Mike Simpson writes: Ken Clarke, the man the Tories rejected 3 times for leader, set off a round of infighting in the Conservative Party over the weekend. He said that the Tory promise to end inheritance tax for all but millionaires was now only “an aspiration” which the party hoped to get around to “sooner or later”. This immediately started a panic in Tory party headquarters (and no doubt in many local Conservative party branches where the inheritance tax pledge had been welcomed by the right wing of the party).
On Monday a series of leading Tories sought to clarify the position. They say they will cut inheritance tax if elected, no matter what other pressures there are on the government’s finances. Ken was forced to back down. The true nature of Tory economic policy has been exposed. With the government massively in debt, the Tory priority, if they were elected, would be to cut taxes for the better off. With falling house prices it is a very small group who would benefit from their proposals, given that the Labour Government have already changed the inheritance tax threshold (for married couples there is no inheritance tax on estates left of up to £600,000).
You might think that in the current economic climate a pledge to help the well-off would be a low priority given that there are already 2 million out of work and millions more deeply in debt. By the time of the General Election (probably in a year from now) there are likely to be 3 million out of work and many people having their homes repossessed. I remember how brutal the economic policy of the Conservatives was in past recessions, so their current policy is no surprise to me. In the 80’s and 90’s there were savage cuts in public services and yet the rich were gifted huge tax cuts. It is right to say that now there should be higher priorities than further cuts to inheritance tax, but the Tory party has not really changed. Their instinct is to slash services for the vulnerable whilst reducing taxes for the better-off. So much for the new caring image of the party!
As we approach the next election I predict that the focus of political debate will increasingly be on what is to be done in respect of the deplorable state of the government’s finances. Liberal Democrats must continue to fight for a fair tax system and for heavy government funding in several key areas including education, the NHS, support for the elderly and vulnerable and for our green agenda (which by the way will create new jobs). We cannot spare resources for more tax cuts for the well-off at a time of such economic pain for ordinary people.