Tim Loughton was one of the surprise sackings in September’s reshuffle: he was an able minister who knew his portfolio very well indeed. He’s evidently reluctant to let that ability go to waste, and has already made interventions on child protection and benefit cuts. His speech later today for the Centre for Social Justice hits the nail on the head of a big Tory problem: marriage.
Loughton isn’t joining some of his colleagues in attacking gay marriage specifically, but rather the Conservative party’s failure to reintroduce tax breaks for married couples. He has written of his dissatisfaction that the Autumn Statement contained no such measures in the Telegraph today:
Family matters to Mr Cameron and to the Conservative Party. I hope that family still matters to this Government. And under the banner of family, marriage matters especially. A commitment to recognising marriage in the tax system was included in the last Conservative Party manifesto and it was in the Coalition Agreement, notwithstanding the get-out provisions for our Coalition partners to abstain. The statistic that if your parents are still together when you are 16 there is a 97 per cent chance that they are married is in itself enough to justify our enthusiasm.
So it is a huge letdown that last week’s Autumn Statement appears to have failed to make good the Coalition Government’s promise on a transferable tax allowance between married couples. A fully transferable allowance for all one-earner married couples with children under 16 would have been a credible and good place to start.
Loughton also says the absence of an allowance in the Autumn Statement ‘is particularly worrying because of the lead time it will take for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to make the required IT improvements to initiate the transferable allowance in the lifetime of this Parliament and deliver on the Coalition pledge’. This is a point that MPs keen on certain reforms will be making with increasing regularity over the next few months: as James noted in his column this week, ‘time is running out for further radical reform’.
The other thing worth noting which, although Loughton does not explicitly mention it in this piece, is a point that other Tories may wish to make on his behalf, is that while David Cameron is very keen to endorse gay marriage, both as a civil and now religious ceremony, he is not following through with manifesto commitments to rewarding marriage through the tax system. While there are obviously MPs whose comments on gay relationships in general are not exactly helping the Prime Minister’s detoxifying cause, there are many others who just don’t think same sex marriages should be a priority. Encouraging stable relationships is far closer to their hearts. As Tim Montgomerie pointed out in May, coupling tax breaks with gay marriage legislation is something the Prime Minister has already done – as far back as 2006. Perhaps now is the time for him to make that link again to bring on board some of those in his party who are wavering over gay marriage.