October 2, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
David Cameron made his pitch to the nation yesterday in his last conference speech before the 2015 General Election. The headline policy was a “tax cut for 30 million people” – in that he was promising to raise the threshold for the 40% tax rate from the current £41,900 to £50,000 and the threshold for the tax-free allowance (the amount you earn before paying tax) from £10,000 to £12,500 by the end of a second Parliament in 2020. He argued that this was to reward people who “do the right thing” (I assume this means have ‘got on their bike’ and got a job as Norman Tebbitt might say).
The rise in the tax-free allowance would take one million people out of tax altogether (in his words – anyone who works for 30 hours a week on the minimum wage wouldn’t pay any tax) and, since we all have the tax-free allowance – gives all those who work an effective tax cut. It could cost about £7.2bn by 2020, although the devil here will be the detail – in that if they delay these rises as long as possible (and they have said it will all depend on how the economy is doing before they happen, so it unlikely to happen until 2018). But the key point is that Conservative activists and candidates can go back to their constituencies and along the campaign trail with a proper tax cut for the middle class to talk about – and they will be delighted to have that in their pocket.
Other policies announced by Cameron were:
- A Conservative government would protect the NHS budget for England – once again extending the ringfencing of the NHS (seen as a key election issue) that is making it so hard to avoid massive cuts to other departments. He also made the point, very emotionally, that Labour trying to claim that someone with his experience of the NHS (he spent many nights in hospital with his now deceased son Ivan) would not protect the NHS was a disgrace .
- He would “deliver” on a pledge of “English votes for English laws” – which is going to be hard given the constitutional problems created by effectively creating two classes of MP at Westminster, yet is being rushed because of the rash promises made in Scotland
- The UK could not “walk on by” in the battle with Islamic State extremists – and their involvement actually began on Tuesday with some airstrikes.
- Immigration would be at the heart of his EU negotiation strategy – which he seems to think is going to work and will not talk about a “plan B” (despite ridiculing Alex Salmond for a similar problem only two weeks ago)
- A vote for UKIP at the next election would be “a vote for Labour” – having barely mentioned UKIP at all during his speech – he did offer this line – which appears to be the Tory line on them.
- He would scrap the Human Rights Act – which may ring the bell of those who don’t understand it but may not do so should the UK public come to realise that they are humans too and many of those rights are theirs. That said, he said it would be replaced by a British ‘Bill of Rights’, although not many details were given.
- Every teenager could have a place on the National Citizenship Service – which hasn’t been well defined but seems to be a sop to the almost neo-conservative right wing of the party.
Anyhow – the atmosphere at the conference this year has been relaxed and confident, helped in so small amount by Ed Miliband’s terrible performance last week, and in particular his achievement of forgetting to talk about the economy.
It wasn’t lost on many that Cameron stood at a lectern and read his speech. He felt that it was too important to get his message wrong. Statesmen and leaders don’t get these things wrong, Ed Miliband did.
The Labour conference last week gave the impression that the party was effectively a team intending to ‘park the bus’ in defence and hope to break away and grab a counter-attack goal for a narrow 1-0 victory and no more. This week the Tories tightened their defence a bit to make that less likely. Not an impossibility, just less likely.