Frank Field MP
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Who is the Rebel?

I was stung by John Humphrys' observation on the Today programme that those Labour members attempting to get justice for lower-paid workers who lost out with the abolition of the 10p starting rate of tax were rebels. In one sense we are, but not in the more profound sense.

The rebels are surely Gordon Brown and his then cohorts at the Treasury who overturned the most basic of Labour's commitment to the poor. The abolition of the 10p starting rate of tax raised most of the revenue to fund a 2p cut in the standard rate of tax.

Instead of Labour moving to ease the burden on those earning the smallest wage packets, it increased it to lessen the tax burden on the rest of the community. It is this injustice that Labour members will be trying to finally overturn in today's budget debate.

At the weekend, the Labour whips repeated to the press that they were very relaxed and confident about seeing off the amendment. If they were so relaxed, then Labour members could safely vote with their consciences.

The whips' campaign changed direction yesterday, claiming that the amendment was out to wreck the budget, and that if it was passed the government would not have the power this evening to continue levying taxes.

Rubbish. The government is raising revenue, as all previous governments have done, under a measure that allows its tax-raising powers to go on while a budget is being debated in parliament.

These time-limited powers run out on 5 August. So there will be plenty of time before that deadline arrives for the government to bring forward a full compensation package for the 10p losers, have the package implemented and gain tax-raising powers for the rest of the year.

The other line the whips are peddling is that hardly anyone gets letters about this issue nowadays, so the 10p injustice has subsided in the country. It is true there are fewer emails and letters, but can we be so sure that lower-paid workers have forgotten about the issue - or have they simply given up any hope of influencing Labour MPs to deal the justice card dealt to them?

I still get a small but steady stream of letters and emails on this topic. The sense of hurt and anger at the government has not subsided, if these communications are anything to go on.

The abolition of the 10p rate sent shockwaves through Labour's core vote. We will only know its longer-term damage when the ballot boxes are opened at the end of the general election. My guess is that it will count against us in a significant way.

The politics of today's amendment is about abating that anger. For the government, even at this late stage, to make a determined effort to make sure no 10p taxpayer is still a loser might just bring closure to the issue when people come to vote.

The number of 10p losers, on the most conservative of estimates, was well over half of Labour's vote at the last election. I find it incomprehensible that a government whose strategy is now to shore up the core vote is still intent on defeating the 10p motion tabled by a significant number of Labour MPs.
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