Back in 1997 Tony Blair famously told Frank Field to “think the unthinkable” in the effort to reduce poverty, rationalise welfare benefits and improve work incentives. When Field returned to Downing Street some time later clutching a plan to overhaul the system, he found his ideas rebuffed. The Treasury had deemed them to be, well, unthinkable. Gordon Brown had his own ideas.
So old Whitehall hands could be forgiven a sense of deja vu when Iain Duncan Smith unveiled the latest project to reform a system that grew still more expensive and complex during 13 years of Labour rule. No one could quarrel with Duncan Smith’s analysis – the present system is riddled with disincentives, unfairnesses and complexities, and the costs are still spiralling. A much simpler system, with fewer benefits and much lower withdrawal rates, would ultimately help more people back into work and reduce the overall bill.
Here are the new rules under which Parliament will – for the first time – elect three deputy speakers. The opposition (Labour) get two and the government (presumably a Tory) get one.
Mild bemusement/amusement at hearing the new prime minister read out the racing tips on the radio this morning with a few choice puns. His spokesman later joked at today’s Downing St press conference: “We were quite surprised he didn’t back Fantastic Sam, running at Newcastle today.”
You don’t have to be entirely cynical to wonder whether David Davis’s intervention over capital gains tax is a calculated political move designed to plant his flag firmly in the “Tory troublemaker” camp.
The coalition is planning to lift CGT from 18 per cent (over a threshold of £10,100 a year) to a level closer to that of income tax – which is paid at 40 per cent by high-earning middle classes.
The phrasing was originally that CGT would be “similar or close to” income tax levels. Now it’s “closer to” income tax levels, a subtle shift which could allow for a less radical move.
Despite this, however, Tory backbenchers are up in arms; on behalf of their constituents and not only themselves. John Redwood is also at the forefront of the rebellion, having written to the Treasury yesterday to ratchet up the lobbying for a taper to restrict the most punitive tax rate to assets that are not held long-term.
Among Patrick Hennessy’s weekend scoops (the entire Queen’s Speech being one) was news from within 10 Downing Street, where staff have been hiding away the silverware and antiques to make the new regime look less ostentatious. (He also revealed that Steve Hilton has been padding around the building in “stockinged feet”.)
That’s not the only reason some pieces of furniture have suddenly disappeared, however. I’m told that one particular antique – a fine table used by Gordon Brown – was sent to the restorers in recent days because it was covered in dents and black marker pen*.