Wow, Labour really are pandering to UKIP, aren’t they?

Didn’t they once used to be the party that talked about international solidarity amongst workers? Didn’t they once used to at least say they stood for decent, liberal, progressive values?

Those days are gone. Look what you can buy in their shop for £5. 

Labour immigration mug

It’s one of their key pledges in this election. The way to deal with UKIP’s rise is to challenge them with evidence, not pander to them.

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“Charm machine” Paddy Ashdown in Bristol to mark million door landmark

By the end of this weekend, the Liberal Democrats will have knocked on one million doors this year. That’s pretty incredible. Paddy Ashdown has been in Bath today to campaign for Steve Bradley and mark that important milestone.

Liberal Youth members have been out in force too. Bristol students called our election chief a “charm machine” which is a whole load more respectful than he got in Scotland last weekend when Willie Rennie dubbed him Father Jack after his sweary outbursts in press briefings.

Paddy has written to all Liberal Democrat candidates as the short campaign kicks off. This is the Scottish version of his letter:

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The Liberal Democrats who stood up for John Bercow

I asked the other day why on earth the Liberal Democrats had indulged the Tories’ last minute motion on the re-election of the Speaker which brought this Parliament to a rather undignified end.

We still haven’t had any real justification as to why we allowed this to take that leap from William Hague’s head to Commons Order paper, but I thought that you would be interested to read the Liberal Democrat interventions in the debate, both of which were against the motion.

David Heath’s remarks were very brief but to the point:

Further to the point of order, Mr Speaker. There is, of course, another way. The Leader of the House could withdraw the motion— I have to say that although I would always support a secret ballot, I very much dislike the way in which this matter has been brought before the House today.

For Duncan Hames, it was all about the potential consequences of such a rule change and how that would affect the balance of power between Speaker, House and the Executive:

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LibLink: Catherine Bearder MEP et al: Liberalism in Europe is facing its biggest fight

Three current and one (sadly) former liberal MEPs have written for the European Parliament’s Magazine following a Liberal International meeting in Oxford. They argued that liberals must stand together against the far-right and the politics of fear.

Catherine Bearder, Dutch MEP Hans van Baalen, our Graham Watson and Swedish MEP Cecilia Wikström show how liberals see the world:

As liberals, we will be standing together against the racists, the xenophobes and those who believe Europe needs to return to its fragmented past.

Liberals are naturally internationalist; it is in our DNA. We view the world as a global stage, not one subdivided by borders. We see friendly cooperation with our neighbours as the very key to unlocking a more secure, sustainable, prosperous and market-oriented future for Europe and the rest of the world.

We need to spread the message that liberalism is a home for people who don’t seek to brand migrants as ‘other’, for people who believe a Europe without the EU would be weaker and for people who see a reversion to separatism as the very worst outcome.

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Alex Salmond postpones US book tour as Christine Jardine’s campaign goes from strength to strength

Salmond New YorkThe Herald reports that Alex Salmond has postponed a trip to the US to promote his book which had, incredibly, been due to take place in just 10 days’ time, after the start of the general election campaign.

His publishers pencilled in signings in New York and Toronto for the week after next, during the annual Scotland Week festivities.

Banff & Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford was also lined up to appear at a hustings in Gordon, where Mr Salmond is the SNP candidate, during his absence.

Jean Marie Kelly of HarperCollins in New York said yesterday: “Unfortunately, we only have him in Toronto for one day and in New York for one day so a very whirlwind trip.

“We are just firming the exact dates and times, but all indications are the week of April 6.”

However after press enquiries to the SNP, Mr Salmond’s plans melted away.

His rival candidates in Gordon said a transatlantic tour mid-election would have demonstrated an ego “spiralling out of control”.

