David Cameron poaches Lib Dem tax-cuts idea. (But that’s not half as annoying as the Tory ideas my party’s trying to claim.)

It’s amazing how much more popular with David Cameron the Lib Dems’ flagship policy of taking the low-paid out of income tax is these days… Just today he celebrated delivering an income tax cut for 25 million people and lifting 2.4 million low earners out of tax:

It’s all a bit of a contrast from the first 2010 televised leaders’ debate, when David Cameron argued the policy was unaffordable… unlike the Tories’ own proposals for raising the inheritance tax threshold to £1m or tax breaks for married couples, of course.

Right, that’s my party loyalist bit over. Now just a little bit of straight-talking…

I can understand why the party is so keen to stop the Tories claiming credit for raising the income tax threshold. It’s a good idea, one the party has pushed on and off since the 1990s. The polls say it is the Coalition’s single most popular policy, with 89% approval.

But while it might be a bit cheeky of the Tories to try and cloak themselves in the ‘tax fairness for hard-working people’ banner the Lib Dems hoisted first, my party can hardly claim to have clean hands here.

Just as the Tories have stolen some of our ideas, so we are trying to take credit for some of theirs. And the annoying thing is the Tories’ ideas aren’t remotely liberal — yet still we claim them as Lib Dem wins within Coalition!

Let’s take two prime examples from the Lib Dems’ A Record of Delivery, published by the party last week:

1) “We have helped cut the cost of living, saving families up to £600 in Council Tax”. True, the Coalition has done this. The Conservative policy of freezing Council Tax has indeed delivered a tax-cut. The fact that this is central government telling local government what level of taxes it can raise — trouncing localism in a way neither Margaret Thatcher nor Tony Blair would’ve dared — means I won’t take much pride in this record of delivery.

2) “We have cut immigration by a third”. I’ve two problems with this claim. First, the Coalition Government hasn’t cut immigration by a third: what has been cut by a third is net immigration (the difference between those who emigrate and those who immigrate). Secondly, and more importantly, trying to cut net immigration is a bad idea. It’s a bad idea that’s a Tory idea, not even a Coalition idea — as Vince Cable’s made clear before — and certainly shouldn’t be claimed as a liberal idea!

So, yes, it’s annoying that David Cameron wants to claim a Lib Dem idea that he once attacked as a Tory win now. But, for the record, 1) that’s how coalition government works, and 2) it’s not half as annoying as seeing Lib Dems claim Tory ideas as ours when we should be campaigning against them.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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16 Comments

  • Saying something is “unaffordable” is a way of avoiding debate when the person doesn’t think it should be prioritised over other spending but doesn’t want to actually get into a comparison of priorrities.

  • I’m pretty much full square behind what you’ve said Stephen,that we are even linking ourselves to the point 3) rankles with me. The only thing I would add, and it is far from a new point, is that we need to be pushing that the income tax raise was from the LD manifesto even more than we already are. We really need to repeat it till we are blue (or should I say gold?) in the face about it, whilst shutting up about the illiberal things – who will want to campaign on them?

    Feel this even more strongly this evening as I came home to a leaflet from the Tory PPC saying how the policy had been delivered by a Conservative led government. This is politics so that was bound to happen, but this issue is our ground to lose – even more so for me as my MP is an LD. Just as every Labour MP talks about the need for jobs and growth everytime they are near a microphone, we need LD MPs saying the Tories rubbished the idea, was in our manifestio and that LDs made sure it happened.

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Aug '13 - 10:42pm

    Well done Stephen – now that didn’t hurt did it. Don’t forget other so-called ‘coalition’ (ie: not in the Coalition Agreement) policies which are dubious and yet defended by Laws, Alexander et al…

  • The issue is that with something like immigration is that cutting it is hugely popular, and we poll badly as a party when it comes to dealing with immigration. While it might make us feel better to just let the Tories have it, it’d be a bit of an odd strategy to not take credit for hugely popular policies enacted by a Government we’re a part of.

    We don’t have to like it, but it’s the most sensible approach politically.

