Nick Clegg’s priorities for 2012

The Voice’s Mark Pack has been writing about the Party’s challenges in 2012 – as if on cue, leader Nick Clegg set out his priorities for Lib Dems in Government in a Radio 4 Today interview which you can hear in full here.

As reported in The Guardian, these priorities include tackling tax avoidance by both corporations and wealthy individuals, clamping down on excessive and undeserved top pay, and re-engaging with governments and business in Europe following the Prime Minister’s unhelpful showing in Brussels at the end of last year.

Pressed on how that re-engagement would materialise, Nick said that he is meeting with Liberal leaders from across Europe “to set out the British vision of greater competitiveness and growth across the European Union.” It is clear that reasserting Britain’s place at the heart of a reformed Europe, using our ‘considerable clout,’ remains a major priority for the Deputy Prime Minister.

There were encouraging words for those of us who want this Government to take a stronger line on the unfair exploitation of complicated loopholes in the tax system. Nick made it clear that Lib Dems were seeking to implement measures that would amount to a General Anti-Abuse Rule (GAAR), as recommended by Graham Aaronson in a report for the Treasury. It’s probably not surprising, as The Voice previously suggested, that a GAAR along the lines that Aaronson proposes would be more narrowly focussed than an anti-avoidance rule, but it would nonetheless go some way to making it harder for companies and wealthy individuals to ‘play the system’ and avoid paying their fair share of taxes – which as Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams’ Early Day Motion suggests, is the ultimate aim of such measures. Coupled with lifting the personal income tax allowance yet further, the idea is to shift the ensure the tax system is fair and transparent.

Continuing on the theme of fairness, Nick emphasised how important it was to tackle excessive pay as well, particularly in cases where the highly paid don’t do well by their companies. Action on this front would be welcomed by those who’ve long believed that excessive pay distorts company performance and is grossly unjust.

Encouraging though these remarks are, they point to an overarching priority Ia meta-priority, if you will) that Nick hinted at in his interview. Acknowledging the electoral difficulties the party faces – difficulties that Mark Pack discussed in an earlier Today Programme segment, Nick said ‘we must constantly explain to people what we are delivering in this government.’ This need applies in particular to those policies which are clearly Lib Dem in nature and provenance, as recent press reporting of the measures to tackle high pay in particular demonstrate.

This Financial TImes story (£), for instance, cites both Danny Alexander and Vince Cable as key personalities in the government drive to control excess pay – and yet the headline and allied reporting credits the Prime Minister as the one who’s tightening the screw on top pay. Of course we would expect that in grown-up politics – the Tories are more than likely to take credit for such things, that’s the nature of being in coalition.

But it does point to an additional priority that Nick should keep front and centre in 2012 –  it isn’t enough just to get the right policies in place, we have to ensure that the Liberal Democrats take ownership of the issues involved. This way we can work for the benefit of the nation and be given due credit for significant Lib Dem wins in power.

* Prateek Buch is Director of the Social Liberal Forum and serves on the Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee

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  • Agree, especially with the last para. Just when Nick Clegg is setting out his campaign against tax avoidance – David Cameron makes a speech in Maidstone saying that he will clamp down on tax avoidance

    But how can you avoid it – how can we not have our clothes stolen by the Tories when it is popular (tax avoidance) or hung out to dry when it is unpopular (our position on Europe) ?

  • Daniel Henry 6th Jan '12 - 3:13pm

    what Dave said.
    Anti avoidance measures certainly didn’t appear in the Tory manifesto.

  • Daniel Henry 6th Jan '12 - 3:14pm

    @ Dane
    We’re working on it! 🙂

  • Julian Heather 6th Jan '12 - 10:50pm

    Prateek is absolutely right in the last paragraph. As a party we really are hopeless at trumpeting our successes. It should be a Party priority from here on in to make sure that everyone is reminded, ad nauseum, about Lib Dem successes in Government – both in introducing Lib Dem policies and in stopping the potential excesses of the Tories. There’s a massive amount to crow about, but even our members and activists aren’t aware of how much we have have achieved in Government.

    Every week we should be getting the good news, via emails to all members, until we moan like mad about the quantity of briefing material we are getting in our inboxes. If we as members and activists aren’t properly briefed, how on earth can we expect the wider public to know the great things we are achieving in Government. And as for having printed campaigning material to hand out on the doorstep, whenever anyone questions what we are doing, just please don’t get me started. The Party has been absolutely hopeless in producing easy to read, fact-packed leaflets, that can be reprinted easily. Just what our paid staff doing in the Campaigns and Literature departments ???

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