Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Council tax offer less good than it looks

The Conservative proposal a two year council tax freeze looks like an attractive offer to voters against a grim background. However, it is less good than it seems. The freeze would only be available to councils who kept spending increased down to 2.5 per cent and many argue that would only be possible with significant cuts in services.

Moreover, commentators have pointed out that if the Conservatives are as economically responsible as they claim, there should be no tax giveaways at all to sweeten the bitter economic pill. It is also worth noting that the offer would be of least value to the less well off, allowing critics to pile in and claim that this is further evidence that the Conservative commitment to social justice is only skin deep.

The proposal to have an independent budgetary office is one that has been recommended by a number of economists, but it would be only advisory and would have no real power over policy. Indeed, it is very difficult for politicians to surrender control over fiscal policy, given that 'getting and spending' is at the heart of what government does.

The economic crisis has served Gordon Brown well for the time being, narrowing the Conservative lead, although it is still in double figures at 10 to 12 per cent. Moreover, Gordon Brown and Alastair Darling have opened up a lead in economic competence over Dave Cameron and George Osborne.

The financial crisis has overshadowed the Tory conference and denied them much of the media coverage they had been hoping for. Meanwhile, several days have passed without news of plots against Gordon Brown or speculation about how long he will stay in office.

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