Parties draw battle lines on tax – but weary public will make ultimate judgement call

Politics

On Thursday, former prime minister Theresa May claimed this election – like every one – would be ultimately fought on the economy.

Today, we got a sense of how that battle is going to play out.

Jeremy Hunt, with his senior Conservative politician hat on, launched into a blistering attack on Labour, accusing the party of “lying” and spreading “fake news”, and branded its claims on pensions as “disgusting”.

For the rather meek chancellor, this is strong stuff.

Politics live: Chancellor brands Labour’s tax claims ‘fake news’

At the centre of his speech though was that taxes would fall under a future Conservative government.

Yes, they have risen in recent years, but that was down to unforeseen circumstances – like the energy crisis and COVID – which needed massive state help, he said.

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The future would be different, said Mr Hunt, claiming under current Labour plans, taxes would inevitably rise if they were elected.

But was this a guarantee? It’s a question I asked him – could he provide a “cast-iron” pledge on tax falling under the Tories.

And when it came to it, Mr Hunt could not.

Instead, he said: “If you’re saying can I look into a crystal ball and predict what is going to happen in the world in the next five or 10 years, and therefore give you a cast iron guarantee of when we will be able to reduce the tax burden and to what level?

“The answer is, of course I can’t. And it would be irresponsible to do so.”

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Chancellor Jeremy Hunt tells Sky News he cannot guarantee the timing of any tax cuts

There are no guarantees in politics, of course. But that gets to the heart of the problem here.

Both parties are making pledges, trying to make commitments, but the public also know circumstances do change too.

And with few guarantees, it sometimes can largely come down to mudslinging from both sides – leaving a bewildered public in their wake.

They are a public that are wearier of Conservative economic management after Liz Truss though, and who have recently seen a squeeze on living standards.

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The Conservatives hope an improving macro-economic picture, along with one more tax cutting budget before the election, will turn the table on Labour’s poll lead.

Labour hope people simply are not feeling it and that will not change much.

This is the real battle – a judgement call on election day about the state of the economy or people’s circumstances at that moment, rather than simply on the future pledges we will hear a lot about over the next six months.

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