Jeremy Corbyn was forced to admit Labour would breach its longstanding promise not to raise taxes on workers earning under £80,000 as he endured a gruelling television interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil on Tuesday evening.
The Labour leader has insisted for the past two years that his party would not impose tax rises on those earning under £80,000, equivalent to 95 per cent of the British public.
But his attempt to repeat that line while being interviewed by Mr Neil saw him eventually forced to concede that this was not the case.
The admission threatens to undermine Labour’s fiscal credibility less than a week after the party produced its election manifesto.
In reality earners below the £80,000 threshold could be hit by Labour’s plan to scrap the marriage tax allowance as well as its proposal to charge capital gains at an individual’s income tax rate. Meanwhile pensioners with a small private pension could see their dividends charged at a much higher tax rate than before.
“They’re not anywhere near, they’re not anywhere near £80,000,” said Mr Neil. “You’ve said no people below £80,000 would pay [more] tax.”
Mr Corbyn tried to counter those points, saying that many workers would see a rise in the minimum wage, improved free nursery provision and “properly funded” schools.
But the mis-step was awkward for the Labour leader at a time when he is trying to claw back a big Conservative lead in the opinion polls with barely two weeks left to go until polling day.
Mr Corbyn was also left struggling to explain how a Labour government would pay for a new £58bn to compensate some of the “WASPI” women who lost out as a result of changes to the pension age.
The policy was announced on Sunday just days after the party produced its manifesto for the election campaign — which did not include any reference to the £58bn.
That announcement has — at a stroke — undermined Labour’s claims to have produced fully costed plans for £83bn a year of annual tax rises and extra public spending as well as £400bn of extra borrowing for infrastructure.
Mr Corbyn said that the government owed a “moral debt” to those women who had seen up to £50,000 wrongly taken from each of them.
The Labour leader said the money would ideally be found “from government reserves”.
But when reminded that the government did not have £60bn of reserves he admitted that — if necessary — the government would have to carry out further long-term borrowing.
Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn was pushed on his approach to foreign policy and asked why he “always gives Britain’s enemies the benefit of the doubt”, for example over the Russian-linked novichok attack in Salisbury in 2018.
“You rarely have a good word to say for our allies. You’ve no time for Nato, the alliance that’s kept us safe. Why would you — why should people trust you to defend our national interest?” Mr Neil asked.
Mr Corbyn replied that the best way to keep people safe was to recognise global inequality and climate change. Asked whether he would authorise an attack on “the new leader of Isis” by British special forces, Mr Corbyn replied: “Let’s find out what the situation is at that moment in time and what I’ve said all along is we practice international law . . . then you try to capture that person.”
Separately Mr Corbyn refused four times to apologise to Britain’s Jewish community over allegations of anti-Semitism in his party after the chief rabbi called into question his suitability to be prime minister.
Ephraim Mirvis had warned that “a new poison” in Labour was “sanctioned from the very top”, in one of the most hard-hitting interventions by a religious leader ahead of a general election in recent times. Asked by Mr Neil if he wanted to apologise to the Jewish community over alleged anti-Semitism in his party Mr Corbyn declined to do so. “What I’ll say is this: I am determined that our society is safe for people of all faiths,” he said.
Mr Corbyn’s appearance was praised by some of his most loyal supporters: Aaron Bastani, from the leftwing Novara Media, said: “This is like a master batsman at the crease.”
But Tory Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said: “Jeremy Corbyn won’t be straight with the British people . . . he can’t answer how he would pay for his fantasy plans for the country or how he’d keep Britain safe.”