Category Archives: The Independent View

The Independent View: “Bold liberal tax reforms for a stronger economy and fairer society” – a CentreForum essay by Adam Corlett

In a series of essays that CentreForum will be releasing over the next few months in anticipation of the book, The Challenges Facing Contemporary Liberalism: 2015 -2025, published today is the paper “Bold liberal tax reforms for a stronger economy and fairer society” by Adam Corlett, which can be read here. It is the third in the series; the first, On Blasphemy by Maajid Nawaz, can be read here, and the second, an essay by Tim Farron, Neil Stockley and Duncan Brack on green growth and climate change, can be read here.

Adam’s paper examines the tax system and identifies six key challenges facing any incoming government post-May 2015: simplifying income taxes; taxing investment intelligently; fixing corporate tax biases; reforming inheritance tax; taxing real estate; and making consumption taxes fair.

photo by: Alan Cleaver
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The Independent View: Commons must debate key Medical Innovation Bill before election

Maurice Saatchi’s Medical innovation Bill has caused controversy and inspired a passionate debate on how doctors and scientists can and should speed up medical advance for currently incurable diseases.

The Bill is designed to do two things. First, it will offer clarity and confidence to doctors who want to innovate and move away from standard procedures.

When might that be relevant? In most cases standard procedures work and innovation is unnecessary. There is a vast quantity of scientifically validated data which supports standard medical procedures.

But in some cases – specially for rare and incurable diseases –  there is little scientific data and no effective treatments. In such cases, a doctor and the patient may face a choice, between applying the standard treatments, even though they are known not to work and will lead only to death, or to try something new.

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The Independent View: A cheaper but credible alternative to Trident

TridentOne of the strange things about recent elections is the lack of debate about defence and international affairs. So far, the current election campaign is no exception, despite the reality that the choices the next Government makes will limit our strategic options over the next 30 years.

The key decision is whether or not to replace the existing Vanguard­-class Trident submarines at a capital cost of up to £33bn, £3.3bn of which has been spent thus far. A decision to pursue replacement would commit between a quarter and a third of the total Ministry of Defence (MoD) equipment budget to Trident – every year – from 2018 to 2032. It would deny the conventional forces of the investment that they need to remain capable of world-wide operations in support of the UN and regional peacekeeping and, where necessary, intervention and peace-enforcement.

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The Independent View: Analysing the common ground between Lib Dem and Labour policy positions

Today sees the release of a combined piece of work between the Fabian Society and CentreForum that details what the policy overlaps between the Lib Dems and the Labour Party are, according to the most up to date data. The report is entitled “Common Ground? An analysis of the Liberal Democrat and Labour programmes”, and can be read here. By extension, the paper sets out what the discussion might look like should the two parties find themselves negotiating a government after the general election in May. The report does not recommend such an arrangement; it only seeks to outline …

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Opinion: Wanting zero suicides and dignity in dying are neither contradictory nor hypocritical

DADiDMany Lib Dems may not have been aware of the fact that amongst disabled activists recently, the Party has been at the centre of a hotly debated issue over suicide prevention and the legalising of assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent dying people.

Earlier this month, Leader Nick Clegg hosted a mental health conference with Liberal Democrat Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb. Together, they announced the admirable ambition of the NHS working towards ‘zero suicides’ – a key target for suicide prevention of people with mental health issues.

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The Independent View: Progressive and pro-European voters must unite against Tory-UKIP chaos

Britain stands on the edge of a cliff with the General Election only 105 days away.  Will we vote Tory or UKIP for Euroreferendum chaos, lasting two years at least and putting thousands of businesses, millions of jobs and our long term peace and security at risk? Or will Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and all progressive voters come together in the marginal seats that matter to elect a Parliament for progress and reform and a Labour-led Government with Ed Miliband as Prime Minister?  He has stood firm against the clamour for a referendum with considerable courage and nous.  Scotland shows how referenda, even with a 55-45 vote, can settle nothing, just open a can of worms.

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The Independent View: The upcoming election in Israel: the dawn of a new progressive era in Israeli politics?

For political progressives, the upcoming Israeli general election on the 17th of March may prove itself to be one of the most decisive in that country’s history, with most polls conducted in recent weeks pointing to a narrow victory for the centre-left alliance between the social-democratic Labor Party and the progressive liberal Hatnuah party. Not only would this mark the first time since 2001 that Labor has led an administration, but it will be one in which both liberals and socialists will be able to influence the drafting and passage of government legislation in the new Knesset, possibly marking the beginning of a new era of social-liberal reform in the State of Israel.

