard bearers of the "squeezed middle". Yet nowhere in its account of the Deputy Prime Minister's holy war against the "middle class" does the Mail find room for such details.

In his interview on the Today programme this morning, Clegg rightly declared: "don't dismiss 90% of the country ... 90% of people in the country would think a salary of £60,000, £70,000, £80,000 is a considerable amount of money" (many of them Mail readers, one might add). Until the media realises as much, our political debate will continue to be distorted by statistical illiteracy.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg takes a Q&A session at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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