May 7, 2017 / 1:56 PM / 5 months ago

Labour pledges no tax rise for middle-income earners

Britain's opposition Labour Party Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell delivers a speech in London, Britain May 7, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s opposition Labour Party said middle and low earners would not face tax hikes to fund its spending plans if it wins next month’s election, with the burden falling instead on the top five percent of earners and big business.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives, which have a commanding lead in the polls, have attacked Labour’s spending plans, claiming a victory for Jeremy Corbyn’s party would lead to more debt and higher taxes.

Labour’s finance spokesman John McDonnell said he would guarantee no tax rises for five years for all those earning less than 80,000 pounds ($104,000) if the party were elected.

There would be no hikes in value-added sales taxes and no changes in national insurance either, he pledged.

“Labour is now the party of low taxes for middle and lower earnings,” he said in a speech on Sunday.

However, those earning above that threshold would be asked to pay “a modest bit” more to help fund public services, he said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.

Businesses would also be asked to stump up to pay for upgrades to Britain’s infrastructure, such as high-speed broadband and new railways.

“As part of the new settlement, a Labour government will be asking business to contribute its fair share, with the largest companies paying a bit more in tax,” he said.

The details would be set out in Labour’s manifesto published the week after next, he said.

Britain's opposition Labour Party Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell delivers a speech in London, Britain May 7, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall

The Conservatives said Labour would have to increase taxes to tackle what they said was a 45-billion-pound black hole in its spending plans.

“Jeremy Corbyn will have to raise taxes because his nonsensical economic ideas don’t add up and he’ll make a mess of the Brexit negotiations,” said chief secretary to the Treasury David Gauke.

The BBC’s Andrew Marr put it to McDonnell, who like Corbyn is on the far left of the Labour Party, that he would be the first Marxist Labour finance minister.

Slideshow (4 Images)

“I‘m going to be the first socialist, in the tradition of the Labour party,” McDonnell said.

When asked if he was a Marxist, he replied: “Well I’ll tell you - I believe there is a lot to learn from reading (Das) Kapital.”

The Conservatives jumped on his comment. “The man Jeremy Corbyn wants to make Chancellor (finance minister) believes that the nonsensical ideas of Karl Marx – punitive taxes, closing down businesses and the removal of private property – should be at the heart of Britain’s economic policy,” said International Development minister Priti Patel.

May has said she would not increase value-added tax if she remains prime minister, but she has not extended the same promise to other taxes.

The Conservative’s campaign has focussed on Brexit, with May asking voters to strengthen her hand as she seeks a mandate for her plan to quit the European Union’s single market.

A commanding lead in opinion polls of up to 19 percentage points, and big gains made by her party in local elections last Thursday, put her on track to increase her majority, but pressure to look beyond Europe and detail her approach to tax and spend policies is mounting.

Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Ros Russell

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