In Depth

Tax pledge gives Tories poll lead – but there’s a way to go

Tories need to be nine points ahead of Labour, not one – hence the wooing of Ukippers with ECHR threat

The Mole

David Cameron’s £7bn tax bribe appears already to have done the trick – up to a point, at least. The Conservatives have moved into a poll lead of one per cent over Labour, the first time YouGov has had them ahead since March 2012, shortly before George Osborne’s infamous ‘Omishambles’ Budget.

The overnight poll, the first conducted after Cameron’s well-received conference speech, gives the Tories 35 per cent, Labour 34 per cent, Ukip 14 per cent, and the Lib Dems six per cent, their lowest rating for ten years. 

When he gets back from jollying the troops in Afghanistan and Cyprus, Cameron will be anxiously watching the weekend polls to see if this lead is sustainable – the start of a trend or just a blip.

His promise to raise the threshold for 40p income tax payers to £50,000 and move the starting point of tax to £12,500 has done wonders for Tory morale and confirms Cameron beat Ed Miliband hands-down in the battle of the conference keynote speeches.

Even die-hard socialist Glenda Jackson has turned against Miliband’s much vaunted £2m mansion tax. Jackson, who will be standing down as Labour MP for Hampstead & Kilburn at the May 2015 general election, writes on her website: “I am opposed to the mansion tax concept as it will affect people in my constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn, unfairly.

“While Ed has referred to protection for people who are equity-rich but income low, we need to see details of exactly how that will be worked out, and reassured that there will be extra provisions made for those who live in London, where a two-bed flat can easily cost more than £2 million”.

(Jackson, it should be noted, does not actually live in the constituency: but her Victorian pile in Blackheath on the other side of London – large enough to accommodate her Daily Telegraph blogger son, Dan Hodges, and his family in the basement - easily crosses the £2m threshold.) 

The YouGov poll also gives Cameron a 21-point lead over Ed Miliband when it comes to personal popularity. 

All of which will give the Tory leadership a great boost – but Cameron knows his party has to become far more popular, and build a lead of about nine per cent over Labour before polling day next May if he is to have any hope of forming a government with a majority. And to do that, he needs more policies to appeal to the grassroots Tory activists who have deserted to Ukip.

Which brings us to the timing of the publication by Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, of a strategy paper proposing Britain should ignore the rulings of the European Court on Human Rights when it doesn’t agree with them.

It is clearly designed to win over Ukip defectors - would-be and actual - and follows a promise in Cameron’s conference speech of a new British Bill of Rights, which was cheered to the rafters. 

Grayling accuses the Strasbourg court of “mission creep” over its judgments that have stopped Britain deporting terrorists and criminals because they have a human right to “family life”, including, in one controversial case, a pet cat. Blowing a raspberry to the ECHR is music to the ears of the Ukippers.

John Humphrys on Radio 4’s Today programme accused Grayling of “pandering to some prejudices”, adding: “The timing is a wee bit suspicious - you rushed it out yesterday following hard on the Conservative conference – you are on a high, whoopee let’s have another go now.”

Grayling denied any such thing. “We’ve been planning this announcement for weeks. We’ve been working on this policy for 12 to 18 months.” 

But he did not deny that the Tories regard his strategy paper on the ECHR as a red line for any future coalition with the Liberal Democrats, should the next election result in another hung parliament. 

Relations between the Lib Dems and the Tories are already at an all-time low after Theresa May, the Home Secretary, accused Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, of putting children’s lives at risk by blocking legislation to give the intelligence services access to data about the use of mobile phones by suspected terrorists under surveillance.

Lib Dem MP Duncan Hames, a former Clegg aide, has formally asked the Home Office’s most senior civil servant to conduct an inquiry into a report in the Daily Mail that a Home Office official called Clegg “a wanker”.

The Lib Dems loathe Grayling and what he is proposing to do to the ECHR. Simon Hughes told the Today programme: “It will send the worst signal around the world” at a time when Britain is asserting human rights in Russia, Hong Kong and Afghanistan. “If we were to say – the first country ever – that we would pull back from the ECHR, it would send exactly the wrong message.”

The Lib Dems can be guaranteed to attack the Tories over the issue at their annual conference in Glasgow which opens this weekend. They were given more ammunition by Dominic Grieve, the former Tory Attorney General, who is opposed to pulling out of the ECHR. Grieve said on the same Today programme that Grayling’s strategy paper was full of factual “howlers”.

As a red line issue, pulling out of the ECHR could become the straw that breaks the back of the alliance between the Tories and the Lib Dems. And plenty of Tories would cheer that. 

But the Conservatives cannot afford to make war with the Lib Dems. The polls show that the only way that Cameron can continue to increase his lead over Labour and have any hope of forming a majority Tory government is if the hemorrhage of Lib Dem support to Labour is reversed.

As Don Brind wrote for The Week yesterday, Cameron needs Clegg to win back the defectors who have deserted the Lib Dems for Labour, thus shoring up Miliband’s figures.

Peter Franklin, blogging on the grassroots ConservativeHome website, picks up the theme: “Whatever the provocation (and there’s likely to be some over the next few days) don’t let’s be beastly to the Lib Dems.”

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