Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence party, has declared his headline announcement for a 25 per cent tax on luxury goods to be “dead”, in a surprise U-turn only 48 hours after it was first revealed at his party conference.
The Ukip gathering in Doncaster ended in buoyant mood on Saturday following the news that a second Conservative MP, Mark Reckless, would be defecting to the party. The luxury tax – floated on Friday by Ukip’s economy spokesman Patrick O’Flynn – was seen as part of a strategy to also take the fight to Labour, wooing disillusioned voters in the “squeezed middle” by challenging the wealthy. The new 25 per cent VAT rate would have applied to a range of luxury goods including £200 shoes, £1,000 handbags and £50,000 cars.
However, Mr Farage backtracked on Sunday, stating unequivocally that the tax would not go ahead. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s dead, it was a discussion point . . . it isn’t going to happen,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
The Ukip leader added that while he was “very happy” to give freedom to his spokesmen and spokeswomen to float ideas, he was “pretty certain” that while he was leader, the luxury tax would not be in the manifesto. “It was never put forward as a policy,” he said. “It was put forward as something that should be investigated.”
When challenged on the U-turn, Steve Crowther, Ukip’s executive chairman, told BBC Radio 5 that his party’s lack of slickness was part of its charm.
“If sometimes we are a little bit hard-edged or sometimes we stub our toe, I don’t think that’s a problem,” Mr Crowther said. “It’s part of our brand, frankly, it’s part of what Ukip is . . . I believe that it is true that Ukip is liked by its electorate because it is not always as slick and as polished as the other political parties.”
Meanwhile Mr Reckless, Ukip’s newest recruit, laid into the Tories’ record in government as he explained his reasons for leaving the party.
“What I’m doing is keeping faith with my constituents and keeping my promises to them,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme. “The reality is [the Conservatives] have increased the national debt by more in five years than even Labour managed in 13 and immigration is now back up to the levels we saw under Labour.”
“I believe in the promises I made in 2010 and I want to keep my word to my electorate, not least to deal with the deficit, cut immigration, to reform our political system, to localise powers back to our community, particularly over housebuilding, and the government has broken its word on all those things,” Mr Reckless added.
The former Tory MP also denied that the Conservative party conference in Birmingham would pale in comparison to the “real politics” he had seen at the Ukip rally in Doncaster.
“Those are the people Nigel Farage is inspiring and frankly he’s inspired me,” Mr Reckless explained. “What he’s done in the last 20 years in building his party, getting people from all walks of life, standing up for people in this country, I think deserves support and that’s a key reason why I’m moving – because I think Ukip are now the agents of change.”