Monday, 28 September 2009

Vince Vindicated

I see that in his Daily Mail column Vince has gone on the offensive over is 'mansion tax'. I also note that in the poll on Lib Dem voice approval for the policy is racing ahead of those loud -but unrepresentative -voices that have attacked it.

There are two issues here; firstly the principle of how such policy initiative should emerge and secondly the policy itself.

Let us begin with how ideas like this should emerge. Now I am a veteran of the policy committee in the days of the Alliance and before when as the standing committee many a bloody battle was fought. I suppose that the most public ones were around the terms of the Lib/Lab pact and later over defence and the Euro bomb.

I came to believe that the party had a right to a view and to express it. I also accepted that the parliamentary party and individual parliamentarians had the same rights. Now clearly this can soon turn into a major media debacle if some restraint is not shown. But it is clear that there is a difference between a political party having a policy and campaigning for it and those elected to public office having to take a view about its priority in any given circumstances.

In government it is clear that the part has no role in vetoing or vetting policy-although I was impressed to learn at the Lib History group meeting on the balance of power that the Scottish Policy committee had a formal role in approving the coalition deal done between Wallace and Dewar.

So in relation to the pact the Policy Committee came out firmly in favour of PR for European, the strengthening of civil liberties and various over things which Steel ignored-in my view wrongly.

In relation to the Euro Bomb-bomb was always pronounced the way Peter Sellars would have done when playing Inspector Clouseau- the Party Assembly took a stand. That was a game of bluff and brink man ship initiated by Owen who well understood the what he was doing. Like MacDonald before him he had joined a coalition with the clear intention of destroying his partner.

So I have no problem with Vince floating an idea. I realise that there are a lot of bruised egos out there who thought they ought to be consulted. I suspect quite a few of them would have been happy to launch their own initiative without widespread consultation. All this must to some significant extent based on trust. If you get the mood of the party wrong that will be damaging and a good leader will understand that. Jo Grimond who regularly tops polls as the best Liberal Leader was not adverse to confronting the party with a policy announcement.

And so to the mansion tax itself. Well in my estimation it hits the spot. I say that not because Birkdale has very few £1m houses (I realise that if many of them were transported to SW London or Belgravia they would be) . Since 1979 the rich have faired well under Blair/Thatcher /Brown . A lot of the increased 'wealth' is stored in the unearned increase of land values upon which £1m houses sit. Unlike many of their other assets the super-rich will find it hard to get their accountants to hide such properties.

A Liberal Chancellor once before tried to tax the land of the wealthy and how they squealed. Their friends in the media raged against the socialist inequity of raising taxes to establish old age pensions.

Today Cable is suggesting that the money raised will contribute toward funding taking people who have an income of less than £10k out of income tax altogether. Rather like the land tax proposals of Lloyd George in 1909 the message is political as well as fiscal. The money it will raise will not fund the whole tax reform programme, but it does give a democratic appeal to what is otherwise going be a difficult period of public sector restraint and general tax increases.

A hundred years on we still sing the Land Song demanding that the rich pay their taxes. Tax may not have become entirely voluntary for the super rich but those who use offshore residence to avoid UK tax or use all the other loop hole Vince has identified know that a mansion tax will not be easily avoided.

Personally I am happy to campaign to reduce the tax burden of many of the old age pensioners in my ward and to take out of tax the folk on minimum wage many of whom work in the holiday, care and catering industries in our town.

Finally here is a video from Bournemouth taken at the Glee Club of the singing of The Land

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