What’s interesting is that there seems to be some new law of the universe that requires every mention of Salmond’s book to be accompanied by Paddy Ashdown’s memorable review of it. The Liberal Democrat election chair said that the book was:

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Cute seals for Earth Hour Day – and some serious points about Liberal Democrat policy

On the day Earth Hour takes place, the Liberal Democrats have released a video with Nick Clegg and Julia Goldsworthy at a Cornish seal sanctuary. They highlight the nature bill that’s part of our 5 green laws in the manifesto. I know this is childish but every time I see that headline, I think of a cartoon David Laws, greened up like Elphaba in Wicked. The party’s video communications are really good at the moment. Enjoy this one.

Our plans for a Nature Bill include removing exemptions from all plastic bag charges to safeguard our environment and protect wildlife.

Posted by Liberal Democrats on Saturday, 28 March 2015

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LibLink: Willie Rennie MSP: Liberal Democrats nail their green credentials to the mast

It’s WWF’s annual Earth Hour tonight, between 8:30 and 9:30. Many of us will be turning our lights off to show that the planet and its environment is a priority and to show that we want our government to take it seriously. I noticed that this year it clashes with Channel 4’s docudrama thingy about the Coalition. When I moaned about it on Twitter, people reminded me about Channel 4 + 1.

WWF Scotland have asked the country’s political leaders to contribute a blog post to explain what Earth Hour means for them. Willie Rennie’s is here. He starts off by saying why Earth Hour matters:

 In our busy day-to-day lives this huge event forces us to stop and think about the future. Raising awareness of the climate challenge we face. Setting out concrete actions we can take to protect our environment. Ensuring that our children live in a fairer, greener society.

The Liberal Democrats are the only party to have nailed their green credentials to the mast, and set out how our radical agenda will be delivered in a way that is both credible and affordable.

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David Heath’s final speech in the House of Commons

David Heath
On Thursday a valedictory debate for retiring members took place in the House of Commons. Members whose service totalled several hundred years bade farewell to the Commons. Three of them were Liberal Democrats and we’ll be publishing their speeches in full. Today we have David Heath, MP for Somerton and Frome for 18 years. You can read the whole debate, with speeches from long-standing and distinguished MPs such as Gordon Brown, Joan Ruddock, Sir George Young and Elfyn Llwyd, here.

 

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Today’s headlines show just how much work is still to do on mental health stigma

All of us have been moved by the Germanwings plane crash, feeling for those who have lost loved ones or colleagues. The circumstances of the crash, caused by what seems to be a deliberate act by the co-pilot, has provoked much comment in the press, much of it deeply irresponsible. Headlines have screamed about Andreas Lubitz’s mental health demanding to know why he was allowed to fly.

Lurid headlines, written by sub-editors who clearly have no clue about mental health, do not help to either tackle the stigma faced by people with mental ill health or encourage those who suffer to seek help. The more open we can be about mental health, the more we understand. That leads to a more comfortable and sympathetic world for those who are suffering.

It’s worth reading this statement from Mind, which acts the media to report the issue responsibly:

The terrible loss of life in the Germanwings plane crash is tragic, and we send our deepest sympathies to the families. Whilst the full facts are still emerging, there has been widespread media reporting speculating about the link with the pilot’s history of depression, which has been overly simplistic.

Clearly assessment of all pilots’ physical and mental health is entirely appropriate – but assumptions about risk shouldn’t be made across the board for people with depression, or any other illness. There will be pilots with experience of depression who have flown safely for decades, and assessments should be made on a case by case basis.

Today’s headlines risk adding to the stigma surrounding mental health problems, which millions of people experience each year, and we would encourage the media to report this issue responsibly.

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The Independent View: Incentives matter in our education system

Incentives matter in our education system. The right ones encourage our schools and teachers to deliver the very best education the system has to offer.

Yet in the run up to the general election, politicians would have us think otherwise. Rather than creating the incentives for excellence to spread, they seek to drive performance from the centre. Cross-party support for a new college of teaching illustrates this shift in rhetoric, with politicians trying to magic more high quality teachers without thinking about the underlying incentives. The so-called “Cinderella” teaching profession really has found its fairy godmother.

