DUBLIN: Last week Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a screeching U-turn, scrapping newly announced plans to increase national insurance contributions for the self-employed. The sight of a Tory minister being so publicly embarrassed is unlikely to trouble too many of us; it could even be called enjoyable. But the climbdown flags up a wider problem within the political debate about taxation generally. It fell to the Financial Times – not normally a bastion of old-fashioned tax and spend socialism – to point this out. It said: “If the Conservative Party cannot stomach a modest taxation change such as this, how will it cope with the other policy challenges of the coming years? Demographic facts mean that on health, housing and education, spending demands are only going to increase. There is little fat left to cut.” Of course, a central problem for the Tories was that they had fought the last general election promising not to increase national insurance or income tax.
So was the real mistake to make this sweeping pledge? Or is the guilty secret that the Conservatives believe that promise was central to them staying in power? The vast majority of us value public services – the schools that educate our children, the hospitals that make us better, the roads and public transport systems that keep us moving in our daily lives. But just how much we are prepared to pay for them through taxation is seemingly a more complicated matter.