When Labour backbenchers want to cheer themselves up on a cold and rainy winter’s day, they indulge in a spot of class war. Today their leader joined in too. Ed Miliband declared of David Cameron: “He can only govern for the few. He can never govern for the many.”
And three times Miliband asked whether Cameron intends to cut the top rate of tax to 40 per cent. But Cameron declined to offer Labour MPs the sport they were looking for. He refused to break cover and tell them what he hopes will happen to the top rate in the future.
As a traditionalist, I could not help regretting the Prime Minister’s reticence. How I would have cheered if he had said the top rate would be cut not just to 40 per cent, but to whatever level will raise the most revenue and spread the most general prosperity.
But Cameron is a moderniser. He considers toff-hunting to be out of date, especially when he himself is called on to play the part of the toff. It is not exactly that he has shot Labour’s fox, but that he demonstrated there is no fox. For the crucial fact about Cameron is not that he has upper-class ancestors: it is that he is an exceptionally able professional politician who learned his trade as a Conservative researcher, as did most of his closest allies at Number Ten.
So Cameron instead declared that “I want the richest to pay more in tax and under this Government they are”, and observed that the purpose of taxes is “to raise revenue, not to make a political point”.
This leaves Miliband with his newly declared commitment to raise the top rate to 50 per cent, and no Tory commitment to go in the other direction. But at least there is now clear blue water, or perhaps one should say clear pink water, between the two parties.
And Cameron was able to say that Labour are the “anti-business, anti-growth, anti-jobs party”, while the present Government has helped to promote the creation of record numbers of jobs and the highest rate of growth for six years.
Cameron attributed these excellent developments to dear old Oltep, to whom he is determined to stick for many years to come. Oltep is not, by the way, one of the lesser known Cameroons, whom we have somehow not yet got round to interviewing for ConservativeHome, but stands for Our Long-Term Economic Plan.
Could it be that Miliband’s commitment to raise the top rate of tax, though popular in the opinion polls, is going to leave him looking rather old-fashioned?