Yesterday I visited Crewe to help with the by-election. The Labour vote was crumbling as we visited. Practically everyone I spoke to was angry about the big increases in petrol and diesel prices, food prices, and the vanishing 10p tax band. Understandably, they felt their family budgets were being squeezed too much, and, understandably, they blamed the government for the part that tax has played in all this. I canvassed into the evening, long after the news first broke about the governmentâ€™s spectacular U-Turn â€“ for one year and for one by-election only â€“ on income tax, but it made no immediate impact on the feelings of voters, bruised by tax bills and inflation. Life-long Labour voters confessed they were having to think long and hard this time, because they could not believe how their party had let them down over tax and the economy.
The Conservative operation seemed well-organised, with plenty of good material being put out containing strong messages about the war on motorists and the squeeze on incomes. There was a detailed set of arguments being conducted by several parties, about who had the most or least local candidate, which preoccupied some voters, but overall the issue was simple: â€œWeâ€™ve had enough. We canâ€™t afford all the billsâ€.
Labourâ€™s backbenchers, ably led by Frank Field, â€œgot itâ€ well before the government. The Chancellor has gone from zero to hero with Labour MPs for his lend-lease approach to tax reductions. He hopes his one-year special offer of a tax cut paid for by yet more borrowing will take the political trick. The danger for Labour is that people will say â€œToo little, too lateâ€. They may also worry that because this government cannot afford the tax cut, it is but taxation deferred. We will all be paying for this tax cut – with interest â€“ as we are having to borrow it. It would have all been better if the Chancellor had been able to say this would apply for more than just one year, and if he had covered its cost by reducing wasteful and needless spending. Goodness knows, thereâ€™s enough of that to pay for this modest reduction. The Taxpayers Alliance found Â£82 billion of waste in its 2006 book, and even the government found more than Â£20 billion.
On the trains, there and back, I saw plenty of Conservative MPs but not one Labour MP. Are they still shy about facing the voters of Crewe?