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Sunday, September 17, 2006

High noon

As I am at the Liberal Democrat Conference then I suppose that I should write about it. This is not to say that there are more interesting subjects out there, obviously there are not, it is just that I hate doing what is predictable.

I have already been asked to contribute to the New Statesman Conference blog and will be sending my 600 words on Monday night before I head back to Cardiff for the new Welsh Assembly term. My highlight therefore will be the Liberal Democrat blogger of the year awards tonight where I fully expect Jonathan Calder or Stephen Tall to walk off with the prize.

I have just been watching Sir Menzies Campbell being interviewed by Andrew Marr and was pleased to see him play down the idea of a confrontation between the leadership and activists over the party's tax policy. This is not high noon he told us and Menzies Campbell is no Gary Cooper. Thank God!

I was quite taken by Andrew Rawnsley's analysis in this morning's Observer, which in many ways was spot on. Its main weakness was the emphasis on the Party Leader's speech as the main test of Sir Menzies' leadership:

'The conference and the public don't need to be told again that he has a distinguished demeanour,' says one senior Lib Dem who supported Sir Menzies for the leadership. 'They want to hear about his passions.' The leader's speech is not 'just one speech'. It is the biggest opportunity that a Lib Dem leader gets to grab the nation by the ear, to project his personality and to evangelise for his party's vision of a better Britain. It is a chance to engage the county that only comes around once a year. Sir Menzies cannot afford to muff it.

He likes to think of himself as a statesman. He needs to remember that a leader also has to be a salesman.

It is a nice line and we will, of course, all be grateful for a leadership-defining speech, full of passion and gravitas, that puts the party right up there in contention for government. However, this is a marathon, not a sprint. We know that Ming is a passionate, principled politician and we know that he can convey that to an audience. We are far more relaxed about his performance on Thursday. What we are looking for is a sustained repetition of that passion and principle between now and the General Election, for the promises that were made during the leadership election to be fulfilled. I do not believe that we will be disappointed.

The key importance of this Conference for the Liberal Democrats lies in these two paragraphs:

We are in the paradoxical position that we know a lot more about what to expect from a Lib Dem government than we do about a government led by David Cameron or Gordon Brown. Sir Menzies proposes to make large reductions in income tax for those on low or middling salaries, which could make the Lib Dems popular with a lot of people. They propose higher taxes on capital gains and second homes and less generous pension reliefs. That is not going to be so attractive to the more affluent. Boldly going where the two other parties so far fear to tread, the Lib Dems would use higher taxes on air travel, larger cars and other polluters to finance their spending plans.

Here the Lib Dems are performing their traditional role of being ahead of the curve. I have a hunch that the central argument about tax at the next election will not be a repeat of previous battles about whether the overall tax take should be higher or lower. It will be much more a debate about what and who should be taxed. Labour and the Tories will probably try to make their sums add up by placing more emphasis on green taxes. The Lib Dems will have got there first.

We are back where we are most confortable, setting the agenda and leading from the front. The other parties need to play catch-up with us.
Interesting cultural reference point I thought - Gary Cooper and High Noon. I'm 30 and have never seen High Noon and only vaguely know who Gary Cooper is. You can't imagine Cameron or Blair saying that can you?
That is because Blair and Cameron do not have Ming's gravitas and cultural hinterland.

Actually, the Gary Cooper reference was me and I am significantly younger than Ming.
No, it was Ming
In the context of this post, it was me.
I have to admit that the Lib dem spin machine is truly awesome. Either that or journalists are really bone idle and believe any old rubbish they are fed.

Lib dem tax proposals consist of massive tax cuts for the wealthy (£70 a week if you are on £50k per annum) and a tiny cut of £7.50 a week for those on low income (at best) from which they have to pay increased fuel bills.

To get the kind of unquestioning press coverage that the lIb dems receieve on this is incredible.
Mark, the reason the media have not picked up on your criticisms is that they are nonsense.

Firstly, the policy has not even been approved yet and there is an amendment that will make them even more redistributive.

Secondly, the proposals of the Tax Commission take two million low earners out of income tax and they switch taxation onto polluters and unearned wealth. Working with pounds as you have fails to recognise the high proportion of tax paid by low earners. Looked at in this way even with the cut for those earning more that 50,000 pounds (not a huge wage when taken on an average basis across the UK)the smaller cut for lower rate taxpayers amounts to a higher gain as a proportion of their income.

These are progressive proposals that will help in tackling poverty whilst benefitting the environment.
I'm intrigued... Peter Black seems able to write endless pieces for his blog but none of the ones I've read in the past couple of days refer to anything he's done for his constituents
Interesting comments on the Lib Dems new green pro-environment taxes. Can you square this with the Lib Dem councillors in Wrexham voting for the continued dumping of Murkyside's waste in the Hafod quarry, Johnstown?
To be fair, the Lib Dems were joined by Labour and Tory cllrs - all three big parties are unable to link the fine words with practical action to challenge the landfill lobby.
It is not the purpose of this blog to reflect the huge amount of constituency work that I do. If you want to know more about that you should look at my main website or www.southwaleslibdems.org.uk.

Iam out of the loop on the wrexham decision but as I understand it Councillors were voting on a planning decision which has a judicial process attached to it. In these circumstances it would be illegal to vote on party lines. From what i heard there was also strong legal advice that effectively boxed Councillors in. That is a shame as I have a lot of sympathy with residents and am fighting a similar battle in Swansea to stop a tipping resuming in a disused quarry.
Did you spot possibly the first ever protest at a Lib Dem conference earlier? Hundreds of football supporters angry that a Lib Dem council is trying to kill their club? I'd be interested to know your thoughts. More info: http://www.seagullsparty.org
I saw thw demonstration. It is not the first at a Liberal Democrat Conference and it will not be the last. I concluded that it was essentially a local issue.
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