LDV post-conference members’ survey (4): what you thought of Make It Happen's tax-cuts

by Stephen Tall on September 26, 2008

Over the weekend, Lib Dem Voice emailed the members of our private forum (open to all Lib Dem members) inviting them to take part in a survey, conducted via Liberty Research, asking a number of questions arising from last week’s party conference in Bournemouth. Many thanks to the 187 of you who completed it; we’re publishing the results this week on LDV.

The big issue of this year’s Bournemouth conference was undoubtedly the party’s Make It Happen policy document, and specifically it’s tax-cutting message. So LDV asked: The party conference voted by a wide margin to endorse Make it Happen, including the line: “If there’s money to spare [after meeting party policy commitments], we won’t simply spend it. We’re looking for ways to cut Britain’s overall tax burden, so ordinary families have more of their money to help themselves.” This was opposed by some in the party, who said the Lib Dems should not place tax cuts ahead of public spending. Did you agree with the conference decision to endorse Make it Happen’s tax-cutting approach?

Here’s what you said:

> Yes – 61.9%
> No – 29.1%
> Don’t know / no opinion – 4.2%
> Other (please state) – 4.8%

A convincing vote, then, in favour of the leadership’s tax-cutting position, though a little less overwhelmingly so than the actual party conference vote (which was nearer to 3:1). Comments, as you might expect, divided into three categories: those passionately in favour of the new emphasis on tax-cuts those passionately against; and those either inbetween, or who thought the differences between the two positions had been rather exaggerated. Here’s a handful:

“Yes, public services cost money. But Labour’s doubled taxes in the last ten years, and everyone knows a lot of what they’ve done’s a fuck-up. If we can’t be at least 3% different to Labour, what are we all in politics for?”
“In fact, I don’t think there was a lot of difference between the two positions, a mere £5bn a year. It was the symbolism that was important.”
“I was quite happy with the fifty pence rate in 2005, but I think that the changes proposed are also a good way to deliver our objectives.”
“Old fashioned radical Liberal, not happy with the economic liberal slant”
“Your gloss is incorrect. We were concerned about the loss of help specifically to those who are too poor to pay income tax. Can two ex-Directors of Policy (Duncan Brack and Richard Grayson) really be wrong?”
“sensible, Liberal and popular (rare that any policy can tick all 3 of those boxes!)”
“Wrong policy, and defintely wrong time. Dosen’t add up either numerically or intellectually.”
“The best reasons to vote Lib Dem at the moment”

Part of the controversy of Make It Happen’s tax-cuts has been generated by the fact that the party does not, as yet, have firm, public proposals detailing how the £20 billion reduction in public spending to fund policy commitments and tax-cuts will be found. So the LDV survey next asked: As yet, the party has not spelled out the precise measures which will enable the party to cut public expenditure by £20 billion, and this has attracted some criticism within the Lib Dems and among sections of the media. Which of these statements comes closest to your view:

Here’s what you told us:

> It is not necessary or possible up to 18 months before a general election to spell out how this £20bn will be cut. It is therefore perfectly responsible for the party to state clearly its direction of travel – that it will reduce taxes and cut public expenditure – and to publish details before an election. – 47.6%

> The party needs to spell out far more precisely how it intends to find £20bn of spending cuts. If it does not the Lib Dems cannot expect to be taken seriously by the media or by the voters, and will deserve to be attacked as irresponsible by our political opponents. – 47.6%

> Don’t know / no opinion – 4.8%

That’s right – an exact tie! Here’s a little of what you said:

“I do think it is reasonable to say that we think we can find £20 billion without knowing exactly where it comes from. But I don’t think we should be pinning ourselves to reducing the overall tax burden until we have a better idea how much our key pledges will cost first.”
“I can’t believe Vince Cable hasn’t worked this out, so why can’t we see some worked examples, as with a Budget. What would happen if a General Election were to be called next week?”
“We can only really know what the true state of the economy is if and when Vince gets his hands on the books.”
“Not sensible or possible to be specific at this distance from a GE. But I hope that when we come to manifesto stage we will be really CLEAR.”
“”If £20bn is a definite amount, then it should be accompanied by precise details. If not, then the sloppy thinking which presents that round figure does not reflect well on the party.”
“A lot could happen to the public finances in 18 months and making concrete proposals now risks having to change them nearer an election and having the change branded a “u-turn” by the media.”
“The aspiration is a more important signal than the detail.”
“The economy is so volatile that we need to leave ourselves some room for manoeuvre. If we set out every dot and comma of policy now, we would only be overtaken by events, and good ideas would be nicked by the other parties.”

