By Tim Montgomerie
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Sky is reporting an Asda supermarket survey this morning and its finding that the average household is worse off by £11-a-week. Discretionary income is down by 6.4% on last year. It's not just supermarkets, of course, that are producing the huge squeeze on living standards. Electricity and gas prices are voters' number one concern. Robert Halfon MP recently blogged that the average motorist in his constituency of Harlow is spending £1,700 a year to fill up the family car. That's equivalent to one tenth of the average household budget.
These pressures are not unique to Britain and they explain the ascendancy of right-wing parties across the world. In tough economic times voters simply can't afford left-wing governments with their expensive schemes and careless attitude to taxpayers' money. Ed Miliband may purport to champion the squeezed middle but he doesn't have a hope of getting into office if he doesn't detoxify Labour's reputation as the party of debt, taxes and waste.
This shouldn't encourage complacency in Tory ranks, however. We must be relentless in finding ways of helping hard-pressed families who are worried about the weekly shopping bill, dreading a visit to the petrol station and cancelling their holiday in the sun.
In today's Telegraph, Neil O'Brien of the Policy Exchange think tank suggests some ideas to help poorer families…
- He calls for a review of green policies that are partly driving higher home energy bills. The Daily Mail appears to have chosen to make this one of its central campaigning issues.
- A "right-to-build" to help young people get a foot on the housing ladder. Greg Clark's controversial presumption in favour of development is evidence that the Coalition is already acting in this area.
- Workfare. In tough times people resent their money going to undeserving causes. Force the workshy to undertake work in return for their benefits, says O'Brien. He also says make prisoners work and through the proceeds of their efforts they should self-fund their rehabilitation. I wonder if we should also charge wealthy offenders for their prison costs?
On the Comment blog this morning Thomas Byrne reaches some similar conclusions. Our political opponents may be weak, he writes, but we need to remember the Lord Ashcroft polling and its conclusion that our reputation as a party for the rich is still a huge barrier for many potential voters. Read Thomas' piece here.
We also need to be aware of the increasing interest in some form of wealth taxation. My hunch is that the Liberal Democrats see some improved version of their mansions tax as one road back to popularity. YouGov has found that most Tory voters support higher taxation on very large properties. I am against higher taxation overall but I do strongly favour a rebalancing of the tax system. Higher taxation, for example, on the sale of very large properties could fund lower taxation of petrol.
George Osborne is acutely aware of this mood and that's why he is so proud of last week's crackdown on Swiss bank accounts that may yield up to £5 billion for the Exchequer. Upping the rhetoric in yesterday's Observer the Chancellor likened tax evaders to "leeches". He knows that in these hard times it's essential that the Tories aren't seen as the party of the wealthy.