Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Visiting No 10

I have been to No 11 Downing Street before, but today I was invited to a lunchtime reception promoting the referendums for city mayors in my capacity as chair of the Warwick Commission on Elected Mayors.

Michael Heseltine introduced the speakers and joked, 'I hope it will not be misunderstood when I say how pleased I am to welcome you to 10 Downing Street.'

Dave Cameron put the case for elected mayors in terms of greater accountability (being directly elected rather than indirectly elected as leaders of a council); promoting economic growth; and as a platform for developing national political talent. He also noted that the Mayor of Mogadishu in Somalia was called Mayor Tarzan.

Boris Johnson was almost a cabaret turn, albeit one with perfect timing and some good lines. He said that he would 'like to thank Dave for letting me into No.10'.

Closing the proceedings, Michael Heseltine said that whatever else Boris achieved, he would also be remembered as the man who succeeded him as MP for Henley.

The famous photos of prime ministers on the stairs look a little squashed up, but no doubt they can be arranged one day to make more room.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

'Granny tax' may be bad politics

Media coverage of the Budget this morning is focussing on the so-called 'Granny Tax' with some criticism coming from the right-wing press. In part this reflects the fact that it was the one part of the Budget that wasn't leaked in advance (apart from the tax on pasties and sausage rolls). It may well be good policy but bad politcs.

There isn't really a logical justfication for special allowances for the retired (they were introduced by Churchill in 1925), particularly when tax threshholds are being increased. The one argument that is put forward is that it penalises thrift.

One pensioner interviewed in a vox pop said that she didn't think they should be taxed at all. Given the services they consume this is a bit rich to say the least. Pensioners have also been relatively unscathed by austerity with a big pensions increase this April and bus passes and winter fuel allowances untouched. But it illustrates the political problem. There are a lot of retired people and they turn out and vote in numbers.

Another sting in the tail is that the threshhold for paying the higher rate of 40 per cent will actually fall next year making another million people higher rate taxpayers. Some of these people will be in the much vaunted 'squeezed middle'.