Taxing issues

My prediction that the election campaign would be “exciting” was perhaps a little optimistic, but the focus has been on the economy, as I was expecting. The debate so far has centred around the issue of National Insurance levels, though this clearly is just a proxy for  the real divide between the main parties, which is on the level of short-term cuts in public sector spending that are needed to stabilise the economy. My sense is that Labour are doing better than expected in the early exchanges, since they seem to have more credible numbers, whereas the Tories are rather unbelievably claiming that the £6 billion they need to cover the cost of not raising NI can be found through “efficiency savings” that won’t have any detrimental effect on services.

There have been comparisons drawn with Ireland, where the government have severely reined in public spending, thus reducing their deficit in absolute terms, but with the result that the economy has shrunk even faster, meaning that the deficit is now actually bigger as a proportion of GDP. This would seem to suggest that the Labour strategy of (relatively) gentle cuts in UK government spending is the right one, or the least wrong one at any rate.

However Labour’s reputation for general economic competence has obviously been undermined by the fact that they led us into the recession in the first place, and the voters’ desire for change may be enough to carry the Tories into power. There have been some signs that Labour may try to play up the class element of the debate, which I would have thought would be the way to go – “No Cuts, Tax the Rich” would be a good slogan – but they have just promised not to increase income tax, while leaving the door open for a hike in the regressive VAT, so I don’t hold out much hope of a sharp shift to the left.

It will be interesting to see the effect that the televised leaders’ debate this week has on the polls. I like to think that the UK electorate is completely focussed on the issues, and is too smart to be distracted by presidential-style personality contests, but I expect I will be proved wrong about that.

Finally, the most amusing story of the campaign so far is that of Stuart MacLennan, the (now ex-) Labour candidate for Moray in north-east Scotland, who was forced to resign after the papers reported that he had made various offensive comments about political opponents and his prospective constituents on Twitter. I would have thought that the first thing to do when standing for public office would be to delete your Twitter feed, since the last thing you want the voters to know is what is really on your mind.

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