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Wednesday 13th February 2013 | 14:27
As soon as he said it, I couldn't help tweeting it. David Cameron's attack line on Labour on tax was worded thus:
"The changes the Government has made will particularly help hard-working people on the minimum wage...and we won't forget the 10p tax rate which clobbered hard-working people in this country."
My instant thought was: is this the 'rabbit' the Chancellor could pluck from his Budget box next month?
Don't forget the PM and Osborne met yesterday for their first Budget meeting. Could he have just let slip something already fresh in his mind?
Rob Halfon has been at the forefront of calls for the reintroduction of the 10p tax rate on incomes of £12,000. He has been running his own online campaign on this very subject - www.cuttaxto10p.com - since January and hopes it will be a 38 Degrees-style, popular movement.
The numbers are sketchy so far, but one way Halfon hopes to pay for his idea is by redistributing the money raised from the 45p tax band due in April (and even the Treasury says 45p will raise cash, unlike its analysis on 50p).
I understand that some within the Treasury are sympathetic to the political simplicity of the idea. The Chancellor would probably be very attracted by the delicious idea of restoring a low tax rate axed by Gordon Brown. It may be too late for this Budget but it could perhaps feature next year as a rocket boost for party morale ahead of election year.
Unlike Halfon's fair fuel campaign to cut fuel duty (which scored a huge success in the Autumn Statement), he's had no trouble with the whips telling him not to push the 10p idea.
Indeed only last month, David Gauke was full of praise for Halfon during his Westminster Hall debate on the topic. Gauke said:
"There are pros and cons (to the 10p approach) and I think the debate will continue. I'm not going to make any commitments, given there is clearly a very substantial fiscal cost in reintroducing a 10p rate of income tax.
"But what is very clear is if you look at the values of this Government is that, where we can, we have been prepared to take very substantial steps at quite significant cost... in order to reduce the income tax bill for those on low earnings."
Halfon tells me he was "over the moon" with the PM's response today. He says:
"I really hope that it will happen. It would show that tax cutting for Conservatives is a moral creed and we are helping the many not the few."
Let's see if PMQs today was a case of In-Osbo-Veritas* (a condition caused by talking to the Chancellor and then blurting things out) or just a device to embarrass Labour on the day.
*FOOTNOTE: I suspect In-Osbo-Veritas lay behind the PM telling The House magazine last January that there would have to be something done about the 'cliff edge' effect of child benefit cuts. (He'd been chatting to George a few minutes before our interview). A few months later, the Chancellor did indeed unveil moves to make the taper easier.
UPDATE: One Treasury source tells me it would be 'way off beam' to read anything into the PM's remarks in relation to the Budget.
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