The Tory fightback "exploded into life" this week when George Osborne said that only estates worth more than £1m would be liable for inheritance tax under a Conservative government, said Benedict Brogan in the Daily Mail. This would spare 98% of those currently caught by the tax and was aimed directly at Brown's "Achilles heel" the middle earners who have borne the brunt of his 111 stealth taxes. Mr Osborne said the £3.1bn cost would be met via a £25,000 levy on 150,000 non-doms'. Labour claimed the real number of non-doms was 114,000-120,000 and that many were not millionaires but nurses and junior City staff, leaving a black hole of £2.9bn. The Tories said their figures were based on official Government data and were "cast-iron".
This is a "very Tory version of Robin Hood", said Polly Toynbee in The Guardian; robbing the "stratospherically rich" to give to the "very, very rich". But it's high time this "flea bite of a gesture" was made. It is to Labour's shame that at their conference Brown was "silent on greed". Osborne has given him a cue to talk about wealth. This £3bn gift to the super-rich will "haunt the Tories" I was born with a tax-free million in my mouth' doesn't exactly fit the hard-working Tory story.
You can quarrel with their methods, but taxing non-doms is "politically astute", said Jeremy Warner in The Independent. It is also something that, in ten years of power, Labour hasn't dared do, for fear of driving wealth creators' away. It offends people's sense of social justice that non-doms mainly financiers can construct their affairs so their money is earned offshore, enabling them to escape British tax. "Rightly or wrongly, the perception is that the burden of rising levels of taxation has fallen on the middle classes." The Tories are almost certainly right to think that they can tax the wealthy "just a little" without driving them away. But will it help them win an election?
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The "apparently confident" pledges made by Osborne (he also promised to abolish stamp duty on properties costing £250,000 or less to help first-time buyers) are actually a sign of "barely suppressed" panic, said Dominic Lawson in The Independent. David Cameron knows his party is not fit to win and has pulled these "plump juicy rabbits" out of the hat in a bid to boost the Tory's ratings and "deter Brown from pressing the starter button". Cameron will certainly struggle if the election takes place next month, said Rachel Sylvester in The Daily Telegraph. "But things are neither as bad for David Cameron or as good for Gordon Brown as they appear."
Brown has been brilliant at winning short-term headlines, but less successful in setting out a long-term vision. He talks of change, but doesn't seem to be brimming with new ideas. Cameron, meanwhile, has decontaminated his party's brand meaning voters will listen to him and is likely to come across better on TV in the run-up to polling day. Now he needs to convince voters that politics is more than just a shopping list and convey what a Conservative future would look like. If the Tories can frame an election as a fight between old politics and new politics, then "the result will be closer than the polls imply".
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