Evidence based, Left Foot Forward? Not if you’re ignoring the actual evidence

The Labour-supporting Left Foot Forward blog prides itself on being evidence-based. But not, it seems, when the evidence doesn’t support the conclusion they’ve already written.

That seems to be the only explanation for their slanted weekend posting that Lib Dem tax policy “fails the fairness test”, which appears to rest on two points: 1) that people who don’t pay tax won’t benefit from tax-cuts, and 2) ignoring completely the redistributive wealth tax rises that Vince Cable and the Lib Dems are proposing.

Perhaps the authors, Tim Horton and Howard Reed, hoped nobody would notice the sleight-of-hand; or at least that it would reassure those Labour bods looking uneasily at the Lib Dems’ proposals and wondering why their own party is unable to put forward fair tax policies. But their partial analysis has been taken to task by a number of Lib Dems, most notably:

  • Fabians fail the fairness test (James Graham | Social Liberal Forum)
  • … the Lib Dems’ proposed tax package would significantly reduce income inequality, go some way to addressing wealth inequality, would cut the deadweight cost of Labour and would benefit the middle classes as well during an extremely challenging economic period when solidarity between the poor and people on middle-incomes will be crucial. The other major parties, and in particular Labour, have nothing on offer that comes close. I don’t think the smears will get the Fabians and other tribal Labour activists very far but if they want to make this election about the need for fairer tax policies, bring it fucking on.

  • Libdem tax policy attacked from the Left (Giles Wilkes)
  • The Fabians, quite simply, would prefer £17billion that Vince et al have found in forms like the mansion tax and pension tax relief ’spent’ in other ways. I don’t think that this attack will prove very effective. If it is fairly explained, most people would see the Lib Dem Tax Switch not as an alternative way of ’spending’ the money, but as a way of redistributing the tax take; taking certain (unfair) tax reliefs on e.g. pensions for the very rich, and using the money gained to tax less those for whom the decision to work must in some cases be quite marginal.

  • Tax policies aren’t just about who gets what money (Mark Pack | Left Foot Forward)
  • Among the millions who would be taken out of income tax all together with a £10,000 threshold are … People who will benefit from having the hassle of struggling with the tax system lifted from them. People who will benefit from not having to worry about how tax is under or over-paid if they move between jobs or different pieces of part-time work. People who will benefit from not struggling to make ends meet because, while there is a tax adjustment coming down the line, they aren’t getting the money in their bank account right now. People who just don’t have the financial resources and bureaucratic experience to see themselves through dealing with an at times complicated, unforgiving and slow moving tax system.

  • Where Are The Losers? (Duncan Stott)
  • The Lib Dems have always made it clear that the policy is revenue neutral. This means that the policy won’t cost the Treasury anything, because the tax cut has been paid for by tax rises in other areas: raising the tax on capital gains, and the new mansion tax on property worth over £2,000,000. … This wouldn’t fit with Left Foot Forward’s narrative, so they have used statistical trickery to create a different result.

Guys, guys: if you’re going to claim to be evidence-based, try basing your research on the evidence – all the evidence, not just the bits which suit your partisan preferences.

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  • That so called ‘research’ is appalling, I’d love to see some actual research to show what the effect of Labour’s removal of the 10p tax rate in order to lower the basic rate of tax. I’d be willing to take a bet it would be shown to have been actually regressive (as opposed to progressive but a Labour blog getting mixed up what regressive actually mean) because its obvious it was (tax lower incomes more and tax higher incomes less kind of the definition of a regressive tax change)

  • Without getting into the specific debate surrounding the policy, i think it’s worth noting that this whole thing might’ve been avoided if the Lib Dem policy unit had, with the announcement of this (and perhaps all other tax policies) put out a proper paper (perhaps in collaboration with CentreForum – don’t know how keen they’d be on that) setting out the effect on the tax system, where the benefits would accrue, and generally setting out the policy in more detail, so it’s not left to passionate party activists to have to critique someone else’s analysis of our policies before members can get a clear picture of what the effects are.

    Few people without a Masters in Economics or Social Policy or whatever could tell you the nature of the effects of this kind of tax proposal off the top of their heads – non-wonkish members of the public wouldn’t, certainly. I wouldn’t have known what the effects of this policy on the labour market would be (and i’m studying for a degree involving Economics – although perhaps that says a lot about me and my degree..) without reading James Graham’s post, not to mention all the other benefits he points out, which simply aren’t obvious at first glance at the proposal. Ask someone if they’re in favour of this kind of tax package, and you won’t get nearly as good a response as you undoubtedly would when you articulate that it also a) helps the labour market at the bottom in the ways James outlines, and b) shifts the focus in taxation away from income and on to wealth.

    So while a good policy, with lots of good coverage, releasing a detailed document (yes, with non-dodgy graphs..) to accompany it might, as this whole saga kind of illustrates, have been a wise move.

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