The Dissenter's Voice

The ocassional comments, opinions, rambling and rants of a liberal dissenter in New Labour's Britain

Monday, September 18, 2006

Looking to the future? - Part 1

Party conference season is here again and the LibDems are meeting in Brighton this week for their annual seaside jamboree. On the agenda are 2 key policy papers that will set the tone of the party's campaigning for the rest of this Parliament & the next general election.

One the tax paper is a bold an imaginative attempt to recast the party's tired tax & spend thinking. The other what was billed as a overarching policy review has turned into a damp squib that missees the chance to think new thoughts and instead settles for a tweaking of old policy positions.

There's been much coverage of the details of the tax paper, with its 'green switch' - cutting income tax while raising environmental taxation. The paper is far from perfect but it represents the party's first serious attempt to fund its liberal policies without stinging the middle class and therefore guaranteeing it will never have a chance to implement them.

Argument has mostly concentrated on the proposal to scrap the party's longstanding commitment to introducing a new 50% wealth tax on incomes over £100,000pa. This has been met with howls of dismay from some of those on the party's so called 'left'. Indeed the party's Science Spokesman, Dr Evan Harris, reprising his regular role as a poor man's Tony Benn, is proposing an amendment - keeping the tax and raising the threshold to £150,000.

This amendment represents a low point in the already threadbare intellectual arsenal deployed by the defenders of high taxation. The main argument used is that the party has to show that it remains committed to the cause of social justice. Well, of course no self respecting liberal could argue with that. However the amendment is completely redundant in achieving that end. It doesn't add anything to policy,it wouldn't raise significant amounts of extra funds (certainly not more than could be achieved by a reform & extension of Capital Gains Tax for instance), it's passage would drown out all coverage of the 'geen switch', it is simply being proposed so that we use our tax policy as a signal about what sort of party we are.

Well, it certainly would do that at least, but what sort of signal would it send? Not one about redistribution because tax paper's proposals are already more redistributive than the wealth tax policy, not one about the environment as it is obviously less environmentally friendly than the current proposals and clearly not one about finding new ideas for new challenges as this is a throw back to the failed formuals of the 1970s.

No the passage of this amendment would signal that the Lib Dems are simply not serious about ever attaining the power we need in order to implement our principles. This amendment is gesture politics of the worst sort, because it would be emntirely counter productive, by passing it it would make it less likely that we can win the seats we need in order to ever actually to anything in the first place.

Passing it would send a signal that we are more concerned with parading our consciences even though it means that we would be far less likely to ever have a chance to act on them.

Wealth is not just income but assets as well, and that a progessive 21st Century liberal party should be concerned about how those assts are used. The tax system should reflect that - the tax paper begins that progress the amendment tries to reverse it. I'll be in the conference hall on Tuesday voting for the LibDems to look to the future not the past and I hope the majority of other delegates will be too.


Blogger David said...

Charles - a fabulous News24 performance BTW - this blog deserves the largest possible audience because it provides the perfect antidote to the madness of Brighton.

3:51 PM  

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