The academy school programme is all about incentives. By freeing schools from local authority control and management, the aim is to allow innovation to drive better education for pupils.

Yet better incentives are needed if academies are to drive large scale transformation across the country. According to a survey of academy schools Reform published last year, many academies are inhibited from using their freedom to innovate. Two thirds of the 654 academies surveyed had yet to make changes to the curriculum, staff terms and conditions or the school day, despite having the freedom to do so.

Posted in Op-eds and The Independent View | Tagged , and | 11 Comments

Sir Alan Beith’s final speech to the House of Commons

Alan Beith

Yesterday a valedictory debate for retiring members took place in the House of Commons. Members whose service totalled several hundred years bade farewell to the Commons. Three of them were Liberal Democrats and we’ll be publishing their speeches in full. Today we have Sir Alan Beith, elected in a by-election in 1973 and who faced two defences of his seat in the first year. You can read the whole debate, with speeches from long-standing and distinguished MPs such as Gordon Brown, Joan Ruddock, Sir George Young and Elfyn Llwyd, here.

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Baroness Liz Barker writes… International Office supports the next generation of female leaders from Mouvement Populaire party in Morocco

International officeLiberal Democrats do love a challenge. Not for us the easy life of safe seats and majority governments. Oh no, marginal and year round campaigning is the life for us.  So imagine that this is your task: to inspire women to stand for election to new regional councils, under an alternative list system, to be held in September, probably. The regulations for the new system  have yet to be finalised, but existing laws, under which all meetings of more than ten people have to be licenced and leaflets cannot be distributed without permission,  remain in force.

That is the task which Harakie Women, the women’s group within Mouvement Populaire, our sister party in Morocco, currently face.

Working with colleagues from VVD in the Netherlands and the FDP in Germany, the Liberal Democrat International Office has been supplying strategic and tactical support to the party’s potential candidates, coaching female candidates and providing them with the skills required to run an effective campaign.

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The Independent View: A new report from CentreForum highlights the problems with Labour’s tuition fees policy

A new report entitled “A Labour of Love?”, released today by CentreForum and written by Tom Frostick and Chris Thoung, weighs up the pros and cons of Labour’s recently announced policy on tuition fees, one which revolves mostly around the fees being cut from their current £9k maximum to a £6k ceiling. The report can be read here.

On the plus side, the policy does acknowledge the importance of maintenance grants. It also reopens the discussion that needs to be had regarding the balance between state and individual investment in undergraduate education by lowering the percentage of loans the government estimates will not be repaid. It would also apply to all undergrads, including those currently studying, so would be fair in that regard.

But there is a lot to say about the policy that is negative. If introduced, it would have little to no impact on a staggering lowest 60% of graduate earners and would mostly benefit higher earning graduates only (and even then, up to twenty-eight years after they’ve left university). It is also costed in such a way that could discourage pension saving, and its higher interest rate scheme for wealthier graduates contributes only modestly to the intended progressiveness of the policy. 

Posted in Op-eds and The Independent View | Tagged and | 33 Comments

We’re heading for a minority Labour government backed by the SNP

whitehall
The Guardian have a very useful web page called Election 2015: The Guardian poll projection. On it, each day, they update their state-of-the-parties graph with the latest polling data, which then flows into an infographic showing the parliamentary arithmetic and possible government options after May 7th.

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Sir Malcolm Bruce’s final speech in the House of Commons

Malcolm bruce glasgow 2014Today a valedictory debate for retiring members took place in the House of Commons. Members whose service totalled several hundred years bade farewell to the Commons. Three of them were Liberal Democrats and we’ll be publishing their speeches in full. First up is Sir Malcolm Bruce, MP for Gordon for the last 32 years. Today we have David Heath, MP for Somerton and Frome for 18 years. You can read the whole debate, with speeches from long-standing and distinguished MPs such as Gordon Brown, Joan Ruddock, Sir George Young and Elfyn Llwyd, here.

