Tim Farron shows how dropping a policy can be a sign of strength

by Stephen Tall on June 22, 2015

Farron 1A month ago I endorsed Tim Farron for Lib Dem leader – but with a couple of caveats. For example:

That doesn’t mean I agree with Tim all the time. I don’t and I won’t. He’s more of a tax-and-spender than I’d be. For example, he supports the 50p top-rate of income tax whereas I think it’s an inconsequential economic irrelevance — a symbolic totem that raises very little revenue but limits the political space to tackle unearned wealth.

This was what he told me when I interviewed him in 2013: “Cutting the top-rate was a stupid thing to do. It probably raised up to £3bn a year. We should pledge to restore the 50p rate at the next election.”

However, Tim has changed his mind since then — at any rate, according to an interview in the International Business Times:

… Farron, who is up against Norman Lamb in the contest to replace Clegg as the party’s leader, has told IBTimes UK he would not support the reintroduction of the 50p rate.

“All taxation is temporary and to have any kind of ideological fixation on a percentage is just very foolish,” he said.

The 45-year-old explained he understood why the last government came down from 50p but argued it “sent out an unfortunate message”.

“As we were trying to encourage the country to make savings and tackle the appalling financial circumstance we inherited, it didn’t send out the best message,” Farron added.

Instead of resurrecting the threshold, the leadership contender said he wants to “shift the balance of taxation away from income and on to wealth”.

One of the things that impresses me about Tim is his willingness to change his mind and be quite open that he’s done so. It’s a risky political strategy, and one that can be over-done (do it too often and you look flaky or opportunistic, or both).

Not only do I think Tim is right on this issue, it highlights two more general points.

First, that (despite the accusation often levelled against him) Tim is willing to say things which won’t necessarily go down well with some of his natural constituency on the party’s liberal-left for whom the 50p rate has long been a populist yardstick by which to measure someone’s progressive credentials.

Secondly, Tim has a lot more political space in which to move than does Norman. Put it this way, Tim coming out in opposition to the 50p rate aggravates a handful of his hard-core supporters who’ll vote for him anyway; if Norman said the 50p rate “didn’t send out the best message” he’d face a whole lot more opposition from those already suspicious of his Coalition voting record. Because of the political capital he’s banked in the past five years, Tim is in a much better position to stake out fresh policy positions without any baggage. For a party starting at Ground Zero that’s going to come in handy.

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