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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ditching Promises?

Personally, I have no problem with the party's new shiny policy paper 'Make it Happen'. On sale in all good bookshops (well Liberal Democrat Image anyway) for £4. Ordinary Conference Representatives have had to make do with a pdf.

It does not contain much that is new. In fact its value is the way that it seeks to bring together existing policy into a coherent whole. There is still a fair bit of work to go before we achieve that but we are getting there.

Taken at face value, even the tax cutting agenda it embraces does not give me much problem. That is because these tax changes are designed to be redistributive and environmentally friendly, reducing the tax burden on lower earners and taxing polluters. It is right that if a party is able to demonstrate that it can meet its public spending objectives and have some money left over then we should use that cash to lower the overall tax burden on hard-pressed individuals. The proof of the policy is in the costings and those are still to come. They will be in place by the General Election when the electorate can judge the policy on its own merits.

In the meantime we need to sort out another problem around the document, one that has been identified by others, that is how we communicate the messages in 'Make it Happen'. It must be said that the leadership has not been a shining beacon of consistency in this task.

And then just as we thought that Monday afternoon's debate on 'Make it Happen' was going to be the controversial centre of Conference debate, another parliamentarian comes along and tries to bounce the party into a u-turn that has not been discussed, is not on the Conference Agenda and which is guaranteed to send representatives and activists into a frenzy of indignation.

Word on the street is that Vince Cable was misquoted or taken out of context. Apparently, shortly after saying we are not going to make entering the Euro zone a priority he indicated that things might different if the economy changes. That does not lessen the impact of what he said one iota. It was calculated to cause a splash and it has done so.

As we enter the run-up to the European Elections we need to find ways to distinguish ourselves from the other parties so as to improve on our performance last time. The consensus amongst many activists is that the best way to do that is to re-emphasise our pro-European credentials and specifically target those who believe, as we do, that a reformed and refocussed Europe is a good thing.

Vince Cable's little coup de grace has achieved the opposite. By moving us away from Euro-zone entry he has thrown us back into the grey soup already occupied by the other parties. He is attempting to rebrand us as a Euro-sceptic party and that is unacceptable. What is more, the other parties do it better because they mean it whereas we do not.

There were many other ways that Vince could have got his message across without shifting the party's position so fundamentally. He could for example have said that the time is not right to have a referendum on the Euro but that it remained the party's primary objective. Instead he chose to undermine a fundamental principle held by the party and its predecessors for decades.

The debate on Europe on Tuesday does not refer to the the Euro at all, but I predict that it will become a focal point for more Euro-friendly members in this party to fight back. This party still belongs to its members and will resist being dictated to on such a fundamental matter by any Parliamentarian, even one as widely respected as Vince Cable.
Your tax cuts are predidated on 20 billion pounds worth of public expenditure cuts Peter. Like the Tory's before you your party talks about all this arising from improved efficiency and there is no evidence of this scale of efficiency ever being achieved. It will mean less teachers nurses and doctors in order to raise expenditure on consumer goods. That is what happens everytime taxes are cut; have a look at the evidence. With the demographic changes facing British society public expenditure will have to rise not reduce and to give the impression that 20,000 million pounds can be lopped off with no material effect is nothing other than deceitful. It is just a thinly veiled attempt to outflank the Tories to hang onto your marginals in the 'mondeo man' areas of the UK.
It is a nice try Patriot but unfortunately your assumptions do not fit the facts. For a start the Party has said that key expenditure on health and education will not be affected. That will mean that the impact on the Assembly block grant will be minimal.

We will publish the details nearer the time of the next election and you will be able to judge them for yourself then, however as an indication of what is possible Vince Cable has already identified that we can raise £5bn from closing tax loopholes for the super-rich. There are many other possibilities too.

Personally, I could happily cut the expenditure on the Trident missile replacement programme but that is unlikely. Wait and see bit dont start making assumptions that cannot be substantiated by the facts.
How many billions has the war in Iraq and Afganistan cost the Tax payers of this country; in addition to it's loss of young men and women.
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