Cameron’s conference: Giveaway budgets are dead! Long live giveaway speeches!

David CameronPoliticians don’t do giveaway budgets any more. It seems just too blatant to ‘bribe’ voters a matter of weeks before an election. Instead politicians now do giveaway leaders’ speeches.

Nick Clegg pulled a policy rabbit out of the hat last year by finding a spare £500m a year for free school meals for infants.

And yesterday David Cameron pulled two policy rabbits out of his top hat by announcing tax-cuts for basic-rate taxpayers (extending the personal allowance to £12,500) and higher-rate taxpayers (raising the threshold at which it becomes payable to £50,000) over the course of the next parliament.

This Tory pledge to extend the personal allowance — we really can’t call it a tax-cut for low-earners any more: most of those who benefit come from better-off households — provoked lots of outrage from Lib Dems.

Some pointed out that this was our idea. Forgive me if I excuse myself from joining the chorus of “But we thought of it first!” Others pointed out that it was an unfunded promise. True, but so’s ours.

Lib Dems should be pleased when our ideas go viral. Most of our policies are so beyond the mainstream — pro-EU, pro-immigration, pro-PR, pro-green taxes — that we should erupt in joy on those occasions our policies are nicked by a rival party. Ditto Labour’s nabbing of the mansion tax.

Besides, the Tories aren’t the only ones ‘guilty’ of stealing their opponents’ ideas and passing them off as their own: how often has “freezing Council Tax” (a Tory idea anathema to liberals who want to see more powers vested in local councils) been championed within Lib Dem documents praising what we’ve achieved in government?

Cameron’s vow to cut taxes has, predictably, wowed the right-wing press. Today’s Financial Times is pretty much alone in seeing the Prime Minister’s new clothes for what they are: nakedly unaffordable policies which are either delusional (he actually does think these tax-cuts can be afforded while abolishing the deficit and protecting key public services) or just plain deceitful (he actually knows it can’t be afforded but reckons the public is willing to put hope before expectation). As John McDermott points out:

To make all this add up, the cuts will either be even deeper than announced, the deficit won’t actually be closed, or some taxes will go up after all. Something has to give – but it doesn’t look like it will be those on higher incomes.

But don’t worry. The voters are too smart to be taken in by politicians’ promises these days. Aren’t they?

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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18 Comments

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 2nd Oct '14 - 9:58am

    I’m not so sure about the idea that we should be pleased when others steal our policies. Something that I think many women will recognise is the experience of suggesting things in meetings, being completely ignored and then some time later, a man suggests the same thing and everyone goes mad for the idea. When we complain, we are then told, often in a very patronising manner, that we should be pleased that something we agree with is being implemented. No, it was our idea and we should get the credit for it.

    I’m also not sure I want us to be too mainstream. We are distinctive and should be more radical than we actually are.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Oct '14 - 10:16am

    Caron, I never give up trying to win someone around. The key is to spot where the electorate are right and where they are wrong. This combines pragmatism with radicalism. On a lot of areas the electorate are simply il-informed and over time their views will change, but we need to show that we understand their concerns, even if we don’t share them.

    Get on the phone to LD strategy and pass my message on! 😀

  • Eddie Sammon

    “On a lot of areas the electorate are simply il-informed and over time their views will change, but we need to show that we understand their concerns, even if we don’t share them.”

    As with most political parties the LibDems only think people are il-informed when they keep getting hammered in elections. Maybe, just maybe it’s because you have a hopeless leader – who the voters don’t trust – and looking at the draft manifesto wishy-washy policies.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 2nd Oct '14 - 10:48am

    Indeed. Something inside of me dies every time I hear Nick talking about how the Coalition has introduced the family income thing for foreign spouses.

  • Caron Lindsay 2nd Oct ’14 – 10:48am
    ” Something inside of me dies every time I hear Nick talking ……..”

    Nuff said.

  • I’m surprised that Lib Dems want to claim ownership of a policy that funds tax cuts for the wealthiest by cutting support for the poorest and most vulnerable.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Oct '14 - 2:31pm

    Stephen Tall

    Nick Clegg pulled a policy rabbit out of the hat last year by finding a spare £500m a year for free school meals for infants.

    Yes, and what a stupid thing that was to do. It’s not a policy that Liberal Democrats as a whole really wanted more than anything else. It’s not something that had been carefully discussed and thought about. It’s a nice idea, but probably not what most of us would have put as number 1 priority if we had that amount of government money to allocate. And there are all sorts of practical problems associated with it, which are now coming up, and are resulting on our party being criticised for it.

    I DON’T WANT a leader that acts in this way, pulling “rabbits out of hats”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Oct '14 - 2:36pm

    AndrewR

    I’m surprised that Lib Dems want to claim ownership of a policy that funds tax cuts for the wealthiest by cutting support for the poorest and most vulnerable.

