Michael Howard: Attack of the chancellor

Central to his campaign of hostility are headline claims like, ‘Brown ignores Labour’s many failings’, and ‘Britons pay high price for Gordon Brown’. Yes, he has his cross hairs on the iron chancellor – the man presiding over an economy apparently on the up, and the most significant member of the Labour government to emerge from the Iraq dossier affair unsullied.

Getting personal over Brown, as a political strategy, is unlikely to wash just now.

So, the big question is whether Howard will attempt to target Brown again when the shadow chancellor stands up to give his keynote speech at the Tory party conference in October.

He may be tempted. Party conferences are really about talking to the party faithful, telling them what they need to hear, rather than sending a message to the country as a whole. Having a go at Gordon might therefore go down well. It’s another question whether it will play well to the nation on television. Policy, rather than ‘personal’, might be his best bet right now.

Howard is, of course, feeling invigorated. Just when he thought that all hope of high office was gone, along comes a new leader and suddenly the man labelled as having ‘something of the night’ about him has a new lease of life.

Of those on the Tory front bench, Howard is the one thought to have done best against Labour. Despite the personal focus on Brown, Howard can argue macroeconomics and fiscal policy along with the best of them.

However, he started this process by making a concession. According to Howard, allowing the Bank of England to make interest rate decisions independent of politicians was the right thing to do.

But he then turned on the chancellor by saying that low tax economies were best and insisting that Brown was all about ‘tax and spend’. Tax rises to fund the health service have therefore been anathema to Howard.

‘Money alone won’t do, money alone isn’t enough,’ he told Accountancy Age in May last year.

Tax isn’t going to go away though. Howard has continued to insist it’s a problem. ‘Tax increases imposed since 1997 have slashed the average take home pay by up to 1.9%, while a report from City analysts Incomes Data Services warns that real terms pay rises have ground to a halt because of the higher national insurance contributions being levied by Mr Brown,’ a statement from the shadow chancellor’s office reads.

So what will he say at conference?

Well, he’s unlikely to leave tax alone, but he’s also likely to have a real go at Labour over the euro. According to Howard, the Swedish referendum decision to reject euro membership means the single currency is a ‘dead duck’.

Howard might predict, or at least warn, of rising taxes and government borrowing. Will he be proved right? Who knows? If Nobel prizewinner Milton Friedman couldn’t get it right, what hope has Howard? Or anyone, for that matter.

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