We write it again and again. For years, Dominic Cummings has pushed a triptych of policies, based on his own research: more NHS spending, an Australian-style points-based immigration system, and tax cuts for lower paid workers. Boris Johnson has been pushing the first two since he became Prime Minister. Yesterday, by committing the Conservatives to cut national insurance, he blurted out the third.
Johnson’s chief adviser is far from being the only person on the centre-right to believe in the move. “The second tax-cutting priority should be to raise the threshold on Employees’ National Insurance Contributions – to bring NI into line with the Income Tax thresholds that the current Government has raised in order to boost work incentives and boost the incomes of ordinary working people.” So this site wrote in its very own manifesto five years ago.
The policy had been part of the Conservative Manifesto of 2010. It was shelved as part of the Coalition negotiations, and replaced by the Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment of that year to raise the personal allowance. In government, George Osborne cooled on increasing the NI threshold, believing that it had less cut-through with voters than increasing the personal allowance: in any case, he wanted the Tories to demonstrate ownership of the latter. So he went on to pledge a further rise, which was eventually delivered by Philip Hammond last year.
Cummings is far from being the only thinker on centre-right, or Downing Street player, who backs tax cuts for less well-off workers. (For example, our columnist Robert Halfon has long made the NI policy one of his own signature proposals.) But if the pledge to increase the NI threshold is considered alongside the promise not to cut corporation tax, the outline of a Cummings-type tax policy begins to take shape. Johnson began to back off his Daily Telegraph-propagated plan to cut the higher rate of income tax during the Conservative leadership election campaign. That was when he started to push the NI plan which he confirmed yesterday.
Instead, what politicians like to call a “values-led policy” is emerging: yes to tax cuts for British workers, no to tax cuts for fat cats. Downing Street wouldn’t put it that directly, of course. And Johnson’s praise of wealth creation during this week’s election debate suggests a more balanced approach if he returns to Downing Street after the election. At any rate, the way may now be clear for that amalgamation of income tax and NI.
Cummings is more of a presence in the Conservative election campaign than the unusual shortage of present stories about him would suggest. The NI and corporation tax moves confirm that he is out and about. If the Party wants another tax cut for poorer people, it could reheat a policy frozen during the later Cameron period, but served up as staple fare during the early part, and which also featured in that 2010 manifesto: a council tax freeze.