I've always found Stamp Duty to be an insidious tax. It has discouraged movement between jobs and discouraged efficient use of the housing stock. So any move to reduce its impact is going to get the thumbs up from me. So I'm supportive of Gordon Brown's decision to exempt houses worth less than £175,000 from Stamp Duty for the next twelve months. Like I support the shooting of one of the millions of grey squirrels that visit such destruction on our countryside. Its a move in the right direction, but so small as to be dramatically insignificant. And even then, it seems that the Government is trying to mislead us over the scale of the benefit. We're expected to believe that this little wheeze will cost £600 million is forgone tax - but this figure is based on a massive over-estimate of the number of properties that will be sold during the next year. With this lot, nothing is what they say it is. Shake hands and count your fingers is to be advised.
But of course boosting the housing market was never the purpose of a Stamp Duty cut. We all know that the basic problem suffocating the housing market is the inability to get a mortgage. This cut will do nothing about that. The purpose of yesterday's announcement was for the Prime Minister to look as if he was doing something to help. But the Government's 'expectation management' has been such a disaster that what was meant to be the relaunch of the Prime Minister turned out to be another hole beneath the water line of HMS Gordon Brown. They can't even do 'spin' anymore - despite having more 'spin doctors' than ever before in British history.
More than ever, I'm planning for a General Election next June. I know that everyone thinks it will be twelve months later. But I cannot believe that all those Labour MPs are just going to walk like mesmerised lemmings behind Gordon Brown, over the cliff into oblivion, without trying to do something about it. I think that Charles Clarke is speaking for plenty of others, when he in effect called for Brown to be replaced today. A botched relaunch and a lost by-election could open the floodgates. And any new leader will know that the sooner a General Election is called, the more blame for defeat will attach itself to the 'Clunking Fist'. Its clear to me that if Gordon Brown's relaunch is no more than this pathetic little Stamp Duty announcement, the next few weeks are going to be very interesting indeed.