What the papers say

by Stephen Tall on June 9, 2006

Enough of thegrauniad: they’re on their own today anyway – the other papers are full of praise for Ming Campbell’s speech yesterday.

I was especially please to see the Financial Times‘s warm endorsement of the Lib Dem approach:

… it is good to see tax policy go beyond the tired question of whether tax should go up or down. The Liberal Democrats deserve praise for this. Even better, the rough shape of the new policy makes good sense.

The Financial Times strongly supports the principle of environmental taxes. It is far better to raise revenue by taxing activities that do harm, such as burning fuel, than taxing hard work. The Liberal Democrats propose higher taxes on air travel, and taxes based on the emissions of aircraft rather than on the number of passengers. That makes sense. …

The main messages of simplification and green taxation are welcome. So is emphasis on the best way to raise taxes, rather than how high they should be. The Liberal Democrats have not worked out the answers. They have asked the right questions.

But the FT was not alone. The Times also welcomed the move:

Ming is finding his feet. An assured performance on Wednesday [at PMQs] was followed yesterday with the most significant move of his tenure. Sir Menzies talked tax, and instead of the ambiguous waffling of the Conservatives, he talked about cutting taxes. …

Change was “overdue, necessary and urgent” if the party wanted to be credible. Under his leadership, Liberal Democrats needed to be “bolder, more ambitious and more thoughtful”: no more the luxury of apparently principled but impractical platforms. Government should “regulate less, legislate less and tax less”.

This is robust medicine for a party that, realistically in the past four elections, has not had to concern itself with the prospect of actually enacting generous promises. It is still vital if Sir Menzies and the Lib Dems are to present themselves as plausible partners in power come next polling day. …

While the Tories’ own recent baggage persuades Mr Cameron that it is hard for him to promise tax cuts and be taken seriously, Sir Menzies has pounced. Taking three million low-paid workers and pensioners out of tax altogether, and rescuing a further million dragged into the top rate of income tax, are eye-catching moves.

Even the Torygraph found it in themselves to say well done:

… the Lib Dems were against the war from the first, and this entitles Sir Menzies to comment on subsequent developments with a freedom and straightforwardness that are denied to Mr Cameron.

On Wednesday, he embarrassed Tony Blair by asking him at Prime Minister’s Questions whether Britain had done anything to aid and abet the American policy of extraordinary rendition, a subject on which many Tories also feel deep unease. As usual, Mr Blair was unable to give anything like a proper answer.

Sir Menzies also regretted, in a grim aside, how often the Prime Minister has to start these Wednesday sessions by sending condolences to the family and friends of British soldiers who have been killed in the past week. …

It is fashionable to scoff at Sir Menzies because he is not young and hip and groovy, but … he could yet turn out to be the most astute Liberal leader for generations.

The Indy also made nice, but of course it’s pointless linking to their firewalled website. Even The Sun managed to report it accurately, so there’s hope for thegrauniad yet.