Labour steps up its 50p tax attack with new "Tory Millionaire's Day" campaign

Ahead of the abolition of the 50p tax rate on 6 April, Labour looks again to paint the Tories as the party of the rich.

When I recently interviewed Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who first called for the reintroduction of the 10p tax rate, he lamented how Labour's "brilliant" campaign against the abolition of the 50p rate had defined the Tories as "a party only interested in cutting taxes for millionaires". More than any other single measure, the move retoxified the Conservative brand and confirmed the Tories' status as "the party of rich". Every time that David Cameron defends an unpopular tax rise or spending cut, Ed Miliband is able to remind voters that he has simultaneously chosen to reduce taxes by an average of £107,500 for 8,000 income-millionaires.  

With just over a month to go until the tax cut is introduced on 6 April, Labour is stepping up its campaign against the measure. The party has today launched a new ad featuring Cameron writing a cheque for £100,000 to "a millionaire" and a clock counting down to "Tory Millionaire's Day". In response, expect the coalition to point out that the new 45p rate is, as Danny Alexander recently noted, still higher than the 40p rate seen for 155 of the 156 months that Labour was in power. 

Alongside the new campaign, I'm told that Labour, encouraged by how Barack Obama forced Mitt Romney onto the defensive over his tax bill, will continue to challenge the PM to say whether he will benefit from the reduction in the top rate. Private polling by the party has previously shown that 62 per cent of voters, including 46 per cent of Conservative supporters, believe he should "come clean and tell people honestly whether he is personally benefiting". 

Unlike George Osborne, who said last year that he would not gain from the move, Cameron has so far refused to say whether he will. When challenged on this subject by Stephen Pound MP at PMQs earlier this month, the PM replied evasively that he would "pay his taxes". Under ever-greater pressure from Labour, the Tories will need to decide whether this strategy is sustainable.

Labour's new advert reminds voters that those earning a million pounds a year will gain more than £100,000 from the cut in the top rate of tax.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

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