Tribune leader, 24 January 1992
It is difficult not to have some sympathy with Neil Kinnock over last week's upset about Labour's taxation plans. If any of the journalists eating at Luigi's had bothered to read the string of policy documents produced in the past two-and-a-half years - and, however dull the documents, that is part of their job - it would Have come as no surprise to any of them that Labour planned to introduce its tax increases on higher incomes gradually rather than in one fell swoop. As it was, Mr Kinnock's off-the-cuff remarks came over to them as desperate back-tracking in the face of an unfavourable opinion poll. When members of the Labour Treasury team subsequently also showed only a hazy acquaintance with the small print, the journalists had a good story on their hands almost by accident.
Nevertheless, the episode did show that taxation remains a banana-skin for Labour, and that is cause for concern. Tax, along with public spending, is at the heart of the Tories' election campaign against Labour.
The Tories believe that voters who tell pollsters that they would rather have public spending than tax cuts are not telling the truth and that Labour has failed to convince the electorate that it would not increase income tax for those on average as well as high incomes. The Tories are already getting up a head of campaigning steam on tax. If Labour starts to look evasive on its tax plans, the Tories will punish it mercilessly.
That means two things. First, the front bench needs to work out precisely how a Labour government will introduce its new taxes and everyone needs to stick to the same story. Secondly, and crucially, Labour needs to toll the whole truth about its tax plans as soon as possible.
It is not enough to state, in the words of the party's election campaign pack, that "nobody earning leas than £21,000 annually - about £400 a week - will pay a penny extra in income tax or in national insurance contributions". Particularly in the south-east, it is not unusual to earn between £21,000 and £30,000, nor, because of housing and commuting costs, is such an income necessarily a guarantee of notable affluence. Voters in that income bracket have to be reassured that they are not going to be stung by Labour.
Of course, they are not going to be stung: Labour's plans mean that a single person on £25,000 a year will pay less than £10 extra a week. Given that it will pay for improved child benefits and pensions, that should not be too difficult to sell except to the extraordinarily selfish. But Labour has to make all this absolutely clear. Until it produces accurate and credible "What you will pay under Labour" charts, it will remain vulnerable to Tory attack.
"The next Labour government has no intention of legalising cannabis," Roy Hattersley said last week in response to a suggestion from Tony Banks to the contrary. Mr Hattersley should reconsider. Cannabis is non-addictive and not harmful to health, and the law banning it is a joke - except to the 30,000-odd people every year who are prosecuted for possession: Even the Home Office reckons that 1,500,000 people have smoked it. Does Mr Hattersley really want to turn them off voting Labour at the election?