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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Forget the progressive alliance - it was the voters wot won it in Richmond

The Labour candidate on how voters have acted tactically for decades.

The Richmond Park by-election is both a triumph and a setback for the concept of an anti-Tory progressive alliance. As the Labour candidate, I was bombarded with emails and tweets saying I ought to stand down to prevent Zac Goldsmith being re-elected long after it was technically impossible for me to do so even if I had wanted to. I was harangued at a meeting organised by Compass, at which I found myself the lonely voice defending Labour's decision to put up a candidate.

I was slightly taken aback by the anger of some of those proposing the idea, but I did not stand for office expecting an easy ride. I told the meeting that while I liked the concept of a progressive alliance, I did not think that should mean standing down in favour of a completely unknown and inexperienced Lib Dem candidate, who had been selected without any reference to other parties. 

The Greens, relative newbies to the political scene, had less to lose than Labour, which still wants to be a national political party. Consequently, they told people to support the Lib Dems. This all passed off smoothly for a while, but when Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Greens came to Richmond to actively support the Lib Dems, it was more than some of her local party members could stomach. 

They wrote to the Guardian expressing support for my campaign, pointing out that I had a far better, long-established reputation as an environmentalist than the Lib Dem candidate. While clearly that ultimately did little to boost my vote, this episode highlighted one of the key problems about creating a progressive alliance. Keeping the various wings of the Labour party together, especially given the undisciplined approach of the leader who, as a backbencher, voted 428 times during the 13 years of Labour government in the 1990s and 2000s, is hard enough. Then consider trying to unite the left of the Greens with the right of the Lib Dems. That is not to include various others in this rainbow coalition such as nationalists and ultra-left groups. Herding cats seems easy by contrast.

In the end, however, the irony was that the people decided all by themselves. They left Labour in droves to vote out Goldsmith and express their opposition to Brexit. It was very noticeable in the last few days on the doorstep that the Lib Dems' relentless campaign was paying dividends. All credit to them for playing a good hand well. But it will not be easy for them to repeat this trick in other constituencies. 

The Lib Dems, therefore, did not need the progressive alliance. Labour supporters in Richmond have been voting tactically for decades. I lost count of the number of people who said to me that their instincts and values were to support Labour, but "around here it is a wasted vote". The most revealing statistic is that in the mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan received 24 per cent of first preferences while Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate got just 7 per cent. If one discounts the fact that Khan was higher profile and had some personal support, this does still suggest that Labour’s real support in the area is around 20 per cent, enough to give the party second place in a good year and certainly to get some councillors elected.

There is also a complicating factor in the election process. I campaigned strongly on opposing Brexit and attacked Goldsmith over his support for welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and his outrageous mayoral campaign. By raising those issues, I helped undermine his support. If I had not stood for election, then perhaps a few voters may have kept on supporting him. One of my concerns about the idea of a progressive alliance is that it involves treating voters with disdain. The implication is that they are not clever enough to make up their mind or to understand the restrictions of the first past the post system. They are given less choice and less information, in a way that seems patronising, and smacks of the worst aspects of old-fashioned Fabianism.

Supporters of the progressive alliance will, therefore, have to overcome all these objections - in addition to practical ones such as negotiating the agreement of all the parties - before being able to implement the concept. 

Christian Wolmar is an award winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. He was shortlisted as a Labour mayoral candidate in the 2016 London election, and stood as Labour's candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in December 2016.