Yesterday was meant to be a big day in the Commons. We were all primed for the possibility that the government might offer some concessions to those on lower incomes, following its decision to snatch away the 10p income tax band and leave those on lower incomes worse off. We even heard rumours there were enough Labour rebels to defeat the government.
There were just 31 of us in the chamber (17 Labour) when Frank Field rose to make his speech to introduce his amendment. A few more came in during his remarks, only to leave shortly afterwards. It did not feel like a great occasion.
He spoke well. He dealt with the argument that apparently the government was putting round. If his amendment were passed the government would be unable to collect its income tax, and there could be a run on the pound. Bizarre! As he rightly said, if the government lost on his amendment, all they had to do was to table a motion to ensure the collection of all the rest of the income tax, and that surely would have been passed by the Labour majority. Last year when there was a big fall in the pound the government seemed keen to allow it to continue.
Being the House of Commons, this important issue had been “grouped” with other amendments which fell to be debated at the same time. As the House restled with that problem, whatever atmosphere there was on the issue of the 10p tax band was diluted. A few Labour rebels struggled to keep up the pressure, but when Sally Keeble rose to announce that as a signatory to Frank’s amendment she would no longer be voting for it, there was confirmation that the rebels had lost.
Outside the thunder and lightening struck in a biblical moment. Inside it was damp squib, as we looked upwards to see if the roof would hold out against the leaks and the rebellion fizzled out. Taxing the many to pay for the follies of the few who intend to spend and spend right up to the end of the Parliament was not how it was meant to be. Yesterday this Parliament could do no other. They may not like the whips, and they may not agree with the government, but most Labour MPs decided loyalty was the better course. They did not want to be in the chamber to hear the arguments. That might have stretched their loyalty too far.