LDV members’ survey, August 2008 (2): what you think of Make it Happen’s tax-cutting agenda

by Stephen Tall on August 5, 2008

All this week, Lib Dem Voice is publishing the results of our first ever survey of party members. Some 133 of you accessed the survey via our private members’ forum. We don’t pretend it’s a representative sample, but that doesn’t mean it’s without value either. We hope you, LDV’s readers, find it interesting. Perhaps the wider party will, too. This is the first in what we intend to be a monthly survey – if you have ideas for future survey questions, please email me at stephen@libdemvoice.org.

The second set of questions asked what you think of the Lib Dems’ Make it Happen proposals, and in particular the pledge that the Lib Dems will fight the next election on a tax-cutting manifesto.

LDV asked: In July Nick Clegg launched the Lib Dems’ Make it Happen policy proposal document which will be debated at the party’s federal conference in Bournemouth in September. The surprise announcement was the party’s commitment to reduce the overall level of taxation, something which David Cameron has refused so far to do. Do you think this is the right thing to do?

* Yes – the tax burden is now too high. The Lib Dems are right to want to reduce it. 63%
* No – the current tax level is essential in paying for vital public services. 37%

Here are a selection of your comments:

• I think that we need to give people some relief. I would not say, however, that we should be a small state party as a point of ideology.
• Reducing the level of taxation of lower incomes is smart. The moment that the public were ready to pay for improved services has passed. Let’s cut spending that is not needed i.e. ID cards, expensive weaponry etc
• Neither option fully reflects my view. Appropriate redistribution via the tax system is what is needed.
• we have an image as a high-tax party which we need to address
• As a Lib Dem I personally will NOT repeat NOT vote for any Party proposing higher taxes in view of the epic waste of resources by Govt
• Reducing tax on low-income earners is a sure-fire vote winner. Don’t be afraid to increase it on the rich – there is too much inequality and people know it.
• We can’t spend money we don’t have. If the economy is shrinking, so must public spending.
• We will have to work hard at making it credible, and making it clear it is both redistributive and liberal.
• The burden is too high for those on low to middle incomes, and emphasis needs to be more on taxation of pollution and unearned gains
• Liberalism is not about providing public services, it is about freedom. Public services may temporarily serve that interest, but they are a means not an end. Today public services restrict freedom more than they enhance it, especially for the poorest.
• There’s nothing more liberal than giving people more control over their lives by allowing them to keep more of their hard-earned cash.
• promising tax cuts on hypothetical savings is intellectually bankrupt -shame on us for indulging in this sport.
• but the key thing is taking low income people out of paying tax altogether. This is a socially just move.
• I strongly agree with reducing the tax burden on low and average paid people but yet to be convinced that we know where to find enough savings to reduce the overall tax burden AND continue to fund key pledges.
• But i want to see us talking about making sure people who need support/benefits do actually get it. We mustn’t follow the constant Labour/Tory attacks on the vulnerable eg ‘work for dole’ etc
• Stupid question that doesn’t allow nuanced answers.
• Happy for redistribution of tax burden, and wish it could be marketed as such. Utterly alienated by constant reference to “hard-working families” – did I join the Tories by accident?
• If anything – raise them!

LDV then asked: And do you think Make it Happen’s tax-cuts pledge is a tactically smart thing to promise, regardless of whether you agree with the policy?

* Yes – the party is right to promise tax cuts as it makes the party distinctive from the Tories, and might help secure Lib Dem seats in southern England. 62%
* No – we should seek to replace Labour as a progressive left-of-centre party committed to state-funded public services, focusing on winning Labour seats. 38%

This was the question which attracted most criticism, to some extent justifiably, on the grounds that it’s not a question of either/or. Here’s some of what you said:

• I don’t think it will make any difference to LD-Con battleground seats where we need to be clearly different from Cons
• Yes- but we should think of principle before tactics. Being committed to state funding does not endorse supporting waste
• And in northern England. Everyone feels overtaxed.
• See Glasgow East: massively state funded, Massively poor. Low social mobility.
• I don’t agree with either of these statements. I don’t accept that it is a tactical mistake in Labour-held seats. I don’t think it’s a ‘right wing’ policy.
• I find the options here a somewhat false choice. We can still be progressive and generally “left-of-centre” while supporting tax cuts for the poorest
• We offer tax cuts that can appeal to progressives, so this could help us against Labour too
• Politics is, at the minute, dominated by economics. Offering people the chance to pay less tax should work well in the current climate
• bad question. Our tax policies are far more redistributive than anything the Labour party has proposed
• Yes, and we should replace Labour as the party committed to state-funded public services
• I think we can propose tax cuts and be attractive to Labour voters. The tax burden on the poor is the worst
• I really think yes and no. Tactically I’d prefer we’d tried to push the fairer distribution of the tax burden more – even though reducing the overall level was the right thing to do.
• There’s a vacuum in the liberal left at the moment, and it is that ground we should be filling. Behaving like Yellow Tories is a betrayal.

