Four (million) weddings and a tax allowance
Posted by Matt Walker on April 11, 2010
The Conservative Party have continued to set the agenda during the early stages of this election campaign. This time it has been through their proposals on tax allowances for married couples. Their plan is to allow one married partner to transfer their unused tax allowance to their other half. It would be worth £150 a year to around 4 million married couples.
The Conservative justification for this policy is that the British tax system is unfair, penalising married couples by treating them as individuals rather than as couples. The Conservatives have said that they want to support commitment, rather than moralise about people’s life choices. This of course is a fine dividing line. Promotion of marriage and families is a strong theme which runs through conservatism. Conservatives argue that the two-parent family is an important source of nurturing and authority, and is therefore the basis of a strong and stable society.
Interestingly, Gordon Brown’s criticism of this policy was not that it rewarded marriage through the tax system, but that it was disingenuous given the Tories’ other policies which would take money away from families. Brown himself stated that marriage is the basis of society.This is not surprising given the prime minister’s Presbyterian and New Labour roots, a reminder that whilst political parties may tend to centre their values around a single ideology, they will also be influenced by opposing ideologies.
Arguably, Yvette Cooper offered a better critique of the proposal when she said that if a man left his wife to set up home with another woman, upon remarriage he could gain the tax benefit, whereas his wronged ex-wife would not. (Presumably, the gender of the wrongdoer could be reversed!)
It was left to the Liberal Democrats to offer an ideological criticism of the Conservative proposals. Nick Clegg, specifically referring to his own liberal values, stated that the policy was wrong, and that the government should not moralise about people’s life choices nor financially favour one group of people over another simply because of how they organise their private lives.
It is clear that ideological differences have and will continue to surface during this campaign, even though the parties will try to down play them. And as always, disagreements regarding the role of the state are at the centre of it all.