The Hung Parliament Scenario

If you ever decide to take the plunge and become an approved parliamentary candidate, you will be subjected to a ‘Paxman test’. This is where you are interviewed by a ‘journalist’ who is determined to write a headline at your expense. He will try to badger you into saying something, while you politely hold your ground. I’m not trying to put anyone off here – I actually enjoyed the experience. But there is a serious point too. At the next General Election, no Lib Dem will be safe from the ‘who would you do a deal with?’ question. Over on the Lib Dem Voice forum there is an online poll and discussion on this very subject. The poll asks who we should form a coalition with in the event of a hung parliament – and gives the option of Labour, Tories or neither. None of these answers is correct!

To get at the truth, ask yourself why you became a Lib Dem in the first place? Everyone will have his or her own answer but on some level it is because we believe in our policies! We believe in a ‘free, fair and open society’ (and everything else in the preamble to our constitution) and that our policies are designed to advance towards that freer, fairer society. After the votes have been counted (under our grossly unfair system) we have a duty to the millions who have voted for us. They voted for us because, despite thinking we were unlikely to gain a majority, the believed our policies were those which most closely resembled their own views.

Now it is fairly obvious that we cannot come down on the side of either Labour or the Tories. This was, with respect, the most gross miscalculation of the Ashdown years. We were seen as ‘close to Labour’. If you wanted Labour in 1997, you voted for them. If you didn’t want Labour, you voted Tory (since the Lib Dems were in bed with Labour). What reason did you give anyone to vote for us? Well, the answer was you could vote Lib Dem if you didn’t mind a Labour/Lib Dem coalition, I suppose. But to show the slightest preference to working with either major party will alienate us from a large chunk of potential supporters either way.

But I believe the ‘neither’ option is wrong too. Let us suppose we did refuse to work with either Labour or the Tories once the votes had been counted. Minority governments tend to be ineffective, hamstrung and ultimately, short-lived. We would likely condemn the country to another election sooner rather than later, and we would be adjudged to have failed when presented with the opportunity to enact some of our policies.

So the correct answer should be, must be ‘either’. In the event of a hung parliament, we have a duty to both our supporters and to the country. To our supporters, we have a duty to enact some of the measures we have long campaigned for – and to the country, we have a duty to support a strong, stable and democratic government. We must never again fall into the trap of trying to prejudge which party we could work with, but we must accept that we could be called upon to work with either.

Let’s face it, we’ve spent years campaigning for proportional representation. Well PR leads to coalition governments and consensus politics. We’d better be ready for it!

Anyone who fancies gatecrashing the Labour Conference

… might have their work cut out. Even their councillors have trouble getting passes. Perhaps Bob Piper would have been better off not ticking the box that reads ‘are you or have you ever been a socialist?’. The control freaks at NuLab wouldn’t give Iain Dale a pass either. What is plain is that they are paranoid about stage-managing the conference to paper over the yawning chasms that exist between the Blair Acolytes that currently run our country and long-suffering rank and file of the Labour Party. They have been all but excluded from policy-making and decision-making and relegated to being called upon to delivering leaflets at election time. Maybe next spring we should throw open our doors to Labour Party members at our conference.

They might enjoy seeing democracy in action.

A tale of two conferences

A combination of factors has forced me to watch this conference through the eyes of the media. Last autumn, in Blackpool, I was struck by the contrast between the conference I experienced, and the one portrayed by the media. Readers will remember that I bemoaned the media obsession with trying (unsuccessfully) to uncover dissatisfaction with the leadership among the party faithful. So as I watch this one from afar, I can’t help remembering this as I read all of the negative press coverage. It frankly matters not one jot that Ming doesn’t know his Arctic Monkeys from his elbow (although not remembering how many parliamentary by elections we have won was a tad unfortunate). I think the Green Tax and 50p Tax battles do matter. The 50p amendment is being seen as a big test of Ming’s authority. In truth, it is a battle about how delegates feel our party should be understood by the public. It is about whether justice needs to be ‘seen to be done’ in terms of fairer taxation. I think the rebels are mistaken. Gordon Brown has heaped layers of complication onto the unfortunate tax payer. He has been accused of ‘stealth-taxation’ – and it is a fair criticism. We are all paying more tax than ever – but it’s hard for us to be sure of this, because the tax we pay is fragmented across a raft of different measures which most of us can barely grasp. I believe that income tax needs no more than two rates. Anything more just makes the system overly complex, unwieldy, and difficult to calculate. There is always an argument for taxing irresponsible or undesirable behaviour. That is why the Liberal Democrats are pursuing a ‘Green’ tax agenda – targetting environmentally harmful behaviour as a source of revenue. But what we do must be transparent and easily understood by the electorate.

There are pitfalls which must be avoided too. Taxing overly fuel-hungry vehicles might seem a no-brainer. But what happens if we all dump the Chelsea tractors en masse? Will there be a revenue shortfall? A bigger problem with using the tax system to modify individual behaviour is that it allows the well off to continue with their old behaviour because they can afford it. I have always been a strong supporter of congestion charging. There is no doubt that London has seen a fall in congestion – and the revenue has been used to ensure plenty of cheap buses are available. But the wealthy still drive in London (and enjoy the freer-flowing traffic) – so the charge does discriminate against the less well off.

Business is different from the individual. A business will always look at the economics. I contend that it may be more successful to persuade businesses to be environmentally responsible by modifying the tax regime than individuals. But we are right to pursue a green tax agenda. It is ludicrous, for example, that the cheapest way for me to travel to Leeds on business is to drive my car. Second cheapest is to fly and the train (which I should be using) is the most expensive. These anomalies can and should be addressed by the tax system – after all, business travel is usually payed for by the employer, and employers care about costs!

By all means have a green tax policy – I believe that we should. But make it as transparent as possible, and don’t expect it to be a cure-all for environmentally irresponsible behaviour. The rebels should allow the 50p rate to pass into history. It is no longer relevant. If we want to make the tax system fairer – we could start by repealing some of the Gordon Brown stealth taxes that we all pay (regardless of income). A great example is the Insurance Premium Tax. Taking out insurance is responsible (and in many cases compulsory) so what on earth are we trying to prove by taxing it? It was just an easy target to raise revenue – and yet we all pay that, regardless of our means.

Is Johnson the Blairite successor?

With a hat-tip to Dizzy Thinks, the vomit-inducing pro-Blair site keepingthefaith.org.uk (the real one, not the spoof) was registered by David Taylor (not the MP – see comments). Guess what other domain name he recently registered: johnson4leader.org.uk! So, is Johnson now being groomed as Blair’s successor? (If you know how to use ‘WHOIS’, check it out for yourself).
No wonder Gordon’s mob is in such a tizz.