It’d be easy to simply point fingers at all those Labour MPs who cheered when Gordon Brown delivered his last budget (the one that scheduled the abolition of the 10p income tax rate for this year) and then stayed silent in the intervening year until finally, at the last gasp, speaking up on the issue.
But there’s a larger point underlying all this – beyond the failure of MPs to speak up for so long. It’s the whole way we do our budgets and our politics. Gordon Brown slipped out the announcement of the abolition of the 10p rate on the quiet, obscured – he hoped – by the fanfare he gave to a cut in the basic rate of income tax. He nearly got away with this sleight of hand at the time – David Cameron failed to spot it in his Budget debate response, though Ming Campbell did then pick up on the point.
And what sort of way of setting a major tax rate which affects millions is that? No prior public debate or discussion about the shape of the tax system. Instead try to slip it out in secret and hope people don’t notice. Why shouldn’t the creation or abolition of tax rates be discussed and debated fully in public?
Well, that’s not what you want if you’re a secretive control freak (surprise!) – but behaving like that’s the way you make mistakes, thinking that you and you alone have all the wisdom on a matter and unimpeachable judgement. Of course, if you’re flawless and always right – why would that matter? Let’s hope Gordon’s noticed by now that he and his government aren’t…