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The Independent View: After Charlie Hebdo, we must not sacrifice democratic ideals in the face of fear

The images of masked men walking around with assault rifles including the brutal execution of a French policeman will fill many of us with terror and fear. The chilling words of Charlie Hebdo writer Laurent Léger on the phone to his friend ‘Call the police. It’s carnage, a bloodbath. Everyone is dead’ are chilling.

It is tempting at a time like this to seek security at all costs and those in power are usually all too willing to oblige. We ask to be kept safe and they are more than happy to play the paternalistic state. They give the caveat that we must give up certain freedoms in order to achieve the safety that we crave both for ourselves and our loved ones.

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The Independent View: STV for local government in 2015!

STVactionThe Liberal Democrats’ mistake in 2010 was not to insist on STV for electing MPs – but merely to accept a referendum on a miserable little compromise – as a condition of entering into a coalition. This is not recriminatory. I appreciate the problems and pressures of negotiating a coalition and that senior Lib Dems wanted to create stability and help repair the damage to the economy.

I say it was a mistake not just with hindsight. I have believed it for about 50 years.

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The Independent View: Where Next for Royal Mail?

Royal Mail delivery trolleyWith privatisation done and dusted it was inevitable that the debate about Britain’s postal service would move beyond the public vs private argument.

Royal Mail is now a private company and is likely to remain so. It, of course, faced many challenges regardless of ownership which were certain to surface once it moved into the private sector. One of these is now coming across loud and clear. Namely the requirement of Royal Mail to deliver a universal delivery service to every UK address six days a week.

In response to falling profits, management and union within the company  launched a call to the regulator to require the competition to be bound by the same Universal Service Obligation as Royal Mail. This call has fallen on deaf ears.

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The Independent View: UK Foreign Policy and Western Sahara

Westernsaharamap2015 will mark the 40th anniversary of the occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco. With the UK’s concern about the rising threat of insecurity from the region, and a renewed focus on British values and human rights promotion within foreign policy, the UK can lead progress towards concluding the Western Sahara issue.

Western Sahara lies on the northwest African coast and is south of Morocco, north and west of Mauritania, and south west of Algeria. It is worth noting that Sahrawi society is one in which men and women play equally important roles. From 1884 to 1974 the territory was a Spanish colony but in line with the UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples in 1960, the Sahrawi people were to vote on self-determination and independence upon decolonization.

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The Independent View: A reformed Prevent could tackle extremism more effectively

The government’s counter-extremism strategy, Prevent, is often criticised. Some say it acts like a thought-police, criminalises Islam and over-securitises places like schools. Others claim there is not enough buy in from Muslim communities, that it funds non-violent Islamists to tackle jihadists, or that it is not the government’s job to challenge ideology. Neither criticism is absolutely fair, but as criticised as Prevent is, it undoubtedly serves an important function and is here to stay.

While all terrorists are extremists, the vast majority of extremists do not use terrorism as a viable strategy, and a liberal and democratic nation cannot and should not deal with all extremists in the same way as it deals with terrorists. But catching terrorists who “love death as you love life” is a difficult proposition for the police or the security services when they’re keen to go down fighting and cause as much destruction as possible while they do it. Only dealing with extremism once it becomes violent and illegal is a high stakes game where the penalty for losing is the death of large numbers of innocent civilians. Tackling extremism of all kinds before it becomes violent can reduce the civilian casualties, reduce the number of violent extremists that have to be dealt with, and has the secondary benefit of challenging non-violent behaviour that nonetheless has a negative impact on British society.

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The Independent View: Why Liberal Democrat MPs should reject Government’s power-grabbing judicial review proposals

Undemocratic, unnecessary and unfair, over the past eleven months the Government’s crude attempts to curtail judicial review have been the subject of intense parliamentary debate. And yet today, as MPs are once again called to vote on the proposals, the government is attempting to pull off an unusual parliamentary feat: disregarding fierce cross-party criticism to make its proposals worse, rather than better.

Judicial review is the legal mechanism by which individuals and organisations can ask a court to check whether a public authority has acted lawfully. The powers of the court in a judicial review are limited, but in a modern democracy, where great power is concentrated in the hands of the executive, it is one of the great and vital levelers. 

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The Independent View: Liberal Democrat MPs should vote against secure colleges which would put younger children and girls at risk

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails” said Nelson Mandela. Well, what would it reveal about the state of our nation if we were to hold our youngest children and some of the country’s most vulnerable girls in unsafe conditions where they felt fearful, intimidated and isolated?

