When Nick Clegg was first elected leader, he announced a new tax policy – to reduce the percentage paid from 20% to 16%. The policy was duly passed at the 2008 Conference. Another delegate mentioned to me that he would prefer to see the Income Tax threshold raised taking the lowest paid out of tax. ‘Too late now’ he said.
I took this as a challenge and looked for a way of changing tax policy. I didn’t have to wait long. Jo Swinson MP sent an email to Women Liberal Democrats asking for policy ideas for the Manifesto Day at the LSE in January. Soon after, I attended my local Regional Conference and met Vince Cable. I asked him if there was any reason the income tax threshold couldn’t be raised to the level of the minimum wage. ‘Ah’ he said ‘That’s my ultimate dream.” I suggested to WLD that I look at this and they agreed. As an MP, Jo had access to the costings figures and she agreed to ask the Treasury questions on my behalf. I prepared a set of proposals looking at how far we could raise the threshold. Raising it to the level of the then minimum wage , then £11,552, would cost £29bn.
On the Manifesto Day, we were surprised by the number of MPs who came along to our discussion group as they wanted to support us. We had a several discussion groups, but they all reported back with the same decision – we should raise the income tax threshold to the level of the minimum wage. I had a photo taken with Nick Clegg and introduced myself, admitting that my tax policy was in opposition to his. I was taken aback when Nick said he was supporting my proposal as it would help much more people than his. Suddenly I realised we were onto a winner.
I wrote a policy motion, calling for the income tax threshold to be raised to the level of the National Minimum Wage and in May, WLD, along with several local parties submitted it for discussion at the 2009 Autumn Conference. In July, I was astonished to see Nick Clegg on the news, announcing the Liberal Democrat’s new tax policy – the first £10k earned would be tax free. I’d succeeded. Liberal Democrat tax policy had been changed. It was so popular I hoped that whoever won the General Election would implement the policy. I didn’t expect that the Liberal Democrats would have that opportunity, but we did.
The next challenge is to get the threshold raised to the level of the National Minimum Wage and to get it pegged there and we will have permanently improved the income of the lowest paid in Britain as well as putting money back in the pockets of 26 million people.
To quote Margaret Mead:
Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.
* Elizabeth Jewkes is an exec member of both Lib Dem Women and the Lib Dem Christian Forum and has been standing in parliamentary elections for the Liberal Democrats since 1992.