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:
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) August 6, 2013
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.
Cameron 2010: "I would love to take everyone out of their first £10,000 of income tax, Nick…We cannot afford it" https://t.co/dFL5EXeSZI
— Lib Dem Press Office (@LibDemPress) May 1, 2013
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.