Cameron must drop IHT pledge to be a true progressive

This week the Progressive Conservatism Project at Demos published twelve tests that Cameron must meet by 2012 to fulfil his pledge to have governed as a progressive. One in particular stands out. The Conservatives cannot credibly claim to be progressive while supporting a cut in inheritance tax.

At a fringe event in Manchester last week, Francis Maude invited the audience to “hold our feet to the fire” if the Conservatives failed to translate its progressive rhetoric into action if in power. The Tories are certainly talking a good game on fairness now. David Cameron devoted an entire speech to supporting the Conservative’s claim to be progressive in January. George Osborne reiterated the point speaking at Demos this August. Last week Cameron rammed home the message by making fighting poverty a central theme of his conference speech in Manchester.

However, in opposition, talk is cheap. Some think Cameron will spend political and financial capital in government to create a fairer society while others are not so sure. So how will we know if Cameron is serious about building a more equal society if he gets to Number 10?

This week the Progressive Conservatism Project at Demos published twelve tests that Cameron must meet by 2012 to fulfil his pledge to have governed as a progressive. Amongst the list are seeing through Gove’s pro-poor pupil premium pledge, investment in childcare, supporting Turkey’s application to the EU, freeing data, using the benefits system to promote ownership, and a carbon toll on motorway use. They are not the only things Cameron should do, but together they provide a litmus test across a range of policy areas.

One in particular stands out. The Conservatives cannot credibly claim to be progressive while supporting a cut in inheritance tax. Not only does the policy benefit the wealthiest the most, as Sunder Katwala has skilfully argued; but IHT is also one of the most socially positive taxes since it attacks self-perpetuating elites. If anything, inheritance taxation should be expanded (and used to cut tax on incomes under £15,000). If government has to get its money from somewhere, unearned dynastic advantage is a pretty good place to start. Quite apart from anything else, Osborne’s stance on IHT gives Labour a stick to beat him with. A tactical masterstroke when it was announced in the fake election of 2007, the policy is now a millstone round Cameron’s neck. Drop it.

In his victory speech in 1997 Tony Blair announced he had been elected as New Labour and would govern as New Labour. Cameron aspires to be elected as a progressive conservative. The Progressive Conservatism Project intends to make sure he is held to his promise to govern as one as well.

Our guest writer is Jonty Olliff-Cooper, Senior Researcher & Head of the Progressive Conservatism Project at Demos.

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