Plans are good. Targets are fine. But setting your policies in stone for the next five years is something any business leader knows is a bad idea – who knows what disruptive competitor or economic armageddon could be around the corner?
Yet that’s exactly what the Conservatives have announced today, saying they will pass a law preventing any rises in National Insurance, VAT or income tax, which account for more than 60% of tax take, if they win next Thursday’s election.
‘When it comes to your tax bill: do you trust the people who taxed you to the hilt when they were in power and still haven’t come clean about the taxes they want to increase next time round?’ Cameron asked workers at a Birmingham factory (rhetorically, obvs).
But cast your mind back to the 2010 contest: the Tories claimed they wouldn’t increase VAT and then the Coalition promptly put it up from 17.5% to 20% in 2011. Floating legislation, then, is a ruse to convince sceptical voters they do mean what they say. Anyone would think the polls were on a knife edge – Labour’s crowing that this is a ‘last-minute gimmick’ for once hits the spot.
To be fair, Labour has also said it won’t put up VAT or National Insurance. It’s also pledged to raise the top rate of income tax from 45p to 50p, a plan which the Institute for Fiscal Studies poured cold water on yesterday. ‘It might actually cost the exchequer revenue,’ the think-tank said disapprovingly. ‘We genuinely cannot be sure.’
Far better that politicians were a tad more honest and said their plans would have to change should another financial crash come out of the blue, as they are wont to do. Much like business leaders shouldn’t promise not to cut jobs or close factories without any caveats – remember Kraft and Cadbury?
That’s unlikely to happen, of course, in the frenzied run-up to next week’s poll. But just as their pledge not to put up tuition fees is haunting the Lib Dems this announcement could well come back to bite the Tories if they get to form the next Government. If they do need to raise more money they'll just have to pluck a new levy out of thin air - window tax anyone?