Boris Johnson speaks at the Conservative conference in Manchester in 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Boris would boost Tory support by just one point if he became leader

The Conservatives need to change more than just their leader if they are to win a majority. 

What most excites Tories about Boris Johnson's coming return to parliament is the belief that, as leader, he will be able to deliver what David Cameron has not: a Conservative majority. The Mayor defied political gravity to twice win election in Labour-voting London leading him to be dubbed "the Heinkeken Tory": the man who reaches parts of the electorate that others cannot. 

Today's YouGov/Sunday Times poll shows that he is the public's top choice to be the next Conservative leader, backed by 30 per cent, compared to 16 per cent for Theresa May, 7 per cent for George Osborne and 3 per cent for Michael Gove. But despite this, when asked how they would vote if Boris led the Tories (and if Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg still led their parties), the Tories' share increases by just one percentage point from 33 per cent to 34 per cent. 

Although the Mayor would prove successful at attracting Ukip voters, with 20 per cent of those who currently support the party backing the Tories, he would have little effect on Conservative support among current Labour and Lib Dem voters. Worse, he would actually repel current Tory voters, with 92 per cent backing a Johnson-led Conservative Party compared to 97 per cent for a Cameron-led one. 

This is partly because many simply don't think he's up to the job of prime minister, with 36 per cent saying he is and 43 per cent saying he is not. By contrast, a majority of voters (52 per cent) believe Cameron is up to the job, with 37 per cent saying he is not. This is a reminder that the Tories already have a relatively popular leader, who currently outpolls his party by eight points (41 per cent to 33 per cent). That Cameron supporters don't automatically become Conservative supporters is a reflection of the Tories' enduring brand problems. 

While it's always wise to treat hypothetical polls with caution, today's poll does suggest that the election of Boris as leader won't alone be enough to boost the Tories unless they undergo more fundamental change.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: whatever you hear, don't forget - there is an alternative

The goverment's programme of cuts is a choice, not a certainty, says Jolyon Maugham.

Later today you will hear George Osborne say there is no alternative to his plan to slash a further £20bn from lean public services by 2020-21. He will also say that there is no alternative to £9bn cuts to tax credits, cuts that will hit the poorest hardest, cuts of thousands of pounds per annum to the incomes of millions of households.

But there is.

As I outlined here the Conservatives plan future tax cuts which benefit, disproportionately or exclusively, the wealthy. Suspending those future tax cuts for the wealthy would say, by 2020-21, £9.3bn per annum.

I also explained here that a mere 50 of our 1,156 tax reliefs cost us over £100bn per annum. We don't know how much the other 1,106 reliefs cost us - because Government doesn't monitor them. And we don't know what public benefit they deliver - because Government doesn't check.

What we do know, as I explained here, is that they disproportionately and regressively benefit the wealthy: an average of £190,400 per annum for the wealthiest.

And we know, too, that they include (amongst the more than 1,000 uncosted reliefs) the £1bn plus “Rights for Shares Scheme” - badged by the Chancellor as for workers but identified by a leading law firm as designed for the wealthiest.

Simply by asking a question that the Chancellor chooses to ignore - do these 1,156 reliefs deliver value for money - it is entirely possible that £10bn or more extra in taxes could be collected without any loss of  public benefit

To this £19bn, we might add the indiscriminate provision - both direct and indirect - of public money to wealthy pensioners.

Those above basic state pension age enjoy a tax subsidy of up to 12% on earned income.

Moreover, this Office for National Statistics data (see Table 18) reveals that the 10% of wealthiest retired households - some 714,000 households - have gross pre-tax and pre-benefit private income of on average £43,983. Yet still they enjoy average cash benefits from government of £11,500 per annum.

Means testing benefits to exclude that top 10 per cent of retired households would save £8.2bn per annum. And why, you might wonder aloud, should means testing be thought by the government appropriate for the working age population, yet a heresy for retired households?

Add in abolition of that unprincipled tax subsidy and you'll save even more. 

So there are alternatives. Clear alternatives. Good alternatives. Alternatives that enable those with the broadest shoulders to bear some share of the pain. Don't allow yourself to be persuaded otherwise.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.