Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The defrocking of Saint Vincent

James Graham has a brain the size of Asia and spends every waking moment thinking deeply and judiciously about politics (well not really, he also thinks about comics and things). He does the thinking so we don't have to.

I thoroughly recommend his latest offering: Our Vince: from Fred Astaire to Mr Bean? It is such a brilliant post that I struggle to find words to sufficiently describe its brilliance.

Most LibDem party members don't have degrees in politics. They spend most of their time doing a thing called "work" and "life" and only pick up the odd mention of party conference through the filter of the media and life events like blocked drains.

Well, this year I am one of those party members so described above.

As James set outs, our economic policy has been jerked about so much recently that, on the ground, I don't have a clue what it is. Do we want to cut taxes? Or increase taxes? Cut spending? Cut waste? Do we want a local income tax or have we finally gone all Tony Vickers and gone for Land Value taxation?

Or is our economic policy now basically: "What Vince says" ?

Friends come up to me and say "Vince Cable was great on Sky News". "Great" I reply - "I hope he was able to give you an idea of our latest policies, because I haven't got a clue".

Scrap scrapping tuition fees? Don't be silly. OK delay the scrappage a bit but it really is monstrous to ditch such a totemic policy. It removes one of the main reasons for having a Liberal Democrat party in the first place.

A mansion tax? Well, we get caned whenever we mention higher taxes for high earners. But how on earth can we seriously espouse a mansion tax when we are still, as I understand it (though I haven't checked for Vince's latest pronouncement on Sky News this morning) advocating local income tax? The problem with mixing the two is that one contradicts the other in terms of principle. Income tax is a progressive tax based on ability to pay (based on income). A mansion tax is a tax based on the property you happen to be fortunate enough to be living in.

I have to make a confession here. I have a problem with Land Value Taxation. I haven't a clue what it is. Whenever I have tried to understand it, my eyes have glazed over, I have felt the will to live seeping from my being and I have been overwhelmed with the urge to slit my wrists. But I now know that is vaguely associated with the Mansion tax. Great. Except didn't we ditch the rates system because it meant that little old ladies without much income but living in a big house got unfairly caned? Isn't the whole point of the local income tax to get around that problem - so that you only tax those with the ability to pay at the relevant level?

And before anyone asks how we are going to get the deficit down and pay for scrapping tuition fees let me say this: sooner or later politicians are going to have to do the fair and sensible thing and stick income tax up substantially. We can't wiggle around trying to avoid the issue any longer.

Overall, I don't have a problem having certain policies as long as there is evidence that they have been properly thought out and discussed thoroughly at all levels, and are sufficiently sensible and within the party's framework of beliefs to be accepted by members. I certainly don't think the scrap scrapping tuition fees announcement meets that criteria and I don't think the Mansion tax meets it either. We appear to have far too much leading from the front going on here. OK, Paddy did that quite a lot. But there was a point when, even with him, he looked around over his shoulder and found that he wasn't being blindly followed any longer.

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