    This one doesn’t. It’s all party of the top-down right-wing takeover of this party, that what Cameron is proposing here is being put forward by party right wingers who have without democratic authority risen to the top as “nicking our policy”, when we ought to be condemning it as economic madness and a demonstration of how far Tories are removed from us in the way they want to make life more miserable for the poor in order to make life m,ore pleasant for the rich.

    The policy that was actually in our manifesto was a shift of taxation from straight income tax to elsewhere, NOT as Stephen Tall and other right-wingers untruthfully claim, just a straight tax cut.

  • Rabbits out of hats
    I agree with Matthew Huntbach. The way Clegg did this (see Nick Harvey’s comments at the time) was the worst sort of Westminster top down, gimmicky, undemocratic excuse for politics that we came to expect during the Blair years.

    It was Clegg’s version of “sofa government”.

    I am actually very enthusiastic about free school meals. If Nick Clegg had not been so lazy or poorly organised or arrogant he could have easily won support for this at a Liberal Democrat Conference after a debate. It says a great deal about him and his “advisors” that they thought it a better idea to just pull a rabbit instead.

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Oct '14 - 11:04pm

    The people of Britain would do well to give away David Cameron. And a fair few other parliamentarians who shall be nameless.

  • Peter Watson 3rd Oct '14 - 1:18am

    In the interests of equidistance I’m still looking forward to Joe Otten’s cheeky take on Cameron’s speech, but in the meantime I thought this was brilliant, right up there with Clegg’s “I’m sorry” video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YBumQHPAeU
    (Warning: listeners of a sensitive disposition might be offended by the odd swearword and/or sm*g politician).

  • Julian Tisi 3rd Oct '14 - 11:06am

    @Andrew R “I’m surprised that Lib Dems want to claim ownership of a policy that funds tax cuts for the wealthiest by cutting support for the poorest and most vulnerable.”

    To be fair, the Lib Dem policy idea was tax cuts at the bottom, by increasing the personal allowance to a level akin to the minimum wage. The other half of Cameron’s policy – to increase the top rate of tax substantially (giving high and middle-high earners £1300 a year extra) is NOT a LibDem idea and not one we champion.

  • Julian
    I’m afraid you’ve haven’t understood the effects of increasing the personal allowance. 75% of the gains have gone to those in the the top half of the income distribution. Factor in benefit withdrawal, cuts, and increases to other taxes and the working poor have done badly overall. This flagship policy is basically a con. It allows Clegg to present himself as a progressive while pursuing a thoroughly Tory agenda of cutting taxes for the wealthy and the better off middle class. Why do you think it has been adopted so enthusiastically by the Tories and now UKIP?

  • David Pollard 3rd Oct '14 - 1:01pm

    Allowing people to keep an extra £800 of their own money must mean more to those at the bottom than those at the top. What am I missing?

  • Malcolm Todd 3rd Oct '14 - 1:51pm

    David Pollard
    What you’re missing is essentially what AndrewR describes: “benefit withdrawal, cuts, and increases to other taxes”, which mean that “those at the bottom” in fact don’t get to keep that extra £800. The people who benefit most from this are people like, frankly, me: ostensibly a low earner, so my income tax is substantially reduced, but with a much higher-earning partner, so I wasn’t receiving benefits that are cut, offsetting the gain. Great for me, but I really don’t think my need was greatest.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Oct '14 - 12:14pm

    AndrewR

    I’m afraid you’ve haven’t understood the effects of increasing the personal allowance. 75% of the gains have gone to those in the the top half of the income distribution. Factor in benefit withdrawal, cuts, and increases to other taxes and the working poor have done badly overall.

    Indeed. I can accept it as another compromise position – if it was a choice between this and the sort of tax cuts that the Tories would really like, even more focussed on those at the top end of the wealth scale, OK.

    But that’s not how it’s being put across here. Now we’re seeing this put across by the party leadership and those surrounding it as if it’s what we always wanted in the first place. This idea that once would have been considered right-wing Tory: that all that matters is tax cuts, and if that means the services that many rely on for freedom and dignity have to be cut to pay for it, that’s fine.

    This is NOT what was in our manifesto. They are not telling the truth when they say it is, when they say it is “our idea”. They are trying to push our party to the Tory right when they pretend it is. Our manifesto was quite clear that raising the tax allowance was part of a package that would be balanced by other things that would increase taxation on the wealthy and so not need to be paid for by cuts in services.

  • Can we talk about my conference on the right page.

    Right now, we should all be roundly fearing Cameron’s speech where he basically says ‘human rights’ for some, ‘austerity’ for everyone else!

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