Things have changed a lot in a few months for UKIP’s economic policy. When I first surveyed it here it was called “UKIP’s Economic Plan”. The meaningless title for Monday’s policy launch was “An Economy believing in Britain“. No, me neither.
It isn’t just the title that has changed – after various revolutions in recent years, UKIP’s economic policy appears to have changed again since October.
Here’s what’s still there, what’s new and what’s vanished:
What’s still in it
- Raise the income tax threshold to £13,500. On this (if not much else) they have long been consistent.
- Abolish inheritance tax. Another long-standing policy.
- Restrict child benefit to the first two children. It’s still unclear quite what UKIP’s logic is on welfare. They also oppose the so-called “bedroom tax”, meaning that they think you should get benefits to rent more rooms than you require, but you shouldn’t get benefits to provide for children you do actually have to provide for.
- An extra income tax rate. In October, this was explicitly a new 35p rate to be paid by those earning between £42,000 and £55,000. That clarity has disappeared – now all we know is it will be a “lower intermediate rate” applying in that bracket. Aside from the question of what the rate is, the idea of adding new complexity to the tax system underlines how firmly dead and buried UKIP’s once-prized support for flat taxation now is.
- Cut foreign aid to £2 billion. One of the few savings UKIP is proposing (alongside leaving the EU, which even they now acknowledge would not be deliverable as a saving on day one of a new parliament).
- Scrap HS2. Despite supporting three high speed lines in 2010, this has now become a staple for the People’s Army. It’s interesting that it appears in the economy speech this time when it didn’t in the Autumn – the reason, as I lay out below, appears to be in order to fill space.
- £3 billion a year more for the NHS. As part of UKIP’s everlasting search for opportunities to capitalise on one concern or another, this pledge was featured in Louise Bours MEP’s speech at Margate.
- Over £3 billion a year more on defence. The People’s Army wants to ensure defence spending meets the 2 per cent NATO target (though as previously noted, they also don’t seem to believe in using the armed forces…)
- Cut Scotland’s Barnett Formula payments to the same level of public spending per capita as England. First announced in Margate last month, this is a drive to capitalise on the English question – something it’s surprising that UKIP haven’t made much of before this year.
- The turnover tax. One of O’Flynn’s ill-fated initiatives, his great idea was to tax firms even if they don’t make a profit – both a dubious principle and a practical disaster, given the potential for forcing struggling companies into bankruptcy rather than allowing them to turn themselves around. His proposal to put a Treasury quango in charge of designing the tax didn’t go down to well with his colleagues either, and the whole policy seems to have been ditched.
- The WAG tax. No surprise that the Red UKIP luxury goods tax didn’t reappear – Farage publicly denounced it mere hours after his Economy spokesman first pitched it to the party conference.
- Making foreign tourists pay VAT. There hasn’t been a public row about this one, though the negative impact on retail sales and revenue from tourism would be clear. It’s just disappeared.
What does it mean for UKIP?
First, it’s notable that this is really a series of spending plans, not an economic policy. Its primary elements are actually a combination of policies mostly culled from other areas – defence, health, welfare and so on.
As such it’s a covering document rather than a real economic plan – there is very little attempt to articulate either fundamental principles of the party’s worldview or to illustrate what a UKIP Britain would look like. Nor is there an apparent internal logic underpinning it all.
There are three reasons for this. First, it’s another sign of UKIP’s increasing preference for opportunism over principle – if they can pledge a few billion here or there to scoop up a particular set of disaffected voters, they’ll do it.
Second, it’s a symptom of the internal struggle between UKIP’s competing tribes. Red UKIP, the left wing tendency, needs to be appeased to keep the People’s Army marching, but other wings are loathe to allow it to set the agenda. The result is an uneasy absence of coherence – a truce at best.
Third, the new policy reveals the damage Patrick O’Flynn suffered after his speech at the party conference in October. Then he set out a bold – if wrongheaded – agenda, including the WAG tax and a turnover tax, and he was allowed to do so off his own bat. Those policy initiatives have disappeared and his lines are now dominated by other policy teams’ spending pledges – having picked up the nickname “Pinko’Flynn” in some UKIP circles it seems that while he’s retained the job of Economy Spokesman, he’s been firmly put back in his box.