In a move that will anger the Tory right, Nick Clegg is to launch a Demos report (Times article: £) that criticises tax breaks for married couples, saying that the government should not "moralise".
The married tax allowance – which attracted much criticism from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats during the general election campaign – is an important issue for many Conservatives, particularly those on the right of the party. It was one of a set of policies aimed at reassuring this wing that David Cameron's government still had social conservatism and family values at its heart.
The study, The Home Front, describes the married tax allowance as a "weak tool" that will do nothing to improve the lives of children. It also finds that stable single-parent families provide a better environment for children than married couples who argue frequently.
Clegg, who was a vocal critic of the idea in opposition, will give a speech at the launch of the study praising all types of family. Though he is not expected to mention the issue of the married tax allowance directly, his appearance will send a clear message. It could ignite tensions between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative right, who are already fuming at the lacklustre by-election campaign that the Tory party fought in Oldham.
During the general election race, Clegg said:
David Cameron is plain wrong, totally wrong, to say that we, the country, should spend billions of pounds providing a tax bribe for people simply to hold up a marriage certificate.
It is immensely unfair. What does it mean for the poor woman who has been left by some philandering husband who goes on to another marriage and gets the tax break and she doesn't?
Along with student fees, it is one of the few issues that has a provision allowing the Lib Dems to abstain written into the coalition agreement.
After the Oldham result, Clegg was quick to declare that the fact that the Lib Dem vote held up showed that his party was still "strong, unified [and] independent". Perhaps he hopes to use the married tax break to reassert this and shore up support within his party. While it has the power to anger the marginalised Tory right, it is not an issue that is likely to split the coalition. As such, it is a relatively safe one to shout about.