Tories in disarray over inheritance tax

By Ian Dunt

The Tory policy of scrapping the level at which inheritance tax hits people appeared to be in disarray this morning after shadow business secretary Ken Clarke said it would not be a priority if the country came to power.

The comments demonstrate the extent to which Tory officials are manoeuvring themselves in advance of next month’s Budget.

The inheritance tax policy, which would raise the threshold from £500,000 to £1 million, was seen as a critical moment in the Tory revival when Gordon Brown came to power.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne’s announcement of it at the Tory party conference appeared to stall Mr Brown’s desire to call an early general election.

“It is very striking that this statement is by Ken Clarke rather than George Osborne, since it was Osborne who milked a great deal of support at the time he announced this promise,” said Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable.

“It is still not clear if Clarke is speaking for Osborne or for himself. But this is a reminder of where the Tories’ priorities really lie.

“Ken Clarke’s comments are further evidence of the disarray and confusion which has characterised the Conservatives’ tax policy and their response to the economic crisis.”

The Tories will retain the policy as a manifesto pledge, but its priority has been reduced.

That clarification came when George Osborne was forced to brief journalists through a spokesperson after Mr Clarke’s comments, made over the weekend, prompted some to question whether the policy would be dropped completely.

The comments follow statement from the Conservatives confirming they will not scrap Labour’s upcoming 45p top rate of income tax if they win the next general election.