Opinion: Ready for the challenge with energy, enthusiasm and passion

I have now been a political activist for quite a long time! Starting with campaigning for a Palestinian state and against apartheid in my teens, joining the party as a Liberal student, and then elected to Parliament in 1983 when Mrs Thatcher was at the height of her powers. Twenty seven years later, I have never forgotten what I came into politics to do. Fight for social justice, civil liberties, internationalism and a fair and responsible Britain where power is handed back to and not taken from the people.

For many people in our country these are not characteristics which we associate with the Conservative Party. Under Mrs Thatcher the gap between the rich and poor increased dramatically, and power was ripped out of the hands of local government.

Labour started promisingly but then quickly lost their radicalism. After 13 years in power, Labour left a legacy of a half-finished programme of constitutional reform, a continuing increase in social inequality and government intent on controlling increasingly large parts of our lives.

The election on May 6th withheld power and authority from either of the two parties which had governed for most of the previous century. Parties and members of Parliament were forced to compromise. We entered into negotiations with both parties clear that these should only succeed if we could implement many of the policies on which we had fought the election, and always making sure we stood by our principles. We earned the right to do this because nearly seven million people voted for us this spring.

It may surprise some, but I have been clear from the beginning that the coalition agreement which we came to, masterfully negotiated by our colleagues, represents the best opportunity we have had for decades to deliver the policies for which I and many have fought for our entire political lives. I spoke in favour of the agreement at the decisive meeting on the 11th May and at our special conference the following Sunday. I am determined to make it work. Already I am hearing widespread support for the idea of working together in government and in particular for an agenda which removes many of the worst excesses of Labour’s authoritarian state.

There is of course no doubt that the years ahead will be difficult. Much of the press will seek to find and to create division wherever and whenever possible. The coalition agreement is an excellent foundation but events, dear boy and girl, events will certainly intervene -and responses will have to be negotiated regularly and carefully.

As a party we must trust our government ministers to do the right thing, as we would expect to be trusted ourselves if we were in the same position. But we must not repeat the mistakes of the Labour years and allow government to take our ministers away or lose touch with the public. It is the job of the leadership of the parliamentary party in the Commons, more than anyone else, to make sure there is permanent and effective communication between government colleagues and the rest of the Parliamentary party, and between the party and our supporters and those of us elected to parliament.

Parliament is about representation – of people, of parties, of ideas and of interests. Decades of single party rule with substantial Parliamentary majorities (all of the Thatcher, Blair and Brown years) have stifled debate and to a large extent excluded Parliament from the process of forming government policy. But even though the coalition has a comfortable majority, the new politics must be entirely different. There can and must be debate within the parties of government and between the parties of government. We may be the smaller party but we must never forget that we have an equal right to be heard and understood, and for our fundamental views and positions to be respected. In addition we must never forget that in this government it is Liberal Democrats and not the Conservatives who are the party which represent not just significant numbers of constituencies in each of England, Scotland and Wales, but also urban, suburban and rural communities in each of these three countries too. We have to make sure that this breadth of voices is heard in Parliament and by government.

This is why, as posted on Lib Dem Voice earlier this week, I wrote to the chair of our Parliamentary party with my suggestions about how Liberal Democrat MPs might reorganise ourselves for this parliament of coalition. It is a priority that we urgently put our new team in place. There must be Liberal Democrat MPs (and peers) who represent the party in each departmental area, sometimes of course as Secretary of State but otherwise as the Liberal Democrat spokesperson where we do not hold the top job.

The purpose of each Liberal Democrat spokesperson’s team must not be to act as an alternative government or a government in opposition. We must use to maximum advantage the experience of our colleagues, in Holyrood and Cardiff and local government. We must allow our parliamentary team fully to participate in and support the coalition. We must make sure that all our members, through all our MPs, have a direct link to government to contribute positively and with fresh ideas and advice.

I was never more proud of our party than during the period of the coalition talks. I met with my local party members and supporters several times to discuss and debate the coalition. During this period and at our party conference in Birmingham everyone displayed the best traditions of the Liberal Democrats, a democratic party realising that authority comes from the bottom up and not from the top down.

For our party the coalition presents a huge opportunity. If we achieve what we set out to do in the coalition agreement, then we can go into future elections stronger than ever. We will be able to point to our priorities and positions of principle which determined the policy of government. And we will be able to show where we led the fight – against tuition fees, in support of the people of Gaza, for shifting the tax burden from the poor to the well off, against nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

When we show how much Liberal Democrats have delivered through this coalition we will have made the best possible case for a liberal Britain. Our ambition in this Parliament must that at every level – from each of our communities to the Westminster Parliament – we are seen, heard, and effective in making the case and leading the campaign for liberal democracy. Everything we do must seek to lay the foundations for further success at all elections to come – starting with every by-election this year and then the Scottish, Welsh and local elections in 2011. Liberal Democrat led government for Britain can then be within our grasp.

For all my life I have enthusiastically, loyally and successfully campaigned for liberal democracy. We have come a huge distance in this time. If I have the privilege to be our next deputy leader, I am determined to get out our message loud and clear. For Liberal Democrats in Britain, the best is yet to come.

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34 Comments

  • Good luck! Your speech at the special conference was excellent.

  • That speech should be released. Valuable archive material, important that people get to see it etc…

    But much more importantly, I missed it.

  • The speech is at http://www.simonhughes.org.uk/speeches/000010/speech_to_special_liberal_democrat_federal_party_conference__birmingham_16th_may_2010.html

    Signs are that this is Simon’s lucky year – Millwall got promoted!
    And having him as Deputy Leader would be an important sign to the country that the Lib Dem Parliamentary party will act as a counterbalance to the Tory right. Good luck, Simon.

  • Paul Krishnamurty 9th Jun '10 - 2:39pm

    Simon (or any other Lib Dems for that matter)

    When you repeated that ‘fairness’ was to be the mantra that would guide you in government, did you envisage that one of the first acts of your ‘coalition’ would be to cut free school meals?

  • Paul (or any other Labour supporter for that matter)

    Did you ever imagine that a Labour Government would make free school meals unsustainable, though squandering public money on useless wars?

  • Paul Krishnamurty 9th Jun '10 - 3:35pm

    John, sadly I’m not a Labour supporter. I voted Lib Dem for the last three GEs.

    How can it be unsustainable when you’re gjving half a billion away in married couples tax allowance?

  • The married couple tax allowance