By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter
A promise to introduce a tax allowance for married couples was one of the first commitments that David Cameron made when he stood for Tory leader in 2005*.
When he told the Tory Conference in 2006 that marriage should be between a man and a man and a woman and a woman, as well as a man and a woman it was in the context of policies to support the family, including "recognising marriage more directly in the tax system"**.
In July 2007, during an interview with Channel 4's Jon Snow, David Cameron himself made an explicit link between gay partnerships and the marriage tax allowance***.
In January 2010, months before the general election, the Tory leader insisted he felt "very strongly" about "recognising marriage in the tax system"****.
A married couples' allowance is popular with voters. It is more pro-poor than increasing the tax allowance because it disproportionately benefits single earner couples. It brings us into line with nearly every other developed country in the world (© David Willetts). There is explicit wording in the Coalition Agreement which commits Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain so that the tax allowance can pass with Tory votes.
Yet today we learn that the Chancellor will not introduce the allowance in this Budget but later in the parliament. This will be the fourth opportunity to introduce the tax allowance that will have been missed. Forgive me but I'm getting suspicious. Very suspicious. Why is something that the PM feels "very strongly" about taking so very long to deliver? If it is delayed much longer and to a pre-electioneering stage of the parliament I can see Lib Dem MPs voting against a measure which they've always hated. If it's not delivered next month I doubt it will ever be delivered.
* It was on 29th June 2005 that David Cameron first made the case for a marriage tax allowance. As ConHome reported at the time, it was one of the first promises of his bid to be Tory leader. These are the words he used in an interview for The Telegraph:
”If you came down from Mars and looked at this country and said,
'What is the one institution that helps bring up children, looks after
the elderly, cares for the sick, makes us happy when we are sad?' It is
the family. Why is it that we don't recognise this and do more to try
to help families do what they do? …Families come in all shapes and
sizes and they all need support. I think we should be clear that the
evidence is that married couples stay together for longer. Therefore
there is a very strong case for supporting marriage [in the tax
system]. Children do better if their mother and father are both there
to bring them up."
** And then there was his 2006 party conference speech in which he first advocated gay marriage but, crucially, he made his commitment in the context of a tax allowance for married couples. He said that "recognising marriage more directly in the tax system was not enough" but he made it clear that it was part of his commitment.
*** He reiterated the commitment more explicitly in July 2007 in an interview with Channel 4's Jon Snow.
**** At the start of 2010 he appeared to backtrack on the commitment but his office had to issue a clarification from Cameron: "Recognising marriage in the tax system is something I feel very strongly about and something we will definitely do in the next parliament."