It's about time the PM stopped digging

HOW they cheered, how they waved their Order papers. Gullible Labour MPs were spun the line that the reduction of the basic rate of income tax by 2p in Gordon Brown's Budget last year was a vote winner to knock the smile off the Tories' faces and to have the voters flocking back into the arms of a paternalist government.

Graham Dines

HOW they cheered, how they waved their Order papers. Gullible Labour MPs were spun the line that the reduction of the basic rate of income tax by 2p in Gordon Brown's Budget last year was a vote winner to knock the smile off the Tories' faces and to have the voters flocking back into the arms of a paternalist government.

How wrong they were. The little matter of the abolition of the 10p starting tax rate was glossed over as a minor adjustment which would not affect core Labour voters.

The Prime Minister has been caught out robbing the poor and paying the rich - those earning under £18,500 will be worse off while those on salaries of £41,435 and above will be laughing all the way to the bank.

The chickens have come home to roost. Once again, Gordon Brown has grossly miscalculated not only the mood in the country at large but also Labour backbenchers.

Pensioners, single parents, and the low paid - especially the under 25s - have been clobbered by the Brown tax subterfuge. There is deep anger at Westminster - and the Tories are well ahead in most opinion polls.

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As wage packets are opened and the effect of the tax changes sink home, Labour canvassers are out on the streets of London, Ipswich, Colchester, Lowestoft and cities all over England for mayoral and local elections.

Conservative leader David Cameron said this week that now was not the time to be hitting 5.3 million lower-paid people with higher taxes, especially when they are facing increased food, fuel and mortgage bills. He said it was akin to “kicking people when they're down”.

A local elections campaign leaflet issued by the Tories claims that doubling from 10p to 20p the starting rate of tax would cost sales assistants £227 a year more, hairdressers £198 more and cooks £136 more.

Mr Cameron served notice that when Parliament resumes the week after next following a delayed Easter recess, the Tories will attempt to force a rethink - even though the tax change took effect at the start of the new tax year.

There is a rich irony in the Conservatives championing the low paid while Labour dishes out the lolly to the rich and famous.

The worry for Mr Brown and Mr Darling is that it is not just a bit of Conservative mischief. Labour backbenchers are increasingly worried out the impact of the abolition of the 10p rate on some of their poorest constituents.

The cross-party Treasury select committee, chaired by the Labour MP for Dunbartonshire West John McFall, said it was “unreasonable” that the lower paid were bearing the brunt of cost of simplifying the tax system. The committee said that households without children or anyone over the age of 65 on incomes of under £18,500-a-year would lose out as a result of the changes.

Many earning above £18,000 a year will be better off, gaining more than they lose from the tax changes and the raising of the higher rate tax threshold. Everyone earning above £41,435 will gain.

Mr Brown is learning the same hard lesson that Margaret Thatcher experienced over the poll tax. The winners quietly pocket the gains, but the losers kick up a considerable fuss.

Mr Brown could probably force Labour MPs to defeat any Tory amendment seeking a rethink by making it a confidence issue.

Ipswich Labour MP Chris Mole - who used a meeting of the parliamentary party to urge the Prime Minister to up his profile by appearing on shows such as Richard and Judy - will not be one of the rebels.

“The 10p starter band has been a useful tool during the first 10 years of the Labour government but the majority of the people affected by its withdrawal will be compensated by increases in pensions, family and working tax credits. I would support a campaign to get people to claim their credits - more than 2m people already benefit.

“The wider goal of tax simplification is difficult but necessary. The overwhelming majority of taxpayers will be better off by the reduction of the basic rate from 22p to 20p.”

Given the current state of the opinion polls, Frank Field, the former Labour welfare reform minister, said fellow MPs would be “horrified” by the impact of the tax change on the people they came into politics to protect - the poorest workers.

He said it made “a nonsense” of the Government's efforts to encourage people off benefits and into work. He predicted that if they went out campaigning in the local elections they would be inundated with protests from constituents who found they were paying more tax when they got their pay packets this week.

Mr Field has tabled an amendment to the Finance Bill, implementing this year's Budget, that would require the Treasury to identify the losers and give them a cash payment to make up for the shortfall. It would cost at least £1 billion - but far less than the estimated £7 billion cost of reinstating the 10p tax band.

As Mr Brown faces his first crucial electoral test as Prime Minister, the last thing he needs is a revolt on his own backbenches over higher taxes on the lower paid.

CARSWELL WANTS POWER TO THE PEOPLE

HARWICH Tory MP Douglas Carswell wants the House of Commons to shake up what he describes as “the dozy world of Westminster”.

His Ten Minute Rule Bill will give the public a direct say over what Parliament debates and what MPs vote on, handing a “right of initiative” to voters, allowing people a direct voice over our Parliament's legislative programme.

“Parliament might make our laws, yet who actually decides what laws are introduced and voted on?” says Mr Carswell. “As a new MP, I've discovered that only a tiny handful of MPs have any real say.

“Most laws are actually the work of unelected officials. Apart from the dozen or so laws promised in election manifestos, most of what goes into the Queen's Speech is really the work of bureaucrats and quangos - not those you voted in.

“I would like to hear a Queen's Speech each year that contained half a dozen Bills proposed directly by the people”.

Under Mr Carswell's proposal, people would be able to collect signatures for Bills. Those half a dozen proposals with the most signatures at the end of each year would be included in the Queens' Speech, and guaranteed a Second Reading in the House of Commons.

As in other countries, there would be safeguards to prevent impossible or ridiculous measures being included.

MPs would then be forced to vote on the issue. Mr Carswell said: “MPs might choose to vote yes, or no, or even to abstain. What MPs could no longer keep doing is to bury their head in the sand, and ignore issues of great concern to their voters.

“Perhaps MPs might then spend less time trying to pass laws to exempt themselves from Freedom of Information requests or some of the utterly meaningless debates we have sometimes.”

He added: “It is time to make the Westminster establishment stop wittering on about what interests them as politicians, and instead address the concerns of the people.

“Our Parliamentary system, with its cosy rules, came into existence when there was no option other than to send a representative off to Westminster and trust them to get on with it. This is no longer the case.

“The Westminster political establishment is way out of touch. We need to make Westminster politicians directly accountable to the voters. My Right of Initiative Bill will allow for more direct democracy.''

His Bill will be read on Wednesday April 30 immediately after Prime Minister's Questions. Without Government backing, which is highly unlikely, the measure has no chance of becoming law.

UKIP CANDIDATE'S GLEE OVER TRIBUTE TO SIR HENRY

AN Early Day Motion sponsored by a number of Liberal Democrat MPs has pleased David Campbell Bannerman, the UK Independence Party candidate for Suffolk South. It pays tribute to his great uncle Sir Henry, the MP for Stirling Burghs who was leader of the Liberal Party from 1900 to 1908 and Prime Minister from 1905 to 1908.

The EDM marks the 100th anniversary of Sir Henry's death and notes “that under his leadership Britain saw the introduction of reforms such as sick pay and old age pensions, as well as the achievement of an entente with Russia in 1907.”

Mr Campbell Bannerman says: “My father has his desk from Number 10 Down Street and I have always had great respect for his work. C-B was noted for his kindness and humour.”

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