On inheritance tax there is a "credibility gap"

Cameron's plan remains unfair and unfunded

David Cameron has denounced Alistair Darling's 148-page dossier on the "credibility gap" in the Tories' spending plans as "complete junk from start to finish". So are the Tories' spending commitments fully costed? Here's one that isn't.

Cameron claimed again today that sweeping cuts in inheritance tax could be paid for by "taxing the non-doms". The party's pledge to raise the inheritance-tax threshold -- currently £325,000 -- to £1m would cost £3.1bn a year. Cameron hopes to raise this amount by charging non-doms £25,000 a year to live and work in the UK. The Tories estimate that about 150,000 residents would pay the levy, raising £3.5bn and funding cuts in inheritance tax and a rise in the stamp duty threshold to £250,000 for first-time buyers.

But the Tory proposal overestimates the total number of non-doms. The latest HMRC figures show that there are only 120,000 currently registered. Ken Clarke was admirably honest when he conceded: "We don't know how many non-doms will be here; we don't know how much our policy of raising fair taxation from foreigners who work in this country will raise." It's a pity his leader can't be.

The commitment to cut inheritance tax could yet become politically toxic for the Tories, particularly if the suspicion that a Cameron government would increase VAT grows. History teaches us that when in need of revenue, the Tories raise VAT, the most regressive tax of all.

It was Margaret Thatcher who almost doubled VAT from 8 to 15 per cent in 1979 in order to slash income tax and it was John Major who raised VAT by 2.5 per cent to its current level of 17.5 per cent.

Over at Comment Central, Daniel Finkelstein astutely notes that Darling himself still refuses to rule out raising VAT to 20 per cent. The Chancellor's plan to do so in the pre-Budget report was overruled by Gordon Brown. By contrast, Ed Balls (writing outside of his brief) has accused the Tories of secretly plotting to increase VAT and has attacked George Osborne for refusing -- like Darling -- to rule out a rise.

Balls might be keen to use these lines on the campaign trail, but VAT could yet become a dividing line between him and the man he still longs to replace.


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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.