Money-back Monday. It sounds like a promotion in a bingo hall. Actually, scratch that, it is a promotion in a bingo hall. But it also the latest slogan to emerge from the Conservatives’ election campaign. David Cameron has chosen today, the start of the new financial year, to celebrate the tax cuts that have been introduced by the Coalition. According to him, the average working household is £200 a year better off, after inflation, than at the last election.
On a day when both Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander are tugging at their Tory coalition-partners’ scalps, it’s heartening to hear this paean to the accomplishments of the past five years. And heartening, too, to read that Cameron will also make the moral case for tax cuts ahead of wasteful spending. “We know that there is no such thing as public money,” he’s set to say. “There is only taxpayers’ money.”
So forgive me for adding a touch of sourness to the mix. It may just be an electoral slogan, but, as slogans go, “Money-back Monday” strikes me as a rather dangerous one. Here are three reasons:
- It could drag the Tories into an unwanted argument. I haven’t yet had the chance to sift through the Treasury analysis that underpins Cameron’s “£200 a year better off” claim. It could be fine, it could be bunkum. But it’s worth noting that there’s some – how you say? – dissonance between it and the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ account of this Parliament’s tax and benefit policies, captured in the graph on page 18 of this document. It all relates to the post that I wrote last week about this election and the public finances. There was a time when any party could say pretty much anything about taxes and public spending, and not really have it interrogated. That time is over.
- It may not chime with voters’ experiences. But even if the Treasury’s figures are correct, and many of us are a few real pounds better off each week, there’s still a huge difference between politicians tell us and what people feel. Many of the headline figures are encouraging for our pocketbooks: GDP up, employment up, inflation down… and this is reflected in improved confidence about the economy. But, as Stephan Shakespeare recently pointed out, improved confidence isn’t the same thing as high confidence. Only 11 per cent of people thought that their household finances improved across last month.
- It complicates the party’s Great Promise. The greatest danger, though, is one that I wrote about at the time of the last Conservative conference. The party entered government with one Great Promise: that they would reduce the deficit to naught. All this talk of tax cuts, both implemented and yet-to-come, risks complicating that promise. Money-back won’t get the public finances back into the black.
I know that slogans and salesmanship are part of election campaigns, and always will be – but today’s is emblematic of the Tory campaign so far. There’s too much optimism when it comes to the economy, and too little when it comes to everything else.