On Monday, Liberal Democrat MPs will cast the deciding votes on whether this becomes a reality.

The Commons will consider an amendment made by the House of Lords to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill on “secure colleges” – the new form of child custody introduced by the Bill. These will be very large institutions (there’ll be 320 beds in the first one) which Chris Grayling, the Tory Justice Secretary, is adamant must hold girls and boys between 12 and 17 years of age.

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The Independent View: The political culture in Britain seems to have been infected by a form of madness

With each electoral gain made by Ukip, politicians and the media respond with ever more apocalyptic descriptions of the insidious effect of mass immigration on this small overcrowded island.

A vivid picture is painted daily of a nation overrun by swarms of migrants who are taking our jobs, lowering our wages, scrounging our benefits, crowding our schools, clogging up our hospital wards, destroying our culture and boiling our children before eating them for breakfast.

Well, maybe not the last bit, but some of the scaremongering rhetoric comes close to such levels of hysteria. It would be laughably surreal were it not so inflammatory and potentially damaging, particularly when it is stirred up by people in positions of power and influence who really should know better.

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The Independent View: What do the public want on migration?

In what seemed an inevitability, Theresa May admitted the annual net migration cap was “unlikely” to be met. The target of 100,000 a year net migration to the UK has long been posited to be unrealistic, and Cameron’s “no if no buts” pledge to meet it impossible. Yet in spite of this every year the government has pushed every effort to bring down migration levels.

We’ve seen caps on the amount of skilled non-EEA workers, much to businesses’ chagrin. Barriers put in place on UK citizens naturalising partners, heartbreakingly splitting up families. Curbs on international students resulting in the first drop in international student numbers in 30 years. None of these measures have worked to bring down net migration levels, but each have threatened family life, the financial health of our universities and our businesses’ access to the top talent.

Moreover there’s little evidence that the public actually supports these measures.  In public polling the public is unquestionably in favour of international students, with a plurality believing they bring in more than they take. Equally the public is in favour of professionals coming to the UK to work, with a majority seeing such workers as good for Britain. On spouses a solid majority support UK citizens naturalising their immediate family.

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The Independent View: Save our safety net

Four children are left home alone for five days. Social services step in to move the kids out to live with their father. But there’s a problem: the council have found a flat for the newly formed family, but it is unfurnished. The dad lives on a low income and does not have the savings to buy five beds and mattresses, and all the other furniture that is needed. If the property isn’t adequately furnished, the children will have to be taken into care. (See case study here).

Situations like this exist up and down the country. In this case, the family were awarded a loan from the local welfare provision (LWP) scheme run by their local authority which allowed them to start again after this period of massive instability. But if they lived in a different part of the country their local provision might not have been as generous, or the local council simply may not have established a scheme at all. And with central government funding to councils for LWP currently under threat, support of this type is likely to be even more limited in the future.

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The Independent View: Direct democracy in Wales

The idea of recall caught Welsh media attention on Monday, when Kirsty Williams, Welsh Lib Dem leader, made the case for this form of direct democracy to apply to Assembly Members if 20% of local voters signed a petition.

Direct democratic methods such as recall, referendums and petitions are increasingly popular, especially among those who least trust politicians. For many of these citizens, taking control into their own hands is preferable to either creating more politicians (mayors; assemblies) or giving the existing crop more powers. So as Westminster continues to debate a (limited) form of recall, it makes sense for Wales to consider similar measures. After all, Wales suffers a similar disconnect from formal party politics as other parts of UK and actually has the lowest turnout in any devolved elections. Kirsty Williams’ model is an improvement on the current proposal before Westminster, which puts the recall trigger in politicians’ rather than citizens’ hands.

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The Independent View: Will 2015 be the turning point on wage growth?

image001Another Bank of England inflation report, another set of rosy forecasts for earnings next year. Just as 2014 was supposed to be the year of the pay rise, now it seems 2015 will be the year when things turn positive.

And, according to the Bank, wages won’t just creep into positive territory next year, they are going to take something of a jump upwards. In the last quarter of 2015 the Bank expects nominal wage growth of 3.25% at a time of inflation of 1.4% – so a gear shift from the current position of at best flat-lining real pay to healthy growth of roughly 1.8% in a year’s time.

