Lib Dem tax policy: the media’s starting to listen, so now will the public get to hear about it?

by Stephen Tall on November 12, 2008

Earlier today, Lib Dem Voice published this extract from Nick Clegg’s speech to the Royal Commonwealth Society summarising the Lib Dems’ policy of tax cuts for low- and middle-income households:

Real tax cuts – big, permanent and fair – for the people who need them. Funded by making the wealthy pay their fair share, ending the special exemptions and loopholes they’ve profited from for so long. Liberal Democrats would reduce basic rate income tax by 4p in the pound. That would give nearly £1000 back to a worker on £30,000 a year. Funded by four changes.

One: ending upper rate pensions relief – so the wealthy don’t get extra pension help from the tax man. Two: taxing capital gains at the same rates as income. So bankers and executives can’t get away with paying 18% tax while their cleaners pay 31%. Three: green taxes to protect our environment. And four: tackling the scandal of corporate tax avoidance – a subject I’ll be addressing in a speech tomorrow.

This is an opportunity for a new, fair tax system.

The section has also been reproduced by the Spectator’s Coffee House blog, with Peter Hoskin adding the following approving commentary:

there’s a directness to their tax-cutting message that’s quite admirable. Let’s lower taxes for low and middle-income earners and let’s do it without imposing a debt burden on their children, they say – and rightly so. What’s more, they’ve been pushing this line for long enough that – rightly or wrongly – it doesn’t smack of opportunistic posturing as the recession bites. What Clegg is saying tonight isn’t substantially different from what Ming Campbell proposed in July last year. Now how’s that for consistency, Mr Brown?

Now you might not think it’s all that surprising that the right-wing Spectator should be applauding tax-cuts, regardless of which party is proposing them. What is surprising, though, is to see the consistency of the Lib Dems’ message applauded by the Spectator. Maybe the media is beginning to wake up to the fact that there’s more to the Lib Dems’ response to the economic downturn than Vince Cable’s legendary sagacity: the wider membership, let’s not forget, has endorsed the party’s economic approach at its conferences.

It’s interesting to note that this isn’t simply a case of the Lib Dems feeling hard done by when it comes to media reporting: politicians and commentators across the political spectrum also think the media is principally responsible for the party’s failure to benefit in the polls, according to the findings of PoliticsHome’s PH100 panel of ‘experts and insiders’. As Andrew Rawnsley writes:

Here’s a conundrum that has to be troubling Nick Clegg and his MPs. The Lib Dems were ahead of the game on tax reductions to deal with the economic crisis, beating Labour and the Tories to it by advocating a 4p cut in income tax. Vince Cable is the most popular politician in Britain and, according to our tracker, the most highly rated by other politicians. The Lib Dems didn’t get entangled in the Deripaska Affair, unlike Peter Mandelson and George Osborne. So why we ask, as they must ask themselves, are they not doing better in the opinion polls? …

The media is the culprit, according to roughly a third of our insiders and experts on the PHI100. Thirty four per cent of the panel reckon the Lib Dems are suffering because the media hasn’t paid them as much attention as it does to Labour and the Tories. This explanation is especially popular with Lib Dem panellists. Many of the media panellists also think this is the reason as do quite a lot of the politicians on the panel.

The least popular explanation, incidentally, was that it was the party’s own fault: just 14% of the PH100 believed the party’s failure to benefit was because the leadership had failed to get its message across. Almost one-quarter (23%) – and their number included me – reckoned it was because times of crisis tend to benefit the Government at the expense of opposition parties.

All of which strikes me as interesting, and (without being complacent) reassuring. Lib Dems, especially those of us who inhabit the blogosphere, are prone to be ultra-critical, leaping on the mistakes we perceive the party leadership is making, more rarely praising the stand-out achievements with which we agree.

And there’s been a fair degree of self-flagellation in recent weeks that the Lib Dem poll ratings have dropped a notch or two during the current economic crisis: ‘Vince is seen as a pundit, not a Lib Dem’, ‘Nick’s not been clear enough’ etc.

I’m not suggesting there are no criticisms to be made. But sometimes, y’know, the party doesn’t get the immediate credit it deserves for being ahead of the curve, and that’s not always the fault of any individual within the party. Anti-Lib Dem media bias and external factors beyond our control are at least as likely reasons.

And if the message is getting through even to the media that they’ve not given the Lib Dems a fair crack of the whip, perhaps there’s now more of a chance that the public will get to hear the party’s tax proposals. And the more they hear from us, the more likely it is they’ll vote for us.