  • David Allen 8th Aug '13 - 12:03am

    Good comments Stephen, especially about immigration. If we don’t like anti-immigration policies – and we are very well known for not liking them – then to claim credit for a Tory drive against immigration just rings totally false. We might as well say “Vote for Us Phonies”!

  • This anti-immigration rubbish is actually worse than the “racist vans” and immigration officers at tube stations that people have been so exercised by.

    At least those were ostensibly directed at illegal immigration, whereas the Lib Dem booklet is unashamedly telling us that it’s a good thing to reduce immigration – whether legal or illegal. There’s a clear implication there that immigrants are undesirable per se.

    If it’s based on a cynical calculation that this will gain the party more xenophobic/racist votes than it will lose it votes from those undesirable immigrants, then you’d better hope they’ve got the sums right. If that is the idea, it’s a pretty clear signal that the inner cities – and even large tracts of the suburbs – are being written off, and that the strategy will be to present the Lib Dems as a kind of ersatz Tory party for the rural South.

  • “So, yes, it’s annoying that David Cameron wants to claim a Lib Dem idea that he once attacked as a Tory win now. But, for the record, 1) that’s how coalition government works, and 2) it’s not half as annoying as seeing Lib Dems claim Tory ideas as ours when we should be campaigning against them.”

    For one party to claim credit for something that was not in their manifesto is plain dishonest. People already believe politicians are untrustworthy and this just reinforces that view. There is a difference from saying the Coalition did this or that and the Liberal Democrats achieved this or that in government. So when someone says politicians are all the same I won’t be able to say that we are different.

    @ Ben

    “We don’t have to like it, but it’s the most sensible approach politically.”

    It isn’t sensible to be seen like the other political parties. We could have stood out and been honest.

  • Right on Stephen!

  • How do you not understand that in coalition decisions are joint, the are no lib dem policies and conservative policies, everything the government does is the agreed join position that both parties support.

  • Helen Tedcastle 8th Aug '13 - 9:57am

    @ Dean: “How do you not understand that in coalition decisions are joint, the are no lib dem policies and conservative policies, everything the government does is the agreed join position that both parties support.”

    Now that you put in that way, the situation is even worse – you mean our ministers have actually agreed some of the very right-wing measures not in the original Coalition Agreement, which everyone in Government plays down (except immigration – that’s a vote winner) – oh dear.

  • David Evans 8th Aug '13 - 10:01am

    @Dean,

    If you really believe that, and I worry that several of our top team believe it, I fear you don’t understand how being more honest about disagreement and the need to compromise can help politics make our country a much better place.

  • Anthony Gibson 8th Aug '13 - 10:30am

    Stephen: as you know there are plenty of Lib Dem campaigners who have to deal with immigration as a daily issue on the doorstep, what harm is there in providing – as part of a huge list of government achievements – some evidence for them to deal with the sadly widespread belief that immigration is ‘out of control’? It’s not as if the party has launched a massive anti-immigration campaign. You seem to believe we should politely just stick to talking about the nice Lib-Demmy bits of the coalition while considering it fair enough for the Conservatives to move onto our turf before hammering us as weak on immigration come the election.

  • “do you not understand that in coalition decisions are joint, the are no lib dem policies and conservative policies, ”

    Rubbish. Coalition policies are what are ALLOWED by both parties. You do NOT have to move one inch forward in a particular policy area if you do not want to. It is often best not to. UK history is littered with hurried government actions taken to give an appearance of being in control but in reality showing the opposite. Lib Dems in the Coalition are far from immune in this analysis. Lib Dem Ministers have let Pickles, Gove, Lansley and May play their pathetic (and often expensive) games of “I’m a Secretary of State and I’ll make people cry if I want to” with serious effects on the country and more serious effects on our Party.

  • Melanie Harvey 11th Aug '13 - 3:14pm

    Very interested to see what he comes up with in respect victims of serious crime and the injustice then further served upon the victim by the judiciary in order not to show the *establishments* failures. McNallys opinion needs to be more forthcoming in respect of, he may get a more satisfactory vote by doing so. I await with breath that is bated……

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