"Liberal Democrats – a party ahead of the pack" (And Other Media Stories)

by Stephen Tall on April 21, 2009

Time was the announcement of Lib Dem taxation policies would have been almost entirely ignored. And, if they were covered, the focus would have been exclusively on the ‘U-turn’ element of yesterday’s announcement that the party has dropped its less-than-a-year-old pledge to cut income tax by 4p in favour of raising the personal tax allowance threshold to £10,000.

But that time was Before Vince. Today, there is much positive coverage (in the former broadsheets anyway) of the Lib Dems’ tax-cutting pledge. Let’s start with The Independent’s glowing editorial:

… the Liberal Democrats have been ahead of the pack in policy terms too. When they proposed tax cuts to revitalise the recession-stricken economy last September few took them seriously. Since then, Barack Obama and Gordon Brown have both discovered the merits of the injecting spending power into the economy.
And now the party could be about to repeat the trick. The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, yesterday unveiled his economic team’s proposals to raise the income tax threshold to £10,000, cutting the taxes for those on low and middle incomes by £700 a year. …
The Liberal Democrats also seem to be ahead of the pack in their suggestions for spending cuts in the longer term to fill the structural deficit in the public finances left by the profound shrinkage of Britain’s financial services industry. The Liberal Democrats have identified public sector pensions, the expansion of university intake, “big ticket” military spending and the Child Trust Fund as areas where savings ought to be sought. By contrast, the other parties have barely begun to think about where the axe will need to fall when this immediate crisis is over.
Of course, the Liberal Democrats have more space than Labour or the Conservatives to make radical proposals on taxation and spending. But it has to be said that they have used their relative freedom thoughtfully. They show that there is a place in politics for boldness and original thinking. And who knows: it may even pay significant electoral dividends.

Then there’s The Guardian’s coverage of Vince’s pre-budget PoliticsHome.com briefing to the site’s opinion-formers:

In the past no one ever took much notice of Lib Dem pre-budget briefings. But today the Cowley Street boardroom was full for almost an hour as journalists listened to Cable, which tells you a lot about the reputation he has now acquired as the sage of the recession.

Even the Torygraph reports the story pretty straight: Poorest workers to pay £700 less tax a year under Lib Dems.

One day’s fair-ish coverage in the ‘quality’ press does not an election victory make (of course). But Vince’s unparalleled economic credibility with the public and media gives the party an opportunity to drive this positive message home.

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I wish Nick had made a better job of explaining our position on Radio 4 World-at-one News, he let Martha Kearney trip him up (again) and did not have all the facts.
Worse is the risk the interview would then be recycled as clips on all the other BBC outlets.

by simonsez on April 21, 2009 at 10:30 am. Reply #

I like the new policy, but I’d like it even more if I hadn’t just printed 15,000+ letters mentioning our 4p pledge.

by mark on April 21, 2009 at 10:51 am. Reply #

There seems to be more clarity this time. But is this policy for keeps or will it change again a few months’ time?

The trouble with last summer’s tax policy (R.I.P.) – quite apart from the fact that the conference debate took place the same day that Lehman Brothers crashed in flames – is that it confused four distinct issues:

1. The need to lower (or eliminate) income tax for the least well off and shift the burden to the richest. (A redistributive policy on which the party is broadly agreed).

2. The need to cut out waste. (Again, a policy on which the party is broadly agreed. There are plenty of deserving targets for cuts – big chunks of the New Labour project such as ID cards and big databases. A pity these weren’t identified and tallied before the cuts were promised).

3. The use of fiscal measures as one means of tackling the financial crisis. (Here, the party broadly supports a Keynesian response to the recession).

4. The deeper, long-term question about the desirable size of government and public expenditure. (An ideological question over which there is disagreement in the party. Regardless of one’s views, this fundamental question deserves some thought and is not something you resolve in a press release).

Tax policy is a complex issue. Last year’s debacle demonstrated that we need coherent policy rather than superficial positioning.

We can’t keep changing the line every few months to grab a headline, otherwise the party’s loss will be much greater than 15,000+ redundant leaflets.

by Simon Titley on April 21, 2009 at 12:12 pm. Reply #

“We can’t keep changing the line every few months to grab a headline …”

Indeed. It’s not as though these are minor policy adjustments, either. They are fundamental changes.

The other difficulty is that yet more changes are likely to be forced on the party in the near future.

The government is going to seek £15bn savings in public expenditure by cutting waste, which makes it that much harder for Lib Dems to propose £20bn of savings without spelling out in precise detail where they are going to come from.

And if the chancellor cuts higher-rate tax relief on pension contributions tomorrow, then within 2 days of being announced, this new tax package will no longer be fiscally neutral.

by Anonymous1 on April 21, 2009 at 2:41 pm. Reply #

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