I can remember watching that Budget and blogging it live. When Brown announced, as his closing BIG moment, that he was 'cutting' the basic rate of income tax there were massive cheers from the Labour backbenchers. There was, as you'd expect, jeering too. They had - they thought - headed of any Tory revival on the issue of tax at the pass. They'd cut the head off the snake, and neutralised any possible problems. They were the tax cutting party that were also 'delivering' public services, they were also making people 'better off' at the same time. This cheering should not be ignored as insignificant just because it happened in the theatre of the Commons though.
What all that cheering indicated, and the lack of any comment about the abolition of the 10p tax rate until it was actually on the doorsteps, is exactly the the sort of hypocrisy and opportunism that turns people off politics. What it showed was that in the Chamber what matters is appearing to get a "scalp" and then, in the cold and very hard light of day many months later, all those Labour MPs have drunk the espresso and woken up to the reality of what they were trumpeting as a triumph. Thus we have the joy of watching the Parliamentary Labour Party fragment and split as the reality of marginal MPs losing their jobs sinks in.
As James Forsyth has pointed out at the Coffee House this shows just how much Gordon Brown's authority is waning in his own party. However, we also see just how poorly Labour MPs now complaining are at doing their jobs. When we read some of the comments they have made to the Sunday Times, it becomes crystal clear that they're tribalist and cynical. Take for example Russell Browne MP who said,
"We’ve got to find a way to sort out this mess. We need to take this whole fiscal package, which was meant to be revenue neutral, and put it back together again. Questions will be asked as to how the government got it so badly wrong."Note the phrase "meant to be revenue neutral"? (emphasis mine). What this tells us is that this MP didn't think for himself on the matter. He just accepted what he was told about the change and didn't do the quick (and largely simple) maths on a piece of paper to realise it was a big con.
More so, it brings into question Brown's own line about his tax changes. He was on Channel 4 this week boasting about how he had managed to cut the basic rate of income tax to 20p which no one else had managed to do. Yet we have a junior aide suggesting that the line from, presumably the Treasury, was that it was a "revenue neutral" measure.
This suggests that the official 'for publication' line after the 2007 Budget was "Gordon has cut all our taxes by 2p in the pound"; meanwhile the internal Labour line was "don't worry, he hasn't really cut taxes at all, the shifting and changing of figures means we take the same amount of money from the public as before". Not only are Labour MPs waking up after a hit from the 'Brown Bean" (oh that is good isn't it? A reference to coffee, Gordon and Mr Bean in just two words!), but they're also showing how they're tribalism dictates their actions.
That surely can be the only explanation for why they have sat on their hands for a year and not mentioned anything about the abolition of the tax rate? It also makes the comment by former SpAd, Tom Clark all the more entertaining because in the days of Blair he says that Brown rang Downing Street over some policy about docking benefits for truants and allegedly said: "What kind of party are we becoming?"
The answer is simple of course. Brown is not becoming anything, he is New Labour. He was an architect of it. And it is defined by the short term goal of constant electioneering and the 365/24/7 campaign strategy. There is no rest.... only power and it's maintenance. Brown is very much a member of the generation that care about career self-preservation above anything else.
The abolition of the 10p tax rate was a short term tactic by that generation on the Left to triangulate the Right on the issue of 'tax cuts', nothing more and nothing less, but it has backfired. It wouldn't have last year though, because the key to that generation's triangulated success was having a leading figurehead that can pull it off. His name began with the letter 'B', but it wasn't 'Brown'. It could however be twisted into a clever (sort of) anagram to produce the word "Bliar".