07 October 2007

Behaving like the next Prime Minister

I watched the entire interview given yesterday afternoon by David Cameron, presumably outside his home in Witney. According to Iain Dale, he was "statesmanlike". I disagree. I have no complaint with the substance of what he had to say, but I did not feel that Cameron looked like a Prime Minister in waiting as a result of the way the interview was given. Here are my tips to DC on making statements/giving interviews on television:

1. Be sparing. Stick to the important stuff. Let your team/spokesmen deal with the nitty gritty issues and low politics and show that you are above the crap.

2. Be even more sparing on exclusives. if you do them, make the broadcaster work hard. Only speak to a "name" and preferably someone who will be a least a little sympathetic. Gordon Brown got Andrew Marr in Downing Street. Who did Cameron have yesterday? Some unknown journo with an Irish accent who showed little respect (asked Cameron "what your Tories are going to do next" in the same way as hemight have asked Lord Sutch (RIP) about "his" Monster Raving Loony Party). If you have something to say, it must be worth getting a crowd along and having an impromptu press conference.

3. Choose your ground. The Oxfordshire garden is not a good look. If you can't easily get to a TV studio get somewhere set up near your constituency base where you can give a press conference in dignified and professional surroundings - this might just involve upgrading the local village hall. Menzies Campbell gave his interview yesterday via video link from Edinburgh direct to the presenter in London and this just looked more dignified.

4. Deep breath. There was no need for Cameron to react so quickly yesterday - lots of people were piling in and if Cameron had to comment personally (see 1, above) it could have waited at least until this morning - and Cameron's interview with Andrew Marr this morning, ticks all the above boxes.

Mercer leaves Gordon's Big Top

The news on Iain Dale's Diary that Patrick Mercer has ceased to be a government advisor came as scant surprise as he had been in the news earlier last week criticising Brown's trip to Iraq. Like many Conservatives, I had speculated to myself about a suitable punishment for the disloyal Tory MPs who have taken Brown's 30 pieces of silver but I wonder if I was, in the words of David Cameron, applying the old politics.

The "0ld" theory of the political big tent is that it is better to have your enemies pissing out of the tent than standing outside, pissing in. But what happens when your latest circus pony decides to lift its tail and crap on the floor of your big top?

Perhaps I am crediting Cameron and Mercer with too much tactical nouse, but perhaps the reason Cameron was so relaxed about Mercer going over to "assist" Labour was that (a) it helps further "detoxify" the Tory brand (how can Labour make their favourite ad hominen attacks on MPs such as Mercer - as they did when he resigned from the front bench, if they are taking his advice) and (b) it gives the Conservatives a more potent weapon - an opposition back bench MP carries no weight when he attacks the Prime Minister - a government advisor does.

So maybe it will emerge that the gallant Member of Parliament for Newark - Lieutenant Colonel Mercer - was on a mission behind enemy lines. Bercow has said that rumours of his defection to Labour are entirely false, so we just need him to lift his tail and come running back to the Tory tent.

02 October 2007

Death duties - another idea

The raising of the threshold for the payment of inheritance tax is very welcome but I would advocate a further reform which would make the system fairer and, in my view, cleverer.

At the moment, if a person's estate is above the inheritance tax threshold, gifts given during that person's lifetime can be counted as part of his estate and taxed accordingly if he dies within 7 years.

A 7 year window concentrates the mind - even a fit 70 year old can see the benefit of starting to plan to reduce inheritance tax. If this window was reduced to 5, 3 or even 1 year, there would be less of an incentive for people to plan to mitigate the inheritance tax payable by their estates. Furthermore, if the window were reduced to one year, this would be a financial bonus for many of those who have terminal illnesses - which often strike before old age, frequently at a time when a person's heirs are still financially dependant on that person - although admittedly the exemption for gifts to a spouse are consistent with this goal, not everyone has a spouse. In fact, I would extend the spousal exemption to children under 18.

However, by reducing the window in which gifts are at risk would be a popular and fair move and would allow money which is passed on to be spent rather than saved (to avoid the risk of a large tax bill) which is also positive for the economy.

It is time to get creative about tax, to make it simpler and fairer.

01 October 2007

Osborne does well

When I finally made it out of bed just after 8am this morning, I was just in time to hear George Osborne on the Today programme announce the most original and intelligent new policy of any political party in decades. A flat levy of £25,000 on non-domiciled tax payers is a creative way of raising money from a completely new source without the tax payers seriously resenting (or in many cases even being effected by) the new tax. Anyone earning more than about £70,000 per year offshore will be paying a lower effective rate of tax on this income than if they brought the money onshore and in many cases (e.g. US citizens) will be able to off-set the £25,000 from their other tax bills under double tax treaties.

It is very unlikely that there are many non-domiciled tax payers who are low earners - a nurse from overseas is hardly likely to have a private income arising in her home country which makes it worth claiming non-dom status, or whether she would have registered as such - she would pay tax on her UK income via PAYE and that would be that. This means that very few of the non-dom tax payers included in the statistics will not contribute more under this proposal.

The criticism that it would not raise "enough" money is a red herring - it will raise new money - that's the point.

On the other hand IHT will be abolished for the majority of people. The criticism that this is a re-distribution from the very rich to the quite rich and therefore irrelevant to the majority of people is again misplaced. The idea that policies should only be developed that help the poorest - or the majority - is foolish. For one thing, a government needs to look at all aspects of the tax system. Secondly, in an aspirational society, people look at the taxes which will effect them if they get rich. Historically, tax cuts for the rich have stimulated growth and lead to an increase in tax revenues. The Conservatives have always prospered when they have pandered to the aspirational nature of the British people. The policies announced today are creative and sensible and are, I hope, the first of several good ideas which will mean that the Conservative Party forms the next government.