David Cameron has delivered his final party conference speech before the 2015 general election, to a surprisingly upbeat audience.
The start of the Tory conference was marred by the defection of Tory MP Marck Reckless to Ukip and a ministerial resignation. Since the weekend, former deputy mayor of London Richard Barnes and Tory donor Arron Banks switched to Ukip.
However, David Cameron has attempted to recapture the agenda with a series of eye-catching policy pledges.
A Conservative government will raise the tax-free personal allowance to £12,500. This will take one million of the lowest-paid out of income tax altogether, while another 30 million people will receive a tax cut.
Research director of the Adam Smith Institute, Sam Bowman, commented:
Taking minimum wage workers out of tax is a way of giving workers a ‘Living Wage’ without risking jobs. The difference between the Living Wage and the minimum wage is entirely tax – if we stopped taxing minimum wage workers, they would earn the equivalent to a post-tax Living Wage.
This has been a key policy advocated by the Adam Smith Institute for over a decade, and will allow the working poor to keep more of their earnings. And with just a few more steps, we can guarantee a basic standard of living for all workers that boosts the economy too.
Cameron committed the Tory party to raising the 40p tax threshold, from £41,900 to £50,000. Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, commented:
Finally the Prime Minister has shown intent to ease the burden on UK taxpayers. However, it’s important to remember that in real terms the changes to the 40p rate will not be as momentous in four years’ time when taking inflation into account.
The Prime Minister said Britain will achieve full employment if it sticks to its long-term economic plan.
Cameron reiterated his party's commitment to building 100,000 new homes and sell them at a 20 per cent discount.
Zero hours contracts
Under the Conservatives, exclusive zero-hours contracts will be abolished. Cameron said exclusive zero hours were not a free market: that is a rigged market.
A Conservative government under Cameron will always have the most competitive corporate tax rate in the G20, he said. But he added, in a direct address to corporations, that "we have cut your taxes. Now you must pay what you owe".
John Cridland, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, commented:
We need more investment to create more jobs, so pledging to keep the UK corporate tax rate the most competitive in the G20 will send out a clear positive signal to businesses.
He attempted to head off attacks from Labour on the NHS by pledging to ring-fence its budget. However, emphasising the importance of the economy, where the Conservatives have a significant lead over Labour, Cameron told the conference “You can only have a strong NHS if you have a strong economy".
Once again, Cameron vowed the Conservative party will answer the West Lothian question and introduce English votes for English laws.
National Citizens Service
Every teenager will be guaranteed a place on the National Citizens' Service scheme, he said.
Responding to the speech, Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:
This was a positive speech for taxpayers, with tax cuts for the lowest paid and long-overdue relief for ordinary people being clobbered by the higher rate of tax. Leaving more of people’s money in their own pockets is not just morally right, but the best way to promote economic growth and long-term prosperity.