Tory married tax break: Hope or promise?
Is it "I do", "I might", or "I won't tell"?
Ever since becoming Tory leader, David Cameron has promised to recognise marriage in the tax system. Ever since, he has failed to spell out what that actually means, what it will cost, and how he will pay for it.
Today in an interview, he told me that his only tax pledge was to cut inheritance tax. So I asked him: is talk of a married tax break a promise or a hope? The answer was that it was definitely a hope, but certainly not a promise.
Robinson: On the issue of a tax break for people who are married: is that a promise, or just something you hope one day to do?
Cameron: It is something we want to do, something we believe we can do, it's something, within Parliament, I'll definitely hope to do. I'm not today able to make that promise. Because today, we face a vast budget deficit [...]
Robinson: But if people want certainty, on some of these tax cuts they want - you're saying today, "I'm sorry, I can't give that certainty"?
Cameron: We're not able to give people absolute certainty on everything. [...]
Senior Tories tell me that they have still not decided whether to spell out their policy ahead of an election, or to leave Mr Cameron's vague words to stand as they are: vague and un-costable.
There has been a long and vigourous internal debate between Tories who say that tax breaks for married couples risk alienating the growing number of unmarried couples, and those who say that they would be a clear expression of Conservative values which would show that David Cameron is willing to weather a controversy.
Fearful that Mr Cameron's remarks might be reported as downgrading his promise, the Tory leader's spokesman tonight insisted that the party would definitely recognise marriage in the next Parliament, but still refused to say how, when and at what cost.
This leaves the party open to Labour's charge that they want it all ways: able to dangle the prospect of tax breaks, without explaining to the electorate how they'll pay for them.