This blog is a political blog from a left-of-centre perspective. This is not specifically a party political blog, but does have a Lib Dem orientation. Constructive enagement with radical liberals, social democrats / democratic socialists and greens is particularly welcomed.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Westminster Hour and Tax

Yesterday along with three other Torbay Lib Dem party colleagues I took part in a pre-conference discussion for the BBC Radio 4 programme 'Westminster Hour'. Now I haven't done a radio interview for about 10 years and even that was in a community worker role. Prior to that I did do some media work as a councillor but virtually 'retired' from active party politics for most of the last decade.

It was so much easier being an armchair critic, but my opposition to the prospect of having an elected executive mayor in Torbay was the catalyst for action. The loss of both the referendum on the mayoralty and the Tories winning the position has compelled me to become active in politics again.

Anway, so I was pretty nervous and probably spoke way too much. Generally questions were straight forward and centred upon Ming's performance as leader, Charles Kennedy, political positioning of the party and, yes, tax. Amusingly the interviewer told me afterwards he forgot to ask about the so-called Orange Book Mark 2 - can't remember the title. Is it generally available yet ?

I have to say whilst I think we batted away most of the questions OK I guess we were, in part, a little 'off message' on tax. Whilst I think the consensual view was that we are open-minded and persuadable, I don't think any of us is fully on-board yet in respect of the new proposals from the Tax Commission.

I am open-minded and persuadable but :

a) the new policy seems more complex and difficult to 'sell' on the doorstep
b) the Tax Commission proposals are being spun heavily by the party hierarchy. I feel like we are being railroaded into adopting this new policy. I thought it was the other parties at their conferences that played follow-my-leader. Conference is sovereign. Persuade rather than coerce me !
c) elements of the new plans are ripe to be misrepresented by our opponents.
d) the 50p top rate is transparently progressive, clear and popular.

Liberal Legend ( says :

"Were you not paying attention during the General Election? Did you not see the campaigning style of our opponents? Don't you think that having a top rate of 50% puts off aspiring 20 and 30 something professionals....." and on Evan Harris " ...I had hoped he would have seen sense over the taxation proposals..."

Well firstly what arrogance about Evan seeing sense ! His view represents a notable tranche of party opinion and it is right that we have a full debate at conference. And, the writer above living in the SE of England, might find perspectives different here in the West Country. We've sadly too few aspiring professionals and entrepreneurs in range of the 50% top rate tax ! Rather more are on fixed incomes (retirement / benefits) and overwhelmingly closer to the minimum wage than even the national average wage ! Furthermore, as for the 'Chelsea Tractors' how do we distinguish between those that need them for their livelihoods in rural areas and those in urban areas that buy them as a gas guzzling status symbol ? Moreover, outside of metropolitan areas, punishing motorists whilst public transport is often poor, is a potential vote loser.

Don't get me wrong I do support the green agenda. Likewise there seems to be some real merit it the tax proposals being suggested for adoption. I hope conference will enable me to feel we might be replacing a good policy with an even better and allegedly more redistributive one.

Rant over !

Oh, if I / we come across terribly be nice, think of it as a 'learning curve' I'm on - hopefully one not too steep !


Blogger Tristan said...

50p is unpopular amongst most people I've met.
Its also economically stupid.

We can easily sell two planks of our new tax proposals:
Tax damaging behaviour (ie green taxes)
Remove the poor from taxation all together

Both simple, easy to understand and clear. Benefits are obvious and they don't label us as a 'tax and spend' party (which is damaging to the party, a lot of people I know who agree with most LibDem policy have that perception of us and wouldn't vote on that basis).

2:15 pm BST

Blogger Liberal Legend said...

Hi Barrie,

Thanks for your posts on my blog and yes, I was being deliberately provocative to get a response from people. You will note that I put a question mark at the end of the heading as well.

BTW, although I currently live in the S.E. of England I have lived and campaigned in the West Midlands, North West and North East of England in my time. My comments were related to those that were thrown at us in Durham last year.

If you read my blog you will find that I am no leadership stooge (my words) but on this one I strongly agree with Vince Cable and co. I have also never advocated that conference soveignty is removed. That's one of our attractive features.

It's just that I am not finding Evan's arguments convincing and sense that we are going to get hit hard in Tory areas. Now, that might not bother you but if you think about the majorities of some of our good MPs over the Tories then the Tax Commission proposals look pretty good and yes, I believe that they can be sold (there is a draft Focus to "sell" them being written as we speak I understand).

Kind regards,


5:09 pm BST


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