LDV post-conference members’ survey (1): why you did – and didn’t – attend the Lib Dem conference.
LDV post-conference members’ survey (2): what you thought of the media coverage of the Lib Dem conference
LDV post-conference members’ survey (3): who you will vote for in the Lib Dem presidential race

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No comments

I’d like those NOT in favour of the tax cuts in the current dire economic situation to come around one of my local estates and explain their reasons to residents.

You will only need a single ticket.

by Martin Land on September 26, 2008 at 8:42 am. Reply #

“A convincing vote, then, in favour of the leadership’s tax-cutting position, though a little less overwhelmingly so than the actual party conference vote (which was nearer to 3:1).”

But that comparison is quite wrong.

The conference voted nearly unanimously for “Make it Happen”.

The contentious issue, of course was the amendment about the relative priority of tax cuts, reducing inequality and tackling global warming.

Why not poll your members on whether or not they agree with the amendment?

by Clegg's Candid Friend on September 26, 2008 at 10:14 am. Reply #

Erm, CCF – did you actually read the first question?

by Stephen Tall on September 26, 2008 at 11:07 am. Reply #

Stephen Tall

Of course I read it.

What I’m suggesting is that you ask your members whether or not they agreed with the amendment.

If that’s the question you were trying to ask, I’m afraid you made an abysmal job of it.

by Clegg's Candid Friend on September 26, 2008 at 11:48 am. Reply #

Another c.£1.5bn of annual spending “commitments”

“Sir Menzies’ paper contains an estimate from the Royal United Services Institute which suggests that the Ministry of Defence’s procurement plans for new equipment are now underfunded by up to £15bn over a 10-year period.”

I’m becoming less convinced of how robust these plans actually are.

And Martin – we’re already talking of 4p income tax cuts for the people your referring to without any of the MiH overall cuts.

by Hywel Morgan on September 26, 2008 at 12:27 pm. Reply #

Martin – that’s not the same thing.

It is quite possible to be in favour of the tax cuts for low & middle income households the party agreed last year but to be against going further than that this year.

by Liberal Neil on September 26, 2008 at 2:51 pm. Reply #

CCF, when I answered the first question, I had no doubt that I was being asked about the amendment. What do you think I thought I was being asked?

by Paul Griffiths on September 26, 2008 at 7:21 pm. Reply #

“I had no doubt that I was being asked about the amendment”

No doubt people who had followed the debate closely and were prepared to read between the lines could work it out. But remember that most people wouldn’t even have known what the wording of the amendment was unless they were provided with it.

If Stephen had wanted to ask a direct and fair question, why not simply quote the amendment and ask whether people agreed with it?

As it is, the question could scarcely be more loaded. In effect, it conveys, “Nick Clegg wants to cut your taxes if there is money left over after we have met our commitments. Some people disagree with this. Do you endorse Nick Clegg’s approach?”

Of course, that’s par for the course, considering the way the amendment was misrepresented by its opponents during the debate.

by Clegg's Candid Friend on September 26, 2008 at 7:44 pm. Reply #

CCF, you seem to be saying that I’m better informed and more astute than most of the LDV forum members. Thanks!

by Paul Griffiths on September 26, 2008 at 8:03 pm. Reply #

The wording of the question clearly read to me too as being about the amendment.

by Steve on September 26, 2008 at 10:08 pm. Reply #

Martin, you are quite right about the way people often react to a dire situation. They clutch at straws. They want to believe the impossible. They fall for the promises of charlatans.

As you point out, their mood can also become dangerously unstable. No doubt the menace implied by your comment “You will only need a single ticket” was intentional. Whether the comment was wise is a different question.

Adolf Hitler understood the politics of desperation all too well. Those not in favour of Hitler’s populist remedies for 1930s Germany’s anxieties were also given, shall we say, short shrift.

Of course, a simple promise to give everybody some free money (in the depths of a recession!) is morally a million miles away from Hitler’s promise to commit mass murder. However, the phrase “desperate policies for desperate times” does seem to apply to both cases. It does not make me proud of my continuing membership of this Party.

by David Allen on September 28, 2008 at 1:57 am. Reply #

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