The Vince Factor: economic credibility and the Lib Dems

by Stephen Tall on April 7, 2010

Cross-posted from the International Business Times.

It’s a question that’s been playing on the minds of Lib Dems for some time: how can the party translate the popularity of the party’s deputy leader and shadow chancellor Vince Cable into votes for the Liberal Democrats?

Of Vince’s popularity there is no doubt. Two recent opinion polls (one for PoliticsHome.com, the other by Ipsos Mori) showed him well in front of his Labour and Tory rivals for the Treasury post, Alastair Darling and George Osborne.

And it’s not just members of the public. Just this week, a group of non-Lib Dem business people launched a new website with the self-explanatory title, ‘In Vince Cable We Trust’, with the stated aim of making Vince Cable the next Chancellor of the Exchequer.

To top it all, this week’s Channel 4 Ask the Chancellors debate saw Vince emerge as the almost universally acknowledged victor, lauded by media pundits and voters alike. Indeed, the Tories were so disconcerted by the popular reaction to Vince’s appearance on the programme that they lodged three separate complaints with the producers during the course of the show!

And yet, and yet … Just because Vince is the politician most trusted to be this country’s Chancellor, it does not automatically follow that the Lib Dems are the party most trusted to run the British economy. A recent ComRes poll for BBC2’s The Daily Politics showed the party was most trusted with the national finances by 13% of the public, compared with 33% for Labour and 27% for the Tories.

From an historical perspective, this isn’t such a bad showing for the Lib Dems. And there may be a limit to what the party can do to change voters’ views until we have a chance to be in government. After all, when you haven’t been in power for over 80 years, you can only appeal to people’s trust in what might be, not their experience of what has been. And for the moment, more people are sticking with the ‘has beens’ of Labour and Tories, or ‘Labservatives’ as a subversive Lib Dem campaign launched this week labelled them.

But what the party can do – and what you will be hearing about much more over the next month leading up to the general election – is at least make sure everyone knows what are the Lib Dems’ policies to improve the public finances, our taxes, jobs and business.

After all, it is only the Lib Dems who are promising to cut income tax for everyone by lifting the personal allowance to £10,000, cutting the average working age person’s income tax bill by £700, and meaning that 3.6 million individuals will no longer have to pay any income tax at all.

Equally importantly, the party has spelled out how it will fund this: by closing tax loopholes and cutting reliefs that benefit the wealthiest, as well as placing a 1% levy on the value of properties over £2m. Agree or disagree with the policy, but at least it’s an honest choice: a redistribution of tax that will be of greatest benefit to the poorest in society.

This I do know, and Vince’s popularity proves it: the public respects politicians who are prepared to level with them, who refuse to pretend – a fiction peddled by the ‘Labservatives’ – that everyone’s taxes can be cut and public spending maintained.

If there’s one sure-fire way to earn economic credibility it’s by squaring with the voters. And that’s precisely what the Lib Dems intend to do during the coming general election campaign.