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The Tories' failure to grasp that Workington Man wants tax cuts could cost them crucial votes 

Workington
Polling from the TaxPayers’ Alliance released this week shows that voters have a strong desire for lower taxes Credit: Asadour Guzelian/Guzelian Ltd

One of the greatest misnomers of this election - promoted by committed ideologues and frightened figures from across the media and Westminster - is that we have tried small state, low tax policies and the public have simply had enough.

But this assumes that governments have been trying these things for the last 30 years, when they haven’t done anything of the sort.

Spending levels and taxes have consistently risen over that period, to the point that the tax burden is at its highest for half a century. As David Cameron has acknowledged, austerity didn’t do everything it said on the tin. It’s therefore unsurprising that the public is not clamouring to pay more tax.

Landmark polling from the TaxPayers’ Alliance, which we released this week, shows that voters have a strong desire for lower taxes. More than half of the voters we polled wanted to see the basic rate of income tax cut by a quarter. Most interestingly though, our poll found that working class voters were more supportive of the idea than professional classes.

What pollsters call C2DE voters are supposed to be the key battleground for this election. “Workington man” joins an impressive litany of fictional characters that have helped define British elections.

Westminster logic dictates that this working class man living in a post-industrial, rugby league-loving town is a pro-Brexit patriot who, thanks to his Labour background, is much keener on government giveaways than tax reductions.

But, as explained by Sherelle Jacobs in The Telegraph earlier this week, our polling suggests this is lazy thinking. In fact, accepting this condescending summary could cost the main parties the very votes their strategists are seeking.

Far from seeking the warm embrace of the nanny state, hoovering up their hard-earned income to decide how to spend it for them, typical voters are actually keener on tax cuts than their middle class counterparts. Of the two groups, working class voters are more supportive of income tax cuts and council tax caps.

They were 11 points more likely than middle-class voters to support a national insurance rebate for those not claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance. They were half as keen on higher taxes on unhealthy living like fatty food, alcohol and cigarettes, and more than twice as supportive of cutting the cost of motoring by reducing fuel duty and road tax.

The political and media establishments might also reflect on the fact that a majority, almost 70 per cent, backed abolishing the BBC licence fee, compared to 40 per cent amongst middle class voters - one of the biggest disparities found between the two groups in our survey.

You can hardly blame them. According to ONS data from last year, the bottom 10 per cent of households paid almost half their income in tax. That doesn’t paint a full fiscal picture, as it doesn’t account for government transfers, but it matters - ordinary Britons tend to want to control their own destiny and know they are taxed fairly heavily.

There is not a deep-seated desire to give money over to insightful politicians and bureaucrats who can plan the economy on the nation’s behalf. This helps explain why Mrs Thatcher’s economic reforms struck such a chord with working-class voters. Typical taxpayers want to keep more of their own money, and politicians seeking their votes should be cognisant of this desire.

Nor is the idea that the public and businesses are enemies shared by working class voters. Almost 7 in 10 favour a reduction in business rates, and typical taxpayers are keener on reduced taxes for start-ups and reductions in PAYE taxes on employers.

Most starkly, this group was found to be more than twice as likely as professional voters to back cutting corporation tax to 12.5 per cent - the same level as Ireland’s. While politicians from the left and right sneer at big business, hard-working taxpayers seem to understand best the positive impact that successful businesses can have on employment and the surrounding community alike.

With Brexit on the horizon, political parties are more able than ever to offer a real small state, low tax agenda. Leaving the EU means Britain can do things it previously couldn’t – like changes to VAT rates – and provides the impetus to do things is wouldn’t before – like cutting corporation tax, trimming income tax rates or stamping out Stamp Duty.

If there are new spending priorities that matter to voters, or to politicians, why not try something different: instead of reaching into the pockets of taxpayers to pay for these pledges, why not reduce spending elsewhere first? 

John O’Connell is Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance