The Times attacks “worryingly confused” Tory marriage tax plan

Is this a tax cut too far for the Conservatives?

Following three days when National Insurance dominated this economy-laden election campaign, attention now switches to the Tories' marriage tax allowance. Details of the plan have emerged this morning and boil down to this:

  • Four million married couples and those in civil partnerships would qualify for the tax break
  • An eligible couple would be able to transfer £750 in tax allowance from the higher-earning partner to the lower-earning partner
  • The maximum benefit will be £150 a year -- or just under £3 a week
  • The tax break would fall sharply in a marriage where the higher earner is on more than £42,500
  • It will be funded by a tax levied on wholesale lending in the City

The Times, for one, doesn't like it. Here are some choice cuts from this morning's leader:

The Tories propose to recognise marriage in the tax system, paid for by a levy on the banks. This is bad social policy advanced by an arbitrary means.

This is surely no time to be giving money away so that people can just carry on doing what they are already doing, namely being married.

In a long philosophical journey in opposition, the Tories appear to have alighted on moral authoritarianism advanced by economic interventionism. These are the wrong answers.

This policy is worryingly confused. At a time when the main message of the Conservative campaign is that there is no money, it is odd indeed to be offering handouts.

Remember, this is the delivery of a promise made by David Cameron when he was running for the leadership of the party five years ago. For one of the country's most influential -- and broadly politically non-aligned -- newspapers to be so vehemently opposed to a policy so closely associated with the party leader has to be a concern.

Meanwhile, over on the Next Left blog, Sunder Katwala argues that by trying to counter criticism that the tax break would be regressive, the Tories have landed themselves with a confused policy. Katwala notes:

The policy doesn't send a simple "pro-marriage signal" any more.

The core distinction is no longer between the married and the not married.

Instead, the policy now signals that some marriages are valued while others are not.

Some good news for the Conservatives comes in a Harris opinion poll for the Daily Mail. Asking a one-off question, the pollster found that 65 per cent of respondents believe the next government should support marriage by raising tax allowances for married couples, with 35 per cent disagreeing.

But as Anthony Wells of UK Polling Report notes, "It's one of those questions that depend a lot on how it's asked."

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Commons Confidential: What happened at Tom Watson's birthday party?

Finances, fair and foul – and why Keir Starmer is doing the time warp.

Keir Starmer’s comrades mutter that a London seat is an albatross around the neck of the ambitious shadow Brexit secretary. He has a decent political CV: he was named after Labour’s first MP, Keir Hardie; he has a working-class background; he was the legal champion of the McLibel Two; he had a stint as director of public prosecutions. The knighthood is trickier, which is presumably why he rarely uses the title.

The consensus is that Labour will seek a leader from the north or the Midlands when Islington’s Jeremy Corbyn jumps or is pushed under a bus. Starmer, a highly rated frontbencher, is phlegmatic as he navigates the treacherous Brexit waters. “I keep hoping we wake up and it’s January 2016,” he told a Westminster gathering, “and we can have another run. Don’t we all?” Perhaps not everybody. Labour Remoaners grumble that Corbyn and particularly John McDonnell sound increasingly Brexitastic.

To Tom Watson’s 50th birthday bash at the Rivoli Ballroom in south London, an intact 1950s barrel-vaulted hall generous with the velvet. Ed Balls choreographed the “Gangnam Style” moves, and the Brockley venue hadn’t welcomed so many politicos since Tony Blair’s final Clause IV rally 22 years ago. Corbyn was uninvited, as the boogying deputy leader put the “party” back into the Labour Party. The thirsty guests slurped the free bar, repaying Watson for 30 years of failing to buy a drink.

One of Westminster’s dining rooms was booked for a “Decent Chaps Lunch” by Labour’s Warley warrior, John Spellar. In another room, the Tory peer David Willetts hosted a Christmas reception on behalf of the National Centre for Universities and Business. In mid-January. That’s either very tardy or very, very early.

The Labour Party’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, is a financial maestro, having cleared the £25m debt that the party inherited from the Blair-Brown era. Now I hear that he has squirrelled away a £6m war chest as insurance against Theresa May gambling on an early election. Wisely, the party isn’t relying on Momentum’s fractious footsloggers.

The word in Strangers’ Bar is that the Welsh MP Stephen Kinnock held his own £200-a-head fundraiser in London. Either the financial future of the Aberavon Labour Party is assured, or he fancies a tilt at the top job.

Dry January helped me recall a Labour frontbencher explaining why he never goes into the Commons chamber after a skinful: “I was sitting alongside a colleague clearly refreshed by a liquid lunch. He intervened and made a perfectly sensible point without slurring. Unfortunately, he stood up 20 minutes later and repeated the same point, word for word.”

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era