Irwin Stelzer writes an important piece in today's Telegraph, with some wise words for the Conservative Party. It's worth quoting him at length:
"Voters are eager for an alternative to a tired Labour Party. The Tories' problem is that they won't have very much to offer when it comes to running the economy. Never mind that any good ideas - and even bad but popular ones such as reducing inheritance tax - will have been stolen by whoever replaces poor Alistair Darling.
More important is the box into which the Tories have put themselves by promising to spend as much as Labour if they are entrusted with the keys to the Treasury.
They have also promised not to lower taxes lest, and this is the risible excuse, lower taxes produce economic instability.
They have promised to follow the same tax-and-spend policies that Brown has inflicted on a public groaning under the burden of successive tax increases, watching its money disappear without any significant improvement in public services.
Offered a choice between two parties that intend to tax them until the pips squeak and divert funds from the efficient private sector to the wasteful public sector, voters might just as well vote for the original, rather than a carbon copy...
One would think that in such circumstances voters would turf out those who were in charge when Joseph's wise words were ignored.
But they will be faced with much of a muchness from the Tories - a pledge to keep to the fiscal policy laid out by Labour, at least for the immediate future.
So let's hope the economy overcomes its ills and that the Tories decide there is indeed something better to offer than allowing spending to grow and keeping taxes at levels that will sooner or later stifle work and risk-taking.
Unless, of course, the voters don't believe it's the economy stupid, but instead, to borrow from an American politician, "it's time for a change".
Unfortunately for Tory students of history, that slogan didn't get Tom Dewey very far in his effort to unseat Franklin D Roosevelt, who went on to win his fourth general election."
A good lesson for the Conservative Party, and indeed the other parties. Voters are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the high-tax, high-spending political consensus. British politics is in a remarkable position where the three main parties are committed to spending and taxing the same amounts overall. The only arguments are over the mix of spending and taxes. In effect, each party is saying: "My revenue-neutral package is better than yours". This will not excite the electorate.
It's worth repeating some of the conclusions from the TPA's September opinion poll of 2,000 people, conducted by YouGov, which found that voters are increasingly warming to the idea of lower taxes overall, even if this means some reduction in government spending:
- 64 per cent think "The government spends too much and therefore taxes us too much", compared with 18 per cent who think "The government has got the balance about right" and just 4 per cent who think "The government spends too little and therefore taxes us too little".
- In answer to the question "Thinking about the present levels of tax on the one hand and the state of the public services (like health or education) on the other, do you think the party you support should pledge to increase taxes, hold taxes at their present level or to reduce taxes?", 6 per cent said "increase taxes", 38 per cent said "hold at present level" and 44 per cent said "reduce taxes".
- In answer to the question "If the party that you generally support signed a public pledge not to increase taxes in government, would this make you more or less likely to vote for them, or would it make no difference?", 40 per cent said "more likely", 5 per cent said "less likely" and 44 per cent said "no difference".
Getting serious about reducing the overall burden of tax, and explaining that argument to the electorate, is the next big political winner. Whichever party goes first will reap the electoral rewards.