Author Archives: David Cooper

‘Not-Spots’: if the networks won’t fill them, should Lib Dems try to force them to?

It’s mid-June and the time for London Technology week, a showcase for technological innovation. 5th generation mobile phones are almost upon us and along with the promise of blazingly fast mobile download speeds comes a renewed call for mobile phone operators to improve the rural coverage of their networks. In a conference sponsored by technology thinktank Cambridge Wireless, industry players gathered to discuss the issue in the high tech ambience of the Digital Catapult on the Euston Road.

Large areas of the UK, especially Scotland, still do not receive good quality mobile coverage. A report published earlier this year by Ofcom, the official body that regulates communication, found that 30% of the UK’s landmass lacks coverage from at least one of the ‘big four’ mobile networks, increasing to 60% in Scotland. Worse, there are many so-called ‘not-spots’ where there is no coverage at all. As one speaker explained to the assembled audience, planning rules don’t help: the UK has one of the most stringent height restrictions in the world for mobile phone masts, greatly limiting the coverage area each mast can provide.

Worried about the continuing ‘digital divide’, Ofcom proposes that new licences to operate networks should come with an obligation to provide 92% coverage of the UK landmass. They claim that this will benefit rural communities that otherwise would miss out if operators determined coverage on purely commercial considerations. This has powerful political support from lobbying groups such as the Countryside Alliance, and the 2017 Liberal Democrat manifesto committed to improving rural mobile coverage. I believe these calls are misguided and will create social injustices while reducing the quality of mobile networks in the UK, thus directly harming our economy.

There is no doubt that improving coverage in a rural area does indeed benefit the local economy since individuals and businesses that rely on good mobile and internet can occupy properties they would not have previously considered. This attracts more affluent persons to low-cost rural areas, providing them with improved lifestyle opportunities, and creating a demand for local services.

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Homeowners as Currency Counterfeiters: a Parable

In the UK, gains on domestic property values are virtually untaxed. This put renters at a huge disadvantage. But far worse is the damage this does to our competitiveness. Failing to tax gains in property value means that our economy in effect hosts a currency counterfeiting operation with a £50bn turnover. This can be illustrated with a very short story.

Once upon a time a newly crowned king wished to prove his military prowess, and decided to raise a navy to conquer lands overseas. His councillors protested that the royal coffers were empty, but he hit on a brilliant idea. He would licence his councillors to print banknotes, in exchange for them providing sailors and ships. The councillors readily agreed. He ordered royal printing presses to be built, and handed them over to the councillors each with a licence to print money. The councillors set their presses in motion and provided the necessary sailors and ships. The king went to war and returned victorious.

Fortunately the king had wisely limited the speed of the printing presses so the currency would not collapse. Merchants and labourers still worked and traded, but were poorer because the newly printed banknotes meant their money were worth less than before. But the same banknotes made the printing press owners richer.

As time went by a market developed for the printing presses. Some of the king’s councillors had a great fondness for expensive claret, or lost money at cards, so had to sell their presses to repay debts. Successful merchants found the purchase of a printing press was an excellent and safe investment. Unfortunately skilled labourers found they could earn more abroad and started to emigrate. After the king had ruled for many years, there were few skilled shipwrights left in the kingdom and the navy fell into disrepair. Sensing their chance, the neighbouring kingdoms sent an invasion fleet, sank the king’s ships and the kingdom fell.

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Property Uplift Recovery Tax

The Liberal Democrats have proposed increasing income tax by 1 penny which would raise just £4.6 billion pounds annually. There is a better alternative, called the Property Uplift Recovery Tax which is being proposed by Liberal Democrat ALTER. The tax would be paid annually by all that own housing in the UK and are either:

  • British citizens who are have non-domiciled tax status
  • Foreign citizens (or British citizens non-resident for over 15 years) who are not taxed in the UK, or
  • Corporate entities registered offshore.

The tax would be levied annually on the property price uplift in the local area, and would aim to recover 50% of the long term increase. The tax would raise about £8.5 billion pounds per year (see fully referenced article ).

Taxes need a compelling story which resonates with the electorate, and this tax has one. We are rightly proud to live in a country with a strong economy, a stable government and respect for the rule of law. Housing in the UK is a safe haven for overseas investors, and 10% of housing is now owned by foreign investors. They often leave properties empty, indeed some residential developments in Britain have been likened to towers of safe-deposit boxes. In England 216,000 homes have been empty for over six months.

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South Central Regional Conference- Can we muster Euro enthusiasm?

catherine bearderThe European in-out referendum dominated the South Central Regional Conference last Saturday. Speakers included Catherine Bearder, our own MEP, who spoke of the complete negativity of the large contingent of UKIP in the European Parliament.

Not everyone accepted that the EU is a force for good. As one questioner asked, how can our party muster enthusiasm to campaign for an organization that is obviously undemocratic and very deeply flawed? Perhaps the Outers are right; there really are sunlit uplands outside the EU, where the UK can benefit from truly representative democracy, run companies uninhibited by red tape and carry out extensive worldwide trade.

As a Libdem member who is lukewarm about the EU, I have found this a tricky question.

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Opinion: The Human Rights Act – undemocratic and illiberal


Liberals (with a small “L”) believe that society should not be governed by immutable dogma. New laws can be created when required and old laws changed or removed. Immutable revelation only applies to religion.

Not everyone believes that laws should be subject to the uncertainty of the democratic process. For decades the Soviet Union relied on the absolute principles of Marx and Lenin. Some religions provide God-given legal codes. But for liberals, laws are the work of humans and must be subject to democratic change.

It is therefore strange that the Liberal Democratics support the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which cannot be amended or corrected by our democratic process, or indeed any democratic process. Changes to its existing provisions must be unanimously agreed by members of the Council of Europe (which despite its name is completely independent of the EU): its 47 member states include countries as diverse as Russia, Turkey and Monaco.

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Opinion: TTIP: a taxpayer funded safety net for the super-rich

Few things are more complicated and opaque than the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a trade deal being hammered out between the EU and the USA. It has been criticized by activists and journalists such as George Monbiot, but Vince Cable asserts there is nothing to worry about. Who is right?

When things get complicated, follow the money. Fortunately we now have a money bloodhound. The economist Thomas Piketty has spent a decade or more producing a huge scholarly work which reveals where the money is. His answer is simple: unless active measures are taken an ever larger proportion ends up in the hands of the already very rich. TTIP will make this even worse.

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Recent Comments

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    MMT - and by the way, I didn't mean to be taken seriously about Ed's conversion to MMT, I am certain he hasn't - argues clearly that taxation follows spending r...
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    @Laurence Cox - I disagree regarding equalising capital gains tax rates with income tax. A taxable capital gain is usually a reward for accepting a certain amou...
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    There are many levels to this, one of which is around expectations and “status”. I get the impression that Alan feels returning to live with his parents is ...
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    @martin - I think we are violently agreeing, my point was not to provide a “definition” but to illustrate the words carried differing baggage and thus valid...
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