Child benefit cut: Tough but is it fair?
Team Cameron expected its leader to have to fight off charges this morning that cutting child benefit was tough but it clearly wasn't prepared for the accusation that it's unfair.
The whole point of unveiling the policy at this conference was to back up the argument that the Tories are being "tough but fair" ahead of a spending round which will hurt many people who have no chance of ever being top-rate taxpayers.
Instead of toughing the row out the prime minister said he had plans to introduce a tax break for married couples, allowing papers - like the Mail and the Telegraph - to believe that he would compensate the losers. Those with concerns - like the Tory MP Penny Mourdant - were briefed to that effect.
There are several problems with that though:
• The coalition agreement did not promise a tax break for married couples. It said only that:
"We will also ensure that provision is made for Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain on budget resolutions to introduce transferable tax allowances for married couples without prejudice to the coalition agreement."
• The Tories' policy at the election was a tax break but it was that basic-rate taxpayers would be able to transfer £750 of their tax-free personal allowance to their partner in order to reduce their partner's income tax bill. This would save people up to £150 a year per couple but be of no value to those losing child benefit.
• The Treasury team has always been sceptical about the value of this policy and is not in any rush to introduce it.
Listen hard and you might hear the sound of policy being made up on the hoof in response to an unexpected row.
Update 1310: Policy is already being clarified. There will be a tax break for married couples introduced in this Parliament.
Although Tory policy was to limit the proposal to basic-rate tax payers, it has been drawn to my attention that the coalition agreement did not repeat that. The implication is, therefore, that the chancellor might seek to partially compensate some of the stay-at-home mums who feel aggrieved by the child benefit cut.
Watch this space.