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One of the most important acts of this government?

Hidden away in the pages of last week’s budget details was a very significant measure, which has received precious little public attention. The Guardian reports:

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The Independent View: The Liberal case for airport expansion is strong

Centre Forum aviationThe debate over airport expansion, particularly in the South East, has been raging for decades. Later this year, it is due to reach a crucial moment as Howard Davies and the Airports Commission publish their final report. Ahead of this, CentreForum has published a report looking at the liberal case for aviation and explaining how genuine concerns over environmental challenges, noise and regional growth should be addressed.

Though not directly concerned with Liberal Democrat policy, the report does raise questions over the wisdom of the party’s current position.

Posted in The Independent View | Tagged , , , , and | 34 Comments

+++ Lib Dem PPC arrested on historic child sex abuse allegations +++

According to Mansfield and Ashfield Chad, Jason Zadrozny has been arrested today over historic child sex abuse claims. Jason is a Nottinghamshire county councillor and also serves on Ashfield District Council. He has today withdrawn as the Parliamentary candidate for Ashfield, and has been suspended from the party.

Jason says:

I am in full cooperation with the Police and vehemently refute the allegations.

Comments on this post will be moderated. 

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LDVideo: Jeremy Browne MP’s final Commons speech – politics must seize the opportunities of the future, not preserve the past

Taunton Deane MP Jeremy Browne, who announced last year that he would not be seeking re-election having served in the House of Commons for nearly 10 years, took the opportunity of the debate following last week’s budget to make what was his final speech in the House. He used it to praise the coalition’s “vision” in its determination to solve the country’s weaknesses and to pay tribute to his constituency. He also returned to the theme of his book, Race Plan, calling for a less timid, more ambitious politics in order to prevent the UK becoming ever more irrelevant on the world stage.

You can watch Jeremy’s speech below or on YouTube here, and the Hansard transcript follows.

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Opinion: Thoughts on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Protocol (TTIP)

While negotiations are continuing on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Protocol (TTIP) it is hard to know whether the outcome will be good or bad. As far as I can see, there are arguments for and against it, so I am feeling the need to keep an open mind.

The arguments in favour boil down to increased trade and economic stability. This is important because the growth of China, India and Brazil will put pressure on Europe and America: at 1.37Bn people, China has an appreciably larger population than the EU (500 million) and USA (320 million) together. The collapse of the Doha trade talks also increase the risk of tarifs and trade barriers between the EU and USA. The hope is that, at the very least, TTIP will counteract this, and at best, it will enhance our economic stability and competitiveness by improving ties between the EU and USA. There are predictions that this will boost the British economy by between four and ten billion pounds annually.

The European commission has been suggesting that many of the stories circulating about TTIP are exaggerated or wrong and is keen to reassure people that European concerns around health. Safety, rights at work, privacy, financial security and environment will be protected. Their information on this starts here.

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Why have Liberal Democrats indulged the Tories’ Bercow bashing?

By any standards, the last minute motion to change the rules on Speaker election is pure bad manners. Filed with less than a day’s notice when many MPs will already have left Westminster, it asks MPs to approve a secret ballot on the re-election of the Speaker. Up until now, MPs have voted in the traditional manner. The election of a Speaker when there is a vacancy is already conducted by secret ballot.

The actual proposal itself is not unreasonable, for consistency’s sake and was recommended by the Commons Procedure Committee as the Guardian article linked to above says:

Tory and Lib Dem sources rejected Labour claims they had acted in an underhand way. They said they were following the convention of allowing MPs to vote on the recommendations of the procedure committee. But Nick Clegg, who is spending the day in his Sheffield Hallam constituency after his weekly LBC phone-in, will not be present for the vote.

So when did the Procedure Committee make that recommendation? I looked through their recent report which suggested revisions to Commons standing orders and it wasn’t in there. There was stuff about elections and by-elections for Deputy Speakers and even a change in lunch breaks on Thursdays in public bill committees (up till now the poor little loves might go hungry – how cruel), but nothing about Speaker elections or re-elections. You have to go back almost five years, to 2010, to find that recommendation. There has been more than enough time to have that vote, so why leave it till the last possible moment?

