Author Archives: Mark Littlewood

Mark Littlewood writes: Sharper axes, lower taxes

Today sees the Institute of Economic Affairs publish its own version of the Comprehensive Spending Review. The research report – Sharper Axes, Lower Taxes: Big Steps to a Smaller State – calls for a radical downsizing of the public sector and sketches out the colossal tax cuts which would become possible. Accompanying opinion poll research, conducted by ComRes, shows overwhelming public support for such a strategy.
 
For all the sound and fury surrounding the coalition’s fiscal retrenchment, its proposals are actually amazingly modest. In real terms, public spending will fall by a mere 3% or so between now and the …

Posted in Op-eds | 59 Comments

Opinion: Vince wasn’t just wrong to say it. He was just wrong

It was an extraordinary day. In front of two total strangers, Vince Cable, still the nation’s Business Secretary, had declared he’d gone to war – and was going to win – against Rupert Murdoch. He also pontificated about how he might use the “nuclear option” against his own cabinet colleagues. To be sure, such extreme militaristic hubris is deeply odd behaviour from a Liberal Democrat. But in the fog of a curious day at Westminster, liberals must not lose sight of the serious policy implications facing British broadcasting.

Rupert Murdoch is an easy hate figure for the centre-left. He is …

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Opinion: Looking through the tea leaves of Liverpool

What a strange few months it’s been for the Liberal Democrats. In Bournemouth a year ago, few LibDems would have truly believed that this was to be their last annual conference in opposition.

My sense of the mood in Liverpool this year was that it matched the political and economic times we live in. Serious, but somewhat apprehensive. There seemed a lot of quiet satisfaction – although never smugness – that there were Liberal Democrats in government, but a nervousness about what the “end game” might be.

A few things truly surprised me. Support for the principle of entering Coalition with the Conservatives was close to unanimous. A straw poll at the IEA’s fringe meeting showed about 95% felt that Nick Clegg had made the right decision in those tense few days after the General Election. The national media were, of course, on the look out for any sign of coalition-fatigue, but seemed initially disappointed – and then rather impressed – about the absence of much strategic dissent.

But looking through the tea leaves of Liverpool, there are some longer term issues which the party will have to address.

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Opinion on Nick Clegg’s first anniversary: Mark Littlewood – A number of clouds, but some silver linings

Clegg’s first year: Clegg on Clegg | Tall on Clegg | Land on Clegg | Littlewood on Clegg | Clegg on YouTube

As Nick Clegg reaches his first anniversary as Liberal Democrat leader there is much for him to reflect on, but not – at least yet – a great deal for him to celebrate.

Let’s start with the bad stuff. Then look at some areas of success. And end with some grounds for genuine optimism.

The principal bad news is the state of the party in the opinion polls. It’s as simple as that. There are, of course, staging posts of “real votes in real ballot boxes” between General Elections, but the best guide to the performance of a party – and its leader – remains the plethora of national opinion polls pumped out on a weekly basis.

There has been no obvious “Clegg effect” in the first year of his leadership. In fact, if anything, the party may have slipped backwards slightly over 2008. In broad terms, we are running at an average of around 15 – 16%, suggesting about a third of our supporters have deserted us since the last election. Some polls suggest we may have lost half our support. No poll I can find suggests we have increased it.

These are poor numbers. Not necessarily catastrophic, but definitely bad. Whatever the public “spin”, the party’s inner circle must not kid themselves that these figures are anything better than that.

The electoral problem is, of course, exacerbated by Britain’s insane electoral system. If we do lose a third of our vote, we will probably lose many more than a third of our seats. If we lose half of it, we will lose more than half of our MPs. The line between a fairly good outcome in Parliamentary seats and a disastrous one is a very thin line indeed. It feels like we are walking that line.

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Opinion: A Truly Liberal Vision for the Liberal Democrats

Can the Lib Dems put forward radical, exciting, truly liberal policies and still attract substantial and growing levels of electoral support? According to Liberal Vision, which I helped set up last month, the answer is a definitive “yes”. In fact, adopting the former could well be the best way of achieving the latter.

Liberal Vision wants to see the party adopt a consistent approach to lowering taxes, reducing the size of government and extending personal freedom. At present, the party’s approach in these areas is patchy.

Whilst, the new tax package adopted at Bournemouth represents a dramatic step in the right direction, there is still a long way to go. I would like to see tax cuts even for those on relatively sizeable incomes, but am delighted that the party now at least believes the total tax burden should be cut, rather than increased.

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