Attack lines that could hurt Brown and Cameron

Lib Dem leader hones campaign technique

As my colleague Samira Shackle notes elsewhere, Nick Clegg's media double-whammy this morning did little to move on the story of possible post-election deal-making.

In neither his appearance on Radio 4's Today programme nor his authored piece in the Times did the Liberal Democrat leader choose to be any clearer on which way he would jump in the event of a hung parliament.

But what his newspaper column did provide was a neat attack on both Labour and the Conservatives and their claims to be progressive. The lines are worth repeating because we will hear them again and again during the unofficial and official election campaign.


1. "Mr Brown has created a tax system where the poorest pay a higher proportion of their income in taxes than the rich."

This is the theme David Cameron warmed to during his party conference speech last October. Indeed, he sounded at his most impassioned -- and won his most sustained ovation -- during a passage that opened like this:

In Gordon Brown's Britain, if you're a single mother with two kids earning £150 a week, the withdrawal of benefits and the additional taxes mean that for every extra pound you earn, you keep just four pence.

Expect more of this from both Cameron and Clegg.


2. "Mr Cameron's top priority is tax cuts for millionaires."

The Tories' commitment to raise the inheritance-tax threshold inspired Gordon Brown's best one-liner of 2009:

This must be the only tax change in history where the people proposing it -- the leader of the opposition and the shadow chancellor -- will know by name almost all of the potential beneficiaries.

As George Eaton wrote yesterday, inheritance tax could yet become politically toxic for the Tories, and not just because the revenue-recouping windfall tax on non-domiciles may not add up.

Both major parties had better ensure that their rebuttal units are working hard to combat these attacks.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.