Prime Minister David Cameron promised to hand almost half the British population a tax cut if re-elected next year, a pledge he hopes will win over millions of voters and refocus debate away from a schism inside his party over Europe.
The promise, which will cost over £7bn (€9bn) to fund, is a calculated gambit to try to shift the narrative from one which has focussed on the damage the anti-EU Ukip is doing to Cameron’s re-election hopes by siphoning off voters and politicians.
It was also an attempt to kickstart his Conservative party’s moribund rating in opinion polls, where it has been trailing Labour for months, by holding out the prospect of a sweetener to balance a less enticing promise to freeze most welfare pay cheques and to slash state spending.
“So Britain: what’s it going to be?” Cameron, 47, asked supporters packed inside a concert hall at his party’s annual conference in Birmingham.
“I say: Let’s not go back to square one. Let’s finish what we have begun.”
In a speech which touched on Scotland’s decision to remain in the UK, the threat posed by the Islamic State, and Britain’s role in the Second World War, Cameron told activists he wanted and needed to be re-elected with an overall majority so he could govern alone and not in a coalition as is now the case.
“Believe me: Coalition was not what I wanted to do; it’s what I had to do,” he said.
“And I know what I want next. To be back here in October 2015 delivering Conservative policies.”
Cameron has endured a tumultuous month taking Britain into battle with Islamist militants in Iraq, pondering his own demise if Scotland had voted to leave the UK; and watching as two of his lawmakers quit to join Ukip.
In his speech, he tried to strike a calm, statesman-like posture as he sought to shore up his leadership, steady his party, and dangle some eye-catching promises before voters.
The centrepiece was a promise to lift 1 million workers out of tax if re-elected by allowing them to earn more before they pay any income tax, a pledge he said would also mean reduced tax bills for 30 million more people, or just under half the country’s total population.
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