How sceptical should we be?  The Bank’s Chief Economist has been admirably forthright in highlighting his organisation’s own habit of promising sunshine tomorrow, with spring always just around the corner but never coming to pass, as the chart below from his recent speech illustrates. At some point, though, things have to brighten. And every passing month in which unemployment continues its fall and GDP continue to rise makes a degree of optimism about the following year that bit more plausible.

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The Independent View: Time for the Lib Dems to capitalise on their cities’ opportunity

ldv centre for cities fringe - oct 2014There has been a flurry of interest in cities and the economic regeneration of the North from all sides of the political spectrum over the past few months, so it was not surprising to see them feature strongly during party conference season.

Over the three weeks, we created a platform for each of the parties to debate and explore how their parties could turn the rhetoric into reality, and win the hearts and minds of Britain’s cities at the 2015 Election. It was fascinating to see representatives of Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems argue that their party alone possessed an unrivalled philosophical affinity with urban voters.

(Pictured is the Centre for Cities fringe meeting, co-hosted with LibDemVoice – “Urban battlegrounds: how can the Liberal Democrats win in cities in 2015?” – with Stephen Williams MP, Cllr Wendy Taylor (Newcastle) and Lord (Ben) Stoneham.)

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The Independent View: Ministry of Justice costs reforms undermine Vince Cable’s aim of tackling rogue directors

Statue of Justice - The Old BaileyA key message the Business Secretary Vince Cable has been keen to stress during his time in government is the need to tackle rogue directors: he’s announced plans to produce “stronger deterrents” and “more robust sanctions” to quash ‘dodgy directors’. Dr Cable’s – and insolvency minister Jo Swinson’s – policies on protecting creditors from rogue directors are certainly worth developing, but they are at risk of being undermined by policies being put forward by the Ministry of Justice.

The Ministry of Justice has been seeking to tackle the costs of litigation, but its reforms will end up having a big impact on the insolvency profession’s ability to combat rogue directors and will have disastrous and costly consequences for small business creditors and the taxpayer.

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The Independent View: The Liberal Democrats and civil society

It’s been a tricky 18 months for Lib Dems and charities. Of course the party has traditionally been close to the voluntary sector. Many current parliamentarians previously worked in it. But the Lobbying Act opened up a serious rift. Charities are now suffering the consequences of this illiberal and undemocratic limit on their free speech. With an election fast approaching, how has the party tried to heal the wounds?
This year at ACEVO – the social leaders’ network – we decided to do go beyond the usual third sector manifesto-writing and ask a range of Lib Dems to set out in detail their vision for civil society and politics. The result was The Yellow Book of the Voluntary Sector, a book of essays we published at conference in Glasgow. Its contributors show promise in their view of the voluntary sector, but there’s still some way to go.
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The Independent View: Banning wild animals in circuses – a popular law whose time has come

adi-logo_2There was a time when the UK led the world on animal welfare issues. We were one of the first to ban the use of animals in cosmetic product and tobacco tests, and end fur farming. Sadly though, we have lost our global leadership on other animal issues, most spectacularly on animal circuses. A total of 27 countries have now introduced measures prohibiting such acts, leaving the UK lagging way behind.

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The Independent View: Baking the UKIP Cookbook

UKIP-cookbookWe live in baffling times. Who, for example, can explain why Boris Johnson is still a thing? And why has no one told Ed Miliband that continually addressing a large number of strangers in a room as “friends” is just the sort of weirdness that someone whose weirdometer needle is already hovering over the danger zone should really avoid doing.

And then there’s Michael Gove.​ Just baffling.

But nothing is quite as baffling as the appeal of UKIP. That a bunch of fear-peddling, isolationist, blame-everyone merchants seem attractive to a large minority of the British public is not just confusing: it’s embarrassing.

So we’re doing what any sane, politically-aware progressives would do: we’re writing a spoof cookbook about it. Obviously.

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The Independent View: Liberal Democrat vote on flooding shows politics of climate change is shifting

Liberal Democrats have this morning voted to protect hundreds of thousands of households from flooding and climate change.

The welcome move is thanks to the passage of a policy motion, tabled by Lib Dem activists Duncan Brack and Neil Stockley, that calls on the Government to “Ensure flood defence spending is kept in line with that needed to protect against climate change impacts”.

Current flood defence investment is far below what’s needed to keep pace with our changing climate. As heavy rainfall increases and sea levels rise, numerous experts have urged that Government investment in flood protection should rise correspondingly. The Environment Agency made such recommendations in 2009, but these were ignored by Chancellor George Osborne, who cut the flood defence budget by £100million. The Committee on Climate Change calculates that a huge shortfall of £500million has now emerged between what’s being spent and what’s needed.

