The Conservatives may claim to be the party of hardworking people. But the same cannot be said for their policy wonks. According to today’s Financial Times, the Conservatives are apparently considering a proposal for their manifesto to increase the personal allowance to £12,500. An almost identical idea to our own policy of raising the personal allowance to the minimum wage that we first passed in our spring conference of 2012 and reaffirmed just one month ago at our Autumn conference in Glasgow. Once again, it is the Liberal Democrats who are shaping the future of the British tax system.
In April 2009, Nick Clegg unveiled plans to increase the personal allowance to £10,000,which were then formally adopted at our September conference in the same year. At the general election in 2010, it was the first policy on the front page of our manifesto. This April, five years on from that announcement, the personal allowance will go up to £10,000. Over 24 million people will benefit from £700 tax cut and almost 3 million people will be taken out of income tax altogether. From the front page of our manifesto into the pockets of millions of families. Sounds simple? Well, I can tell you from first-hand experience that it wasn’t.
During the general election TV debates, David Cameron turned to Nick Clegg and said, “I would love to take everyone out of their first £10,000 of income tax Nick…we cannot afford it”.
At every Budget and Autumn Statement since, Nick Clegg and I have made increasing the personal allowance our number one priority. The same cannot be said of the Tories. Before the election it was Inheritance Tax cuts for the very wealthy. Then it was reducing the top rate of income tax. And at their conference last month it was a tax break for married couples which doesn’t even benefit a third of married couples, and will cost the equivalent of £28 for every income taxpayer. But it is our policy of increasing the personal allowance that has already delivered the biggest set of tax cuts for people on low and middle incomes in a generation and which will deliver another tax cut this April.
Lo and behold, the Conservatives are now claiming that increasing the personal allowance to £10,000 was their idea all along. Just last month, John Redwood opportunistically wrote that “many have benefited from the large increase in the tax threshold, introduced by a Conservative Chancellor with the vocal support of the Lib Dems”. You only have to look back to 2012 to see why they are suddenly now trying to steal the credit. When Nick Clegg said in early 2012 that the Coalition should go “further and faster” in reaching our goal of increasing the personal allowance to £10,000, ConservativeHome wrote “George Osborne seems content to let the Lib Dems make the running on higher personal allowances. Fast forward to now and Conservative ministers speak of their support of our increases to the income tax personal allowance – a position the Tories are obliged to take under the terms of the coalition agreement. But let’s be clear: this is the Government’s income tax priority only because the Lib Dems fought for it.
Labour’s only policy has been to propose the reintroduction of a 10p tax rate. Our policy of increasing the personal allowance in line with the minimum wage is literally twice as good as theirs. And thanks to the Liberal Democrats increasing the allowance to £10,000, someone who paid only the 10p tax rate until Labour doubled it has now been lifted out of paying tax altogether.
When it comes to the General Election, there will only be one party with a track record of promising tax cuts on the front page of their manifesto and delivering them to the pockets of low and middle income families up and down the country. That is the Liberal Democrats.
The other parties may try to imitate our policy. But if you’re after the real thing, you need the Liberal Democrats in Government. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery. But on this occasion, it won’t work. My message to the Tories is simple – don’t waste your breath. This is the Liberal Democrats’ policy and everybody knows it.