UK election: Conservatives confused on taxes, Labour closing in

UK Prime Minister Theresa May (Reuters)
UK Prime Minister Theresa May (Reuters)

A minister in British Prime Minister Theresa May's government says income tax would not rise for higher earners in an apparent new promise to voters less than a week before an election that opinion polls show is much closer than previously thought.

The comments on Saturday (local time) from Defence Minister Michael Fallon, which Ms May sought to play down, looked like the latest mixed message from the ruling Conservatives who have seen their once commanding lead in opinion polls fall.

Mr Fallon told the UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper that the Conservative Party would not hike the top rate of income tax, striking a contrast with the main opposition Labour Party.

But Ms May, asked by reporters whether Mr Fallon's comments meant the Conservatives were shifting their position on tax, said there had been no change.

Ms May called the snap election in April when opinion polls were showing she had a lead of more than 20 points over Labour under the leadership of left-winger Jeremy Corbyn.

The prime minister wanted a commanding wing ahead of entering Brexit negotiations with the EU.

Jeremy Corbyn stands in front of people hold large red signs, which read: 'For the many, not the few.'
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, campaigns in Manchester (Reuters)

A poll showed on Saturday that the Conservatives were ahead of Labour by six percentage points, down from 10 points a week ago and much smaller than a lead of 19 points at the start of the election campaign.

However the Opinium poll for the Observer newspaper suggested Ms May was still set for a substantial parliamentary majority.

Another poll published earlier this week said the Conservatives' lead was down to three points.

The decline in support for the Conservatives coincided with a surprise announcement by Ms May last month that she would make elderly people pay more for their social care, despite concerns that it could undermine support among ageing, wealthy homeowners - a core source of Conservative vote.

Last month Ms May left open the possibility of higher income taxes by promising only that there would be no rises in value-added tax and dropping a 2015 Conservative pledge not to raise income tax, national insurance contributions or VAT.