Posted in Op-eds and Parliament | Tagged and | 54 Comments

Opinion: Plain Packaging: Will Tobacco Be the End or Just the Beginning?

While I think I was pleased to see the vote by MPs earlier this month, introducing plain packaging for tobacco products, it did also set off faint alarm bells – with me at least. There is something rather drastic about passing a law that requires legally produced and distributed goods to be wrapped in plain card or paper – even if the move was approved by Parliament based on medical evidence. I almost feel it would have been better to actually ban tobacco products altogether.

To be honest, obesity is not that far behind smoking as a leading cause of early death. We know that obesity is partly fuelled by attractively-packaged foods, high in sugar and fat, freely available on every supermarket shelf in the UK. High-street fast food chains – whose rise has been, seemingly, unstoppable – are another contributor to the problem. Britain now spends over £45 billion each year dealing with the health and social care costs associated with an increasingly overweight population.  

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Everyone’s talking about Clegg’s Great Funk Up

I manage to pretend most of the time that I’m a young person, but last night I wondered if I was in fact approaching middle age when I saw this:

Was I becoming an old fuddy duddy or was this genuinely an acquired taste?

Well, it seemed that proper young people weren’t overly impressed either. One wrote on my Facebook that it had “broken my brain.” That was, I have to say, one of the kinder things I heard said about it. Others liked it though.

To be fair, if you compare it to the original Uptown Funk video, there are bits of it that are quite clever. Where it suffers is that it just doesn’t have a decent hook.

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Opinion: Liberals must stand up to Russia over Ukraine

The weekend after the party gathered in Liverpool, Liberal Youth gathered in Leeds for our spring conference. There was plenty of campaigning, socialising and of course stimulating debates on policy. Stuart Wheatcroft has already written an excellent summary of the motion we debated and voted for on Ambitious Liberalism; for my part, I submitted a motion on Russia’s actions against Ukraine.

In writing this motion, I aimed to cover the two principal reasons I believe any self-respecting Liberal must stand against what Russia is doing in the region. Firstly, they are attempting to forcibly thwart the will of the Ukrainian people. When the Ukrainian people expressed a desire to look to the EU, they did not at the same time express a desire to go to war with Russia. They are seeking a better life; one bounded by democratic accountable institutions – the same promise extended by the EU to the former Warsaw Pact countries. In attempting to smear the Kiev government as a group of “fascists” as well as sending troops to occupy portions of Ukraine, Russia has attempted to corral the Ukrainian people into giving up these hopes for a brighter future.

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The Independent View: Half of the public are likely to change their vote after examining the parties’ policies

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 14.15.40Last night, I found myself in the strange position of introducing a panel of speakers at Birkbeck, including John Curtice and Dr Rosie Campbell, to discuss whether the internet can have an impact on our voting habits. I say strange because just 5 years ago, I had no real interest in politics. I suppose I was like most people, engaged a little around election time but otherwise never really bothered by what went on in Westminster.

But yesterday, the organisation I set up during the 2010 election, Vote for Policies, organised this debate in partnership with The Birkbeck Institute for Social Research, as we released some really interesting data from our users: 50% of people polled on the Vote for Policies website say they are likely to vote for a different party as a result of using the site. A further 63% say they are surprised to discover which party’s policies they support. You can read a full report of the debate here.

Vote for Policies allows users to compare policies on topics like education or the economy, without knowing which party they belong to. 166,000 surveys have been completed since its soft launch on February 19th 2015. 1,111 users completed the poll on which our findings are based.

I set it up because before the last election I came to the frightening realisation that I simply didn’t understand the differences between the parties’ policies, which led me to read all of the manifestos in detail. For the first time, I felt informed and ready to vote – but most people don’t have time to trawl through manifestos, so I wanted to make this process easier for everyone else. You can take the survey here.

