No-one can accuse Ken Clarke of not making an impact. Today's Telegraph has Ken all over the front page, and on page 4, and in the editorial. The issue concerns commitments that shadow chancellor, George Osborne made about changes to Inheritance Tax rules. Its suggested that Ken may not have adhered rigidly to the right form of words when being interviewed on The Politics Show yesterday. Seems to me to be a huge fuss over nothing much at all.
Lets recap, beginning on Oct 1st 2007. George Osborne electrified the national political debate by promising that the next Conservative Government would increase the inheritance tax threshold to £1,000,000 - paying for it with a tax on non-domiciles. I approved of this, and so did a huge number of others. The announcement delivered two significant impacts. It is widely thought that it put the wind up Gordon Brown so much that he called off the General Election which he had led us all to believe was about to be called. The second impact was that the Chancellor, Alistair Darling sought to shoot the Conservative fox by introducing changes to inheritance tax rules of his own. These changes, which I also approved of (as far as they went) have been enacted - a good example of the Conservatives driving Labour policy!
And then we discovered that the Labour Government has so mismanaged our economy that the next Government will inherit a financial mess worse than anything previously seen in British history. An incoming Conservative Government will be obliged to fulfil its historic role of 'clearing up' after Labour. We do not yet know just how much of a disaster it is going to be. What we do know is that Government borrowing is greater than anything ever imagined in peacetime. The British people are beginning to realise that it may take years to restore our public finances to anything like a sound position. The context in which tax reductions can be considered, even when fully costed, has been transformed.
All that Ken Clarke seems to have said is that on assuming office, faced with such a horror situation, it would be unwise to regard increasing inheritance tax thresholds as the immediate priority. But it will remain a firm commitment in our manifesto for the first period of Conservative government. What really gets me is the sheer gall of Labour Ministers who describe Tory tax plans as being in a state of confusion. Talk about brass neck. They have no shame. Bearing in mind that its Labour Ministers that have comprehensively destroyed the British economy, its a bit damn rich to criticise opposition efforts to set out a strategy for reconstructing the edifice which they have reduced to ruins. Today's reports of Conservative divisions are pathetic spin - about the only activity that Labour remain good at.