Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan has been ambushed live on TV with a graph showing the poorest will be hit hardest by Tory policies.
The Education Secretary struggled to defend David Cameron’s ‘We Are All It Together’ mantra after being confronted on BBC2’s Newsnight with a table outlining how those on lower incomes lose disproportionately more between 2015 and 2020.
Just hours after the Prime Minister claimed in the Commons that he still stood for “modern, compassionate, One Nation” Conservatism, the programme’s presenter Evan Davis produced the graphic based on a new analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).
The study found that the Government’s tax and benefit changes “have resulted in significant losses for those of working age in the bottom half of the income distribution” mainly because of cuts to -in-work benefits.
In some of the most excruciating political TV in recent years, Mr Davis presented the findings to the unwitting minister.
“I want you to look at a graph,” he said.
“This one’s from the IFS. On the left, the incomes of the poorest and how they’re going to change with tax and benefit cuts over this Parliament. On the right, the incomes of the richest.
“And the big downward bars are the net losses in income. And what you basically see is that the poorest are losing five to eight per cent of their net income and the top people on the right, the richest, are losing almost nothing."
“What do you make of that graph?" he asked.
Ms Morgan made a brave stab at not answering the question and countered with some stats of her own.
“I think that tells one story in terms of the changes.
"But actually there’s another graph which I think is very important in the distributional analysis impact that’s published alongside the Red Book, which shows actually the richest are paying more to filling the black hole left by the last Labour government,” she said.
But Mr Davis pointed out that while her figures were a comparison with 2010, the IFS graph was about the 2015-2020 Parliament with the Tories solely in charge.
“Did you know for example that the poor were bearing the brunt this Parliament- and the rich were bearing none of it?” he asked.
Ms Morgan replied: “I’m not sure. Look, It’s the first time I’ve seen the graph, I haven’t seen all the workings behind it.
“But it is something I do look at very carefully…and I’ve been in the Treasury - every time the Red Book and the OBR set of forecasts is published.
“The fact is that by the end of this Parliament the top 20% in this country will be paying more in tax than the other 80% put together.”
Evan wasn’t giving up easily.
“This is an IFS graph. It is describing what’s happening in this Parliament. Shouldn’t we worry that you who are in the Cabinet who are nodding through these things have not seen the most basic distributional analysis of what the Government’s plans are?”
“Is that ‘we are all in it together’?” he added.
The minister tried a new tack: “I haven’t seen the detailed analysis that goes alongside this. The top 1% paying 28% of income tax…”
But the Newsnight presenter refused to back down.
“Are you happy to call that One Nation Conservatism, Compassionate Conservatism? We Are All In This Together? Just look at it.”
Ms Morgan replied: “I don’t know because you haven’t shown me this chart before I have sat here on live TV. I don’t know how this takes account like the raising of the income tax threshold or the national living wage.”
To which Mr Davis responded, as if explaining to a small child: “It actually doesn’t look very different if you put the living wage in.”
Ms Morgan had had enough. “I don’t sit there and study the IFS figures, but I look at the figures produced by the Treasury,” she said. And added, once more, her key fact: “The top 1% pay 28% of income tax”.
From the Left and some on the Right, reaction on Twitter was mainly negative, to put it mildly.
Some had their own graphs to make the subject easier.
Some just admired the theatre of it all.
Some felt it was a 'Chloe Smith' moment.
While others just felt the Education Secretary needed a quick tutorial in graph-reading.