Posted in Op-eds and The Independent View | Tagged , and | 30 Comments

LDV hosts debate on devolution – “Just do it”

Lib Dem Voice and the local government think tank Localis co-hosted a debate yesterday under the title ‘What should the Lib Dems offer on devolution in their manifesto?‘. I started by pointing out that our policies were not a secret and we had been discussing the manifesto for the last year or so, most recently in Liverpool. But the debate still threw up some interesting challenges.

Stephen Williams, the Communities Minister, argued strongly that the next government will have to devolve a range of powers to local government almost immediately after the election; not only do all the main parties advocate it but there is growing pressure to do so around the country, especially post Indyref. The UK devolves fewer powers away from central government than any other country in the EU.

The Lib Dem policy is for more substantial devolution on demand, and throughout the debate the Lib Dems emphasised that, rather than impose a unified system straightaway, it would be better to allow practice to emerge from the grassroots as areas became ready to take on more responsibilities, as has happened recently in Manchester. As a first step, Stephen would prefer to see a flatter structure, replacing two tier counties with unitaries, bringing power closer to the people.

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Clegg launches Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation

I think it’s fair to say that Nick Clegg may not exactly rock the tracksuit look, but he did do something very valuable today. In one of his last engagements as Deputy Prime Minister before the election campaign, he launched the Charter for Mental Health in Sport and Recreation aimed at kicking the mental health stigma out of sport. The video explains why:

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Opinion: Have a local party meeting after the election

We will all be very busy for the next few weeks, working hard to get Lib Dem MPs elected.

But once the votes are counted, the job of setting the country on the best direction will not over.  There is every chance no party will win a majority.

Thinking about this must not distract us from campaigning.   But it would be irresponsible to think that polling day is the end.  It is just the beginning.

The Federal Executive has agreed processes for how Liberal Democrats approach inter-party negotiations.

A negotiating team will operate on appointment by the Leader.  It will report to a small reference group drawn from FE, FPC members and MPs/peers. They will report to the full committees and all MPs/peers.  Any proposed decision to work with another party in government will go to a Special Conference.

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What Danny Alexander would say to his successor: “Jobs up, growth up, economy up, don’t screw it up”

We all remember the rather pathetic note that Labour’s last Chief Secretary to the Treasury left for his successor.

no money left

“I’m afraid there is no money left” he said. And he wasn’t a million miles from the truth.

Danny Alexander was asked yesterday at an event what he would put in a note to his successor. His reply was a little more, shall we say, motivating and inspiring, as the Vote Clegg, Get Clegg Facebook page reports:

At a meeting yesterday with Danny Alexander on the panel, he was asked what he would say in a note to his successor. Brilliant reply: “Jobs up, Growth up, Economy up, don’t screw it up”!

Posted by Vote Clegg, Get Clegg on Tuesday, 24 March 2015

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The Independent View: Location, location … taxation? The benefits of a locally-driven mansion tax

A tax on high-value property is a long-standing Liberal Democrat ambition, yet one which remains controversial. If and when it is adopted by government, it must be directed locally if it is to address key concerns.

The chief benefit of a mansion tax is to discourage purely speculative housing purchases. Falling demand for luxury property from prospective owners unwilling to pay tax on homes they are not inhabiting would encourage a greater focus from developers on homes affordable to the majority.

Of particular concern is the 70% of newly built homes in central London bought by non-UK residents in 2013. Existing housing stock in an under-supplied market must be used more efficiently. Combined with other new taxes on such property and a strengthening pound, the effect of a targeted mansion tax could be especially strong on ‘non-dom’ owners.

This complements the inherent advantage of a mansion tax. By taxing value arising from features inherent to the property such as its location or design rather than endogenous decision-making by economic agents, it avoids the negative incentive effects associated with income tax. 

Posted in Op-eds and The Independent View | Tagged and | 37 Comments
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