Author Archives: Daniel Henry

It’s time we gave the Civil Service independent communication!!

When a Government has been suspected of putting short term politics ahead of proper governance, we’ve often made functions independent. Suspicions that irresponsible monetary policy was being used to provide a short term boost to the economy ahead of an election led to us campaigning for the Bank of England being made independent. George Osborne’s distrust of the Labour Government’s own economic forecasting led him to create the Office of Budgetary Responsibility, to provide economic forecasts that were guaranteed to be free from political interference.

Following Boris Johnson’s assault on our political norms and institutions, and the rest of the Conservative Party’s subsequent descent into post-truth conspiracism, I feel that the Lib Dems need to add a new bullet point to our programme of constitutional reform: Give the entire Civil Service independent communication!

“Why is this even important?”

Civil servants tend to deal with the technical side of Government; establishing what the facts are, what can be done, with what risks and what costs. Our MPs then deal with political side; making and/or evaluating decisions, based on the facts and options provided to them by the civil servants.

It’s a good system, as the two require completely different skillsets. However, it’s muddied by the fact that the public don’t hear the facts from the politically neutral civil service directly. Instead, it’s communicated by Government ministers, politicians, who will often garnish it with political spin. (and even when they don’t, the public find it difficult to trust them, especially if they’re from a different political party).

And this was before Boris Johnson strode onto the scene.

His complete disregard for the truth rode roughshod over a system seemingly designed under the assumption that someone elected Prime Minister simply wouldn’t do that. It showed once and for all that our current system just isn’t built to withstand heavily partisan politics.

“So how would independent communication help?”

Allowing the civil service to directly communicate facts to the public would not only ensure that the public get clear information free from party political spin, it would also make it easier for the public to trust the information being given to them. It’s difficult to trust facts when they’re being delivered by a partisan politician that we deeply distrust.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 21 Comments

If we have a snap election, I have a couple of requests…

If we Fight a Snap Election, I have a Couple of Requests…

With the new Prime Minister having taken residence in No. 10, without the majority in Parliament to carry out his controversial Brexit policies, and possibly not even the majority to survive a confidence vote, there is an increasing chance of a General Election this Autumn.

Should this happen, I would like to request the following of our campaign:

  1. No “Vote for us to have another vote!!”
  2. “Stop Brexit” should only start a sentence, not end it.

No “Vote for us to have another vote!!”

Shortly after the 2016 referendum we adopted the policy to promote a referendum on the final Brexit deal. This was the perfect policy to have as a parliamentary opposition group but would it work as a GE policy?

What deal would we be having a vote on? Theresa May’s deal that has been so universally rejected that she stood down as PM? Would we negotiate a new deal with the EU just so we could ask the public to vote it down in a referendum?

Why have another vote at all? We’re a parliamentary democracy after all. If our MPs are elected on a promise to “Stop Brexit”, surely that gives us a mandate to revoke article 50, put an end to Brexit and move on to other pressing issues like health, education and the environment?

I’d like us to declare that Conservative attempts to deliver Brexit have failed. After three years of neglecting our Country and its problems, the deal they ultimately wrangled is so bad that they themselves rejected it. Time to Stop Brexit so we can get back to dealing with the issues that matter to people!

“Stop Brexit” should only start a sentence, not end it.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 62 Comments

We need a positive EU campaign and we need it now

We’re in danger of losing the EU campaign. We’re making the same mistakes we made in the AV and Scottish Independence referenda and if we don’t turn things around we could find ourselves losing Europe.

The Remain campaign seems to have worked with the assumption that if we present the facts then people will believe and make their decision based on their facts, but unfortunately it just isn’t so simple.

For one, people have no idea of what the facts actually are. The Leave campaign have been extremely effective at casting doubt on any facts they disagree with. The conspiracy theories they come up with may sometimes sound daft, but they resonate with anyone who has come to distrust the political ‘establishment’.

Furthermore, emotion plays a big part in how we decide things. The Leave side have run a very emotive campaign, making effective use of fear (immigrants!!) and hope (unshackled we can do anything!!)

The Remain campaign, in comparison, have only really played to fears (economic ruin!!) and has assumed that because their scare stories are more factual that that will win it. (I saw more factual but even our side has exaggerated and twisting things)

The Remain campaign has lacked a positive message to go alongside the negative message and it desperately needs one!

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 48 Comments

ALTER Questions the Leadership Candidates
 on the Land Value Tax and Economic Reform

ALTER is an Associated Organisation within the Liberal Democrats dedicated to advancing the causes of the Land Value Tax and other economic reforms. We chose to use the leadership contest as an opportunity.

We are aware that party policy is not determined by the leader, it is instead determined democratically by members at federal conferences. However, it is our experience that the leader has a large amount of influence in terms of which policies are given priority. So although motions and amendments on the Land Value Tax have been regularly passed at conference with near unanimity, the party has largely been quite shy about the policy, leaving it hidden within the small print of our manifesto rather than properly campaign on it.

For this reason we wished to challenge both leadership candidates as to whether they’d be willing to grasp the nettle and get seriously behind LVT, and also take their view on other areas of economic reform including workplace democracy and monetary policy.
We sent our questions and their responses are below.

Land Value Tax

Whenever the Land Value Tax has been debated at a Liberal Democrat conference, support for it is almost unanimous. While the party has consistently supported introducing the Land Value Tax, it has in recent years been highly shy about it. ALTER had to fight for it to even make the small print in our manifesto.

As leader, would you be willing to grasp the nettle and make it a front and centre policy?

