Belfast Telegraph

Why the Budget backlash is showing no sign of stopping

By Tom Moseley

David Cameron might have hoped that his tour of Asia, complete with morale-boosting announcements of UK investment and jobs, would steal the headlines from his post-Budget woes. Unfortunately, pasties and grannies followed him wherever he went.

The next aftershock from George Osborne's statement came from the proposal to limit tax relief on charitable donations, which pitted the Government against charities, philanthropists and its own backbenchers - not a good corner to be in.

One thing you find in reporting Budgets is that the nasty details emerge from the small print in the following days. But it's highly unusual to be occupying front pages almost a month on.

This week, as MPs return to Parliament after the recess, a string of votes on the Finance Bill will pile on the pressure. The latest to weigh in are church leaders, the National Trust and stately home owners, demanding a rethink on plans to charge VAT on improvements to listed buildings.

When they protested in the aftermath of the Budget, their voices were barely heard. But now they're having another go.

These may not be a bad set of proposals for most of the population. Remember the flagship tax cut for 24 million people?

There are valid arguments in favour of asking millionaires to give their tax to the NHS. Likewise, why should someone in an ordinary house pay VAT on home repairs while we pick up the tab for the baron down the road?

But when a label is attached to it, there's little ministers can do to turn the tide. Throw in the tax cut for people earning £150,000 and it's fair to say this hasn't been a PR triumph.

As well as leaking all the good bits in advance, the way the changes were announced invited a backlash. Rather that presenting it as a fait accompli, why not announce a consultation into tax relief for donations, shifting the limelight to an independent commission? If tax-dodging is going on, let someone else say it first.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were past-masters at this. When former bank boss Derek Wanless looked into the NHS finances and suggested a hike in National Insurance, the Government could present it as an impartial verdict on the future of our health service.

The current Labour leader, Ed Miliband, is making hay, merrily opposing taxes on grannies, pasties, land barons and millionaire philanthropists. Whether this will save him in the long term, or is merely mid-term blues for the Government, remains to be seen.

But it will be a brave Chancellor that messes with pasties and the like next time around.

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