Another day, another row over an election policy pledge. Today’s pledge comes from Labour, who are once again targeting tax avoiders. This time non-doms were in Ed Miliband’s sights as he pledged to abolish the non-dom tax status, replacing it with new tax rules for temporary residents.
This is a policy which hits a number of sweet spots for Labour. Firstly, it is an eye-catching pledge which has dominated the overnight media coverage. Secondly, it continues their crackdown on tax avoiders and burnishes the narrative that they will create a fairer tax system in the UK. Thirdly, it supports the moral stance that Ed Miliband has taken against the wealthy elite and ensuring they contribute more to society.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it puts the Conservatives in a tricky position. How do they criticise the policy without seeming to defend non-doms? After the toxic side-effects from the cut to the 50p rate in tax, the Conservatives cannot afford to be drawn into another situation where they are being seen to protect the very richest in society.
This had the potential to put the Conservatives on the back foot and to secure a day of positive headlines for Labour. However, as has often been the case in this election campaign, the narrative has not panned out the way that Labour intended.
The Conservative rebuttal team have been quick to capitalise on the publication of quotes from an interview Ed Balls gave earlier this year, in which he said that abolishing the non-dom status could end up costing the UK money. This quote has given the Conservatives breathing space and allowed them to mainly focus on Labour chaos and mixed-messaging, rather than the merits of the proposal itself. This, allied to some Labour confusion over the amount of revenue that the policy will raise, has limited the damage that Labour hoped to inflict on the Conservatives.
In his speech this morning Ed Miliband brushed off the Conservative claims and sought to put the focus back on to the moral narrative, arguing that they are “defending the indefensible”. But whether Labour like it or not, the immediate focus of this story is no longer the Conservatives defending the rich, but whether another Labour policy pledge is workable or not.
In the longer term this pledge fits well into the narrative Labour are building around fairness and values. And it still places the Conservatives in a tricky situation, as they will implicitly appear to many voters to be defending the rich once again. However, in the short term this has perhaps not provided Labour with the easy win they were looking for.