As we creep closer to the Autumn Budget, the usual drama around what will get more money and what will get the chop is starting to unfold, like some sort of work annual review but for the entire country. The Chancellor Philip Hammond raised some eyebrows this week with remarks in the House of Commons in which he seemed to cast doubt on the Government’s commitment to a freeze on fuel duty, a policy that has been in place since 2010. Hammond fired out stats from his trusty spreadsheets about the cost of fuel duty to the taxpayer, and what this money could give to the NHS. The implication was clear: the Government are considering higher taxes on fuel to pay for higher spending on health.
This will not be popular with the right of the Tory party. They recoil at the thought of tax rises on… well on most things, but they’ve been particularly supportive of keeping costs down for drivers, and rather unperturbed about environmental arguments for taxing driving. This would be a curious move for the Government, who are risking pouring fuel (pun fully intended), on an already burning fire. Theresa May is facing a serious uprising from the right of her own Party over Brexit as it is, so you would think now is not the moment to soft launch a policy that will upset them on a different issue as well.
But perhaps Theresa May has had enough of trying to play to all bases equally and is instead picking a team. Six months ago, the PM was disliked by both moderates and the right of her Party. Now, the right despise her even more but she has more sympathy from centrists. And this Government needs some domestic wins. If a boost in funding for the NHS helps heal the crisis in our health service then the Prime Minister stands a chance of being remembered for something other than Brexit negotiations. Raising taxes on fuel would be a bold move, but after years of indecisiveness, it might be about time the Government made some bold decisions.