by Stephen Tall on November 30, 2009
Ever since the Lib Dems shadow chancellor Vince Cable launched his proposed Mansion Tax on an unsuspecting world in September, there has been a suspicion that neighbouring Richmond Lib Dem MP Susan Kramer – who faces a tough battle against trustafarian Tory Zac Goldsmith – was, how shall we put this?, a little less than enamoured of the proposal that those living in houses worth £1m would be taxed more.
In a BBC interview, Susan declined the opportunity to support the tax as originally proposed, while the Hounslow Chronicle summed it up bluntly, and I suspect accurately: It’s Kramer versus Cable over tax.
So I was interested to note this approving tweet from @SusanKramer today:
That Vince’s original proposal has been modified is a simple fact: instead of a 0.5% annual levy on the value of all homes valued over £1m, there will be a 1% annual levy on all homes over £2m. Not only does this increase the revenue generated compared with the original proposal, but will be seen as fairer by those living in parts of the south where there are many more houses which pass the £1m threshold, but which have have been family homes for decades and are now occupied by asset-rich, cash-poor pensioners.
In short, the new policy is better than the old. And why is it better? Because the Lib Dems have a democratic approach to policy-making which means our shadow cabinet can propose but do not control party policy. Vince’s original proposal generated much debate and discussion in the party, with two-thirds of LDV-reading party members supporting the mansion tax, and three-quarters of the British public.
However, many were acutely aware of its potential to hit hard Lib Dem MPs defending marginal seats in the south. I’ve no doubt there was a fair deal of lobbying in the last couple of months to arrive at a policy which delivers the key principle of our new tax proposals – tax-cuts targeted at the least well-off in society – without driving currently Lib Dem seats into the hands of the Tories. This, it seems to me, has now been achieved. And that it’s been achieved is thanks to our policy-making process.
With all that said, I think we should also acknowledge Vince Cable’s contribution to ensuring the Mansion Tax has become one of the most visible policy brands the party now has. True, he’d have done well to inform colleagues of his proposal before launching it at conference … BUT it created the impact it did precisely because it was a big announcement by the party’s shadow chancellor. I very much doubt it would have gained the media attention it has done if everything had been done precisely by the policy-making rule-book.
It is, of course, right that the party has democractic processes in place to ensure the policies we fight the election on have the agreement of the Parliamentary and wider party. But it is also right that we cut our shadow cabinet some slack when the opportunity presents itself for the party to generate some positive publicity.