Banks: prepare to meet thy tax
The Tories and the government are less far apart on the imposition of a new tax on banks than may appear at first glance - and perhaps the significance of this weekend's shift in both of their positions is that the big banks and other substantial financial risk-takers, including possibly hedge funds, need to brace themselves for the imposition of a substantial new levy.
Although David Cameron said today that he would impose such a tax come what may, whereas the Chancellor would want to wait for international agreement, the Tory leader only made his move because he became persuaded in the past few days that international agreement would probably be forthcoming.
So why would the Tories feel more comfortable imposing a unilateral tax?
Well it's because of the differing histories of the two main parties: the Tories want to dispel the idea that they won't stand up to their putative friends in the City; while Labour feels that even now it can't afford to be seen to be anti-capitalist.
There is also considerable similarity in the nature of the tax under consideration by Labour and Tories.
Both would go for something along the lines of what President Obama wants to impose in the US, which is a levy on money banks borrow from big lenders, or a charge on what's known as their wholesale funding.They would not opt for what many campaigners want, which is a tax on financial transactions, or a Tobin tax.
Also, Labour and the Tories are closer to each than to the LibDems, who favour a tax on banks' profits.
All three would say that their aim would be to discourage banks from taking dangerous risks.
That said, at a time when the deficits of most rich western countries are ballooning, the proceeds of a bank tax would also be quite useful.
PS Mea culpa. In the original published version of this, the final paragraph said "most rich western companies" when (of course) I meant to say "most rich western countries". Please forgive that I didn't spot and amend earlier.