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The politics of the marriage tax breaks

bridegroomfunkyThe Conservatives are a desperate party led by a desperate man. The stars are not lining up for an election victory in 2015, despite a summer of awful headlines for the Labour leader; and Dave finds himself with little room for manoeuvre now Ed has pledged action on the issues that matter outside the Westminster circus. To grab the headlines and the attentions of the voters, this weekend’s Conservative Party conference needed something bold and something that would save people a packet of cash. Hence the marriage tax break. Of course, not every married couple in the land will qualify. And the policy is highly problematic. But £200/year isn’t to be sniffed at. So, why the rush to “incentivise” marriage? 1. Beneath the restaurant-smashing Flashman act, Dave is a big old softy. He thinks the hallowed institution is the bee’s knees. As it is for many Tories, marriage is the bedrock on which a stable society thrives. Providence has given us the means for realising a secure environment for the raising of children and establishing a strong bond of certainty between two loving people. If more people get married, regardless of the sexuality of the partners, the happier and more fulfilled our society will become. And having one partner take time out from work might do a little bit to massage the jobless figures too.

2. Dave has struggled to find a way of driving a wedge between disenchanted Tory voters and UKIP that won’t see the softer support fall away should he adopt a tough rightwing stance on the issues ‘kippers care about. Pushing a policy that might be seen as strengthening marriage is one of the precious few ways he could woo fed up Tories giving UKIP the eye without upsetting the other.

3. Admiral Ackbar says “it’s a trap!” Dave has divined correctly that Labour, the LibDems and a whole host of other opponents would be opposed to the marriage tax break. And how easy it will be to paint them all as enemies of marriage and “traditional values”. As the tropes for 2015’s campaign of vilification are being polished up before their ultimate reveal, the reds and the yellows will be singled out for being “anti-family”.

Now, Dave and Crosby might think they’ve been clever clever and boxed them into a toxic position. But it’s like lobbing a mustard gas shell that not only falls short of the enemy trench, but is blown back toward your position by the wind. They are effectively saying to millions of couples who co-habit, have kids out of marriage, or are single parents that their situation is not good enough and that they should pay more tax than people who’ve made a lifestyle choice the Tories approve of. They think they’re getting out of a hole. But in fact, they’re digging it much deeper.


  1. Two principles that used to be axiomatic to both parties, but against which they have both defined themselves more recently, are once again the very terms of the debate.

    They themselves are not up for question. All that is, is how, specifically, they are to be given practical effect.

    One, which has turned out to be stratospherically popular as soon as the Leader of a major political party has dared to utter it, is that the State ought to fix the price of utilities in the interests of the consumer, especially the domestic consumer.

    The other is that the State ought to give specific recognition to marriage, as such, in the taxation system.

    The first is more popular than the second (or anything else that any politician has said in donkey’s years, come to that), but they both have mass appeal.

    David Cameron now needs to come up with an even more appealing variation on the energy prices fix. While Ed Miliband now needs to surpass the Government’s marriage tax break.

    The second is easy: make the thousand pounds universally transferable from the spouse or civil partner who is earning more to the one who is earning less, if at all, while removing the restriction of civil partnerships, which have never had any requirement of consummation, to unrelated same-sex couples.

    Harriet Harman and a tiny band of Seventies Sisters, who were probably or certainly going to retire anyway, might kick up a fuss if they were so inclined. But what are they going to do, vote with the Tories? How many Tories might in any case vote in favour of this?

    And if Harman created a vacancy for Deputy Leader, then it might well be filled by someone not formed politically, but rather formed in the womb, in the 1970s.

    However, even though Cameron could rely on Labour votes to enact it against much of his own party, what, exactly, could he say in order to top Miliband’s promise on energy prices? He is going to have say something in the coming week. But it is impossible to see what that something is going to be.

  2. Robert says:

    I suspect it’s more about getting people to think more is actually going on then really is. are Labour saying they will fix the price of energy I may not have noticed.

    But I’m married and have been for 44 years but i doubt I will make much out of this even though I do pay tax.

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