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Monday, November 21, 2011

How the Lib Dems continue to restrain Tory extremism

Yesterday's Observer contains more details of the sort of discussions going on within the UK Coalition, both publicly and in private, that demonstrates the way the Liberal Democrats continue to restrain the Conservatives in Government.

What is important about these divisions, as the paper terms them, is that they give the lie to claims that the Government are acting in an ideological way so as to pursue the interests of a privileged elite. There may well be one or two with that agenda, but all the evidence points to a pragmatic government working to maintain a social justice agenda, whilst enabling the poorest in our society to improve their lives.

The issues that the Observer highlights are the continuing controversy over the 50p tax rate, trade union law and benefits policy. They say that Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury, challenged a claim by Francis Maude, the Conservative Cabinet Office minister, on possible changes to trade union laws by dismissing the idea of linking the current strikes to a potential threshold on trade union strike ballots.

Danny Alexander also underlined Liberal Democrat unease about George Osborne's plans to reduce the welfare bill next year by changing the way payments are calculated. The chancellor is uneasy about using the current method – uprating payments in line with the previous September's rate of inflation – because it reached a high of 5.2%:

Alexander told Sky News: "We have made some very difficult decisions over the past 18 months to make savings in the welfare system … They haven't been arbitrary one-off changes. Of course, in looking at this uprating issue, which as you say we are looking at, we need to make sure that we handle it in that same way. I am not going to get into what we are going to be announcing in ten days' time but those discussions are still going on but both Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are committed to not balancing the books off the backs of the poor and it is very important that we stick to that principle."

Lib Dem sources said Alexander would be pressing hard in the quad this week for the status quo to be upheld in uprating benefits, but that the party may have to give ground. "We don't have a majority Lib Dem government," one source said.

Alexander also challenged the assertion by the chancellor in his budget in March that the 50p top rate of tax would be a "temporary measure".

Osborne announced in the budget that he had commissioned HM Revenue & Customs to see how much revenue the 50p rate raises, amid Conservative suspicions that it acts as a deterrent to business.

Alexander challenged this view, saying the focus should be on cutting tax for the least well-off. "We'll see what the numbers show. I suspect it will show that it is bringing in money for the government. But we'll have to wait and see.

"Insofar as we have the capacity to cut taxes, and that capacity is very, very limited because of the difficult circumstances I was talking about earlier, I think the focus should be on low- and middle-income earners, that's why we have set out our first income tax priority is to ensure no one earning £10,000 pays any income tax at all."

As it said in the article, the Liberal Democrats are not in a majority and cannot get their way all the time, however they are fighting hard for what is right and I have confidence that our Ministers will work in the best interests of the country to keep the government's focus on those most in need of government support.
"...but that the party may have to give ground. "We don't have a majority Lib Dem government," one source said."

There's the bolt-hole right there. I am preparing myself for Lib Dem surrender based firmly on past experience.
There may be a compromise, because that is how government works, but it wont be a surrender and nor has it been in the past.
.... and yet ether is no coalition agreement forcing Nick Clegg to bak a relaxation of the EU working time directive. So why do it?
Liberal Democrats were critical of the WTD even before the general election.
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