LDV members’ survey, August 2008 (1): the Lib Dems and by-elections

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I support the reduction of the inequalities of outcomes.
However if it is true that we are about to enter a recession in which rising unemployemt and falling profits means that the tax receipts become less and public spending on benefits increases, then reducing the overall tax burden looks like an irresponsible pledge to make. Are we still committed to the recomendations of the Stern report that says we need to spend 1% of GDP to tackle global warming, or risk spending >10% later?
I hope we are not getting like the Tories where the Green commission says one thing and the economic commission says another and waters it down. I do not see how the sums add up.

by Geoffrey Payne on August 5, 2008 at 8:10 am. Reply #

I think you’ll find those tax cuts that will supposedly set the Lib Dems apart from the other parties may well be funded by tax increases on the rich, which would not go down too well with a lot of voters.


by Letters From A Tory on August 5, 2008 at 8:11 am. Reply #

@LFAT, quite right, one of the ways of funding all this is by removing the *extra* privilege a higher-rate taxpayer gets on pension contributions. I.e. everyone gets to contribute to their pension tax free, but only the higher rate taxpayers also get the equivalent amount of the contribution added on to their basic rate band, so that they pay more tax at 20% rather than 40%.

This is a disgracefully unjust tax privilege and needs axing.

by Alix on August 5, 2008 at 8:22 am. Reply #

To ‘Letters from a Tory’ surely the only reason taxing the rich is unpopular is becasue the wealthy editors and columinsts in newspapers have succeded in duping most people into believing that for example a 50p higher rate would effect them. When in reality the medium income is just £22,000 and most people regard salaries of £30,000 and upwards as high.

by Simon on August 5, 2008 at 11:30 am. Reply #

Exactly. The papers did the same with inheritance tax – millions of people in paroxysms of outrage about a tax they haven’t a chance in hell of actually having to pay.

Still, I suppose LFAT is still right insofar as we can’t beat the newspapers and there’s a real danger their version of reality will prevail.

But actually I think more of a danger, from a tactical point of view, will be that they can hit us with the Tories’ being “sensible” in not promising any tax cuts. For that reason, I could wish we were putting more emphasis on the actual redistribution between taxpayers (which is our immediate goal) than on the overall reduction of the tax take from everybody (which is our long term goal).

The Tories are currently relying on the fact that nobody really understands the difference between the two ideas, and therefore can get away with not doing either, but I’d bet it’s a nuance that will come out fairly quickly once the election machine starts rolling.

by Alix on August 5, 2008 at 11:53 am. Reply #

We started life as a left of centre party and we shouldn’t abandon that – we should be shouting it from the rafters that Labour has. We should make them ashamed that the gap between rich and poor has increased under Labour and we should make it clear that our tax cuts are to make our tax system fairer and help the poorest in our society – they’re not just to appease wavering tory voters in the South.

– Our leadership need to grow some balls.

by Letterman on August 5, 2008 at 12:53 pm. Reply #

I’m not at all disagreeing with you, Letterman, but how does one, er, implement said balls once one has grown them? I mean, your line is pretty much exactly what Clegg et al do say whenever they open their mouths.

But if it (a) doesn’t get widely reported and amplified by the media and/or (b) isn’t believed because the wavering-tory-voter explanation is preferred, what can we do? The entire politically aware population and most of the commentariat are still clinging like frightened children to the right wing=tax cuts, left wing=tax raises idea. It’s an enormous drain on our position. There is something to be cracked here, certainly, but I would contend it’s not a lack of effort from the leadership.

by Alix on August 5, 2008 at 1:01 pm. Reply #

Mind you, as someone pointed out in the survey, the Cleggster could lose all the hard-working families crap and I wouldn’t shed too many tears over it.