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Introducing ALTER

ALTER logoNew members have been asking about Lib Dem organisations that they can join.  You are welcome to submit similar items on behalf of other organisations.

Do you think we should tax wealth rather than work? That regressive taxes like Council Tax should be replaced with a progressive tax on landowners instead? Do you agree with the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ Mirrlees Review that “the economic case for taxing land itself is very strong”?

If so, have you considered joining ALTER?

Last week, new member Simon Gilbert wrote a piece in which he described himself as a Georgist and declared his support for the land tax. Feeling like we had discovered one of our own, ALTER contacted the LDV team, asking them to introduce us to Simon.

The LDV team not only passed our message to Simon, (who has since joined us) but also invited us to introduce ourselves more widely to the LDV readership. So this is a short piece to introduce who we are, what we stand for, what we’re trying to achieve, and why you may wish to join us!

ALTER – Action for Land Tax and Economic Reform

ALTER is an Associated Organisation within the Lib Dems that focuses on economic reform, with particular focus on the land value tax. The land value tax is a long time Liberal policy, the one that led to the showdown between Lloyd George and the Tory House of Lords with the People’s Budget in 1909. On our website there is a selection of articles that explain the benefits.

Posted in Lib Dem organisations | Tagged | 33 Comments

Opinion: Cabinet Collective Responsibility and why we need to reform it

clegg cameron rose gardenA lot has been written over the last few weeks about the coalition, how it has damaged our poll ratings and what we need to do to turn things around. I’d like to put the spotlight on Cabinet Collective Responsibility and how it’s not only damaged our party’s identity but has also helped damage the public’s view of coalitions in general.

Cabinet Collective Responsibility is the convention that members of the government, i.e. ministers, all have to suspend their own opinions and collectively hold the government line. If they want to publicly disagree with the government then they’re expected to resign. This may have made sense when one party ran the government but with a government formed from two different parties, with very differing views and identities, this has predictably caused a number of problems.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 14 Comments

Opinion: In defence of consumption taxes

MoneyWhenever the “cost of living” comes up as a topic, we often hear lists of consumption taxes that can be reduced to lower it. Most recently have been the green levies on energy bills; last year a big deal was made about fuel duty; the year before it was the top rate of VAT.  Some people even argue that taxes on cigarettes and alcohol hit the poorest and should be cut back.

I’m certain that there’s all sorts of taxes that we’d like to lower, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and any tax we lower requires us to raise another tax or cut spending elsewhere. Wealth taxes, and even a high rate of land value tax, would only raise so much, so if we’re to cut tax then we’re going to have prioritise.

My position is: whichever consumption tax you’d like to reduce, we’d be better off using the revenue to raise the Income Tax and Employee NI thresholds. This is for three reasons:

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Opinion: Four suggestions on the future of Lib Dem tax policy

Last week at conference I attended our consultation on tax policy. As the chair progressed through the paper, it was quite interesting to hear all the opinions put forward on it. I was planning to suggest some ideas for the committee to consider but unfortunately the chapters on corporation tax and financial taxes were left out, and I put my hand up too late to be called in the NIC and Income tax section. So instead, I’ve decided to put the ideas up here for debate instead.

Corporation Tax cuts for paying a Living Wage

Using corporation tax cuts to incentivise desirable business …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 28 Comments

Opinion: a request to our boys in the BIS

Every now and then I do something that requires me to provide “proof of address”.

There’s starting a phone contract, applying for security jobs, signing on, etc. For whatever reason these companies need “proof” of my address, either a utilities bill or bank statement and unfortunately for me I struggle to provide it.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 10 Comments

Opinion: Could the Lib Dems back a Financial Transaction Tax within the EU?

At Spring Conference we passed a tax motion that confirmed our manifesto pledge for support for a global Financial Transaction Tax (FTT).

The implication was that we supported the FTT but only if the entire world agreed. The usual reasoning for this stance is that if we, or Europe, unilaterally institute an FTT it would disadvantage banks within the EU and encourage them to move their operations outside our borders, losing us jobs and …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 22 Comments

Opinion: Is it time to rescue education policy from the hands of MPs?

When Labour’s shadow minister of education, Stephen Twigg, announced his “Office for Educational Improvement” idea, it was quite well received by many of us. It pushed a lot of our buttons, not least the welcome emphasis on evidence and the idea of protecting educational policy from the whims of politicians with “transient ambitions”.

The question that crossed my mind was how this might be combined with our liberal themes of localism and democracy to improve it further. So to start a debate, here’s a suggestion:

How we might “devolve” educational policy

We could create a council to deal with educational policy. …

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Opinion: An attempt to bring a calm and rational solution to the workfare issue

There’s been a lot of controversy around the “workfare” issue. However, while individual members have expressed clear opinions on it, our party is yet to take an official stance on the issue. With a policy paper on youth unemployment to be debated this weekend at conference we have an opportunity to decide where we stand on the issue.

I propose that we make the system fairer and ease the controversy by securing the following three compromises from the Tories:

1) Ensuring jobseekers aren’t misled into voluntary work schemes.

Although the scheme is voluntary, many jobseekers report being misled by Job Centres. Some …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 15 Comments

Opinion: A suggestion for an amendment to the AV bill

This article is easier to follow if you understand how STV and AV works. If you’re not familiar with them, I recommend quickly clicking on the links for explanations.

How STV would clean up politics.
When the electoral reform campaign was for STV, one of the arguments we liked to use was how it would help clean up politics by ending “safe seats”. We call a seat “safe” if it has been held by the same party for a long while and it’s pretty much guaranteed that the candidate who runs for that party will win. This means that some …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 69 Comments

Recent Comments

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