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The Independent View: Constitutional reform is back in fashion

ERS logoFor so long, those who care passionately about political reform have been told there are more important things to worry about – that tax, welfare and housing will always take precedence over the constitution and questions of process.

The Scottish independence referendum has almost put an end to that kind of talk. As the Liberal Democrats have always known, politics and the constitution fundamentally shape the collective decisions we make, and are therefore of the utmost importance. The referendum also undermined the old put-down that no one cares about constitutional reform. Try telling that to the 97% of Scots who registered to vote, or the 85% who went to the polls. When the stakes are high enough, people will get involved.

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The Independent View: IFS Director Paul Johnson – Balancing the books: some unpalatable choices

Paul Johnson is Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. He will be speaking on ‘Balancing the books – tax and spending choices in the next Parliament’ alongside Ian Swales MP and Anne Fairpo of the Chartered Institute of Taxation, with BBC Scotland’s Business and Economy Editor Douglas Fraser in the chair, at 6.15pm on Tuesday at the SECC (Dochart 1). All conference attendees welcome.

We weren’t supposed to be here. When George Osborne delivered the Coalition’s first Budget in June 2010 the plans he set out suggested that the job of rebalancing the nation’s finances would be more or less …

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The Independent View: Bridging the gap between rhetoric and reality before May 2015

A few weeks ago the Liberal Democrats announced the five green laws they would introduce if they remain in Government after May 2015.  The detail from their pre-manifesto will be debated at Conference this week. As a staunch greenie, is it always nice to see a party putting the environment at the centre of their party’s pledges. At the last election, Friends of the Earth praised the Liberal Democrats for having the greenest manifesto of the three main parties (pipped to the top spot by the Greens).

But after nearly one term in office, there is now a big question over the party’s green credibility.  So there are three key questions on their green laws that the Liberal Democrats need to provide the right answers to – pronto.

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The Independent View: Liberal Democrats – Please make compulsory Sex and Relationships Education a red line Issue

Women’s organisations gave a huge welcome to David Laws’ announcement in August that the compulsory teaching of good quality Sex & Relationships Education (SRE) from age seven onwards will be in the Liberal Democrat manifesto. And we hope to hear this policy cheered loudly at Liberal Democrat conference this weekend.

Is it not shocking that in 2014 this subject is not compulsory in schools? All schools are currently statutorily required to do is teach the biological basics of reproduction by the age of 15, and schools can choose to insert the teaching into any subject they choose (science, RE, PSHE if it is taught at their school – it’s not compulsory either).

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The Independent View: It’s time to rethink Trident

Last year, Trident was a huge debate at the Lib Dem conference. It was an open, vibrant, genuine debate where differing views were passionately put. This year, Trident is nowhere to be seen in official conference business – even though the parliament elected in just a few months’ time will decide the future of Britain’s nuclear weapons system.

This seems a glaring omission for a party which has such a strong track record of engaging with this most important of Britain’s strategic defence questions. Indeed it is the only major Westminster party that – like the majority of the British population – recognises the importance of changing Britain’s nuclear weapons posture. And it has fought hard to do so. I’m sure no active Lib Dem member needs to be reminded how the party struggled to ensure that questioning the future of Trident was part of the coalition agreement and how Nick Harvey, as Defence Minister, made sure that alternatives to Trident were actually reviewed.

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  • User AvatarDavid-1 2nd Mar - 2:35am
    @Mark Argent: "I am proud of the fact that we entered the coalition, though it was bound to do us harm: an impressive example of...
  • User AvatarDavid-1 2nd Mar - 2:26am
    We can certainly avoid talking about coalitions. But that won't stop the press and the voters from talking about them; especially as the election draws...
  • User AvatarMark Argent 2nd Mar - 12:20am
    My instinct is that talk of coalitions is premature, as we don't know how things will look until 8 May, and destructive if it causes...
  • User AvatarTsar Nicholas 2nd Mar - 12:13am
    I'm all in favour of free speech, but I'm also in favour of free tuition.
  • User AvatarATF 2nd Mar - 12:05am
    The problem has not been that people have been espousing such evil views, it is that we have not paid attention to the fact they...
  • User AvatarDavid Allen 1st Mar - 11:26pm
    Good article and some good posts below the line especially Roland, Tony Greaves, Nick Barlow. What I see is the survival of the pushiest. Empire-building...