by Alix on August 5, 2008 at 1:03 pm. Reply #

One the liberals didnt start out as a left of centre party we merged with a left of centre party so we actually have two wings, we dont all believe in the same thing…..rather than taxing the rich more who yes they do have more money but one, who are we to take away money from people if they worked for it and also you wouldnt be saying raise my taxes if u were that rich so really yor discriminating against the rich……also although the gap has got bigger indeed, the poor have got richer and there was an interesting study by some american researches out the week b4 last (but i cnt remember wot it was called) that shows that wen u take into account spending habits of the americans (whose distribution has got worse than ours) into distribution accounts the gap falls massively as the rich spend more on fings like organic veg and ferraris which we may want but we dont really need………….what happend to it being liberal as seeing tax as aneccessary burden, we do need it, and we should certainly help as much as possible those who struggle in society but the answer to life isnt to stop letting the rich have money

…..we should however close loopholes in the law so people are actually made to pay taxes, they dont just escape them

by D on August 5, 2008 at 2:34 pm. Reply #

D, um, I can barely read your comment due to the lack of paragraphs, so I’m only going to respond to your first point.

The old Liberal party which we inherit many traditions from did have a significant elemtn of ‘right wing’ members—the overwhelming majority of these left during the various internecine splits (as variously Liberal Unionists, National Liberals, Coalition Liberals, etc) and for the most part merged into the modern Conservative and Unionist party which still has a significant liberal/libertarian tradition, although they are frequently swamped by the moralising Tories that make up the majority of loud activists.

Most of the current Lib Dem membership joined significantly after the the merger with the SDP, and I personally feel a distinction of ‘two wings’ based around the old traditions is completely outdated, not least because many of the old left wing Liberals (and thos of the Radical tradition) ended up within the Labour party.

Those I know on the supposed ‘right’ of the party are frequently simply strong liberals with whom I can have respectful conversations in which we can normally find common ground, albeit from different starting points. But compared to the overal political spectrum, I’d class those on our right as being in the centre on a traditional left/right economics scale.

But given such a scale is increasingly meaningless and ill-defined, I’ll give my definition. A left wing position is to reduce taxation on the least well off and fund it by increasing the take from the wealthiest and removing wasteful expenditure, especially that which props up business.

This l’il Millite liberal socialist is very happy with what he’s read of the Make It Happen proposals as they look nicely left wing to me, and will definitely play well if explained properly in the area where I now live.

by MatGB on August 5, 2008 at 3:10 pm. Reply #

Couldn’t agree more. Come back to the forums!

by Simon on August 5, 2008 at 3:46 pm. Reply #

I don’t actually see anything un-leftwing about saying people on low and middle incomes should pay less tax. I can also see economic benefits – if we want to take control of wage inflation and want to encourage employment surely cutting taxes on low and middle incomes is the best thing we can do?

If Clegg was calling for £20bn cuts in spending, all of which will be passed on in the form of tax credits, I might be a bit more wary. But point in fact he isn’t suggesting that. Most of that £20bn is to be spent on other priorities.

by James Graham on August 5, 2008 at 3:51 pm. Reply #

MatGB, so: if no left-wing dogma, no right-wing dogma, no centrist dogma, then flexible decentralisation!

by Oranjepan on August 5, 2008 at 4:22 pm. Reply #

Orangeythingy: Yup, absolutely—decentralised, level the tax and investment system to ensure eaual access to the markets, tax the lowest earners the least and put a specific tax on wealth itself (specifically unearned income) then watch as the cooperatives and partnerships flourish…

Simon: Keep forgetting to login, switched computer too many times and got out of the habit, looks like I’m actually missing some good stuff now.

by MatGB on August 5, 2008 at 8:19 pm. Reply #

would the cooperatives and partnerships not get taxed to MatGB?
Also sorry about the lack of paragraphs, im not very good at writing blogs and stuff, ir to be fair with my english:(
i agree totally that we should tax the poorest less, infact, we should just try and wipe them out of the tax bands totally, which alot could be paid for by cutting Browns highly complex, bureaucratic tax credits, which reduce incentives to work in alot of cases…..i was just trying to say that the rich already get taxed alot, especially when you take into account vat and things like that and although we may like to complain about rich people being rich as were not, do they no0t have a right to be fair…….
also can i just point out that i have nothing against cooperatives, etc, they work well alot of the time but surely its unliberal to favour them over any other form of business?

by D on August 6, 2008 at 11:23 am. Reply #

There is no tax cutting agenda in Make it Happen (except in very vague aspirational terms).

There is a tax shifting agenda – but the overall tax take would remain the same.

Some (apparently) Liberal Democrats have got very excited about some pretty vague statements

by Hywel Morgan on August 6, 2008 at 11:41 am. Reply #

Can’t say I was too impressed by Make It Happen:


I thought Save The Last Dance was a lot better.

by Rayyan on August 31, 2008 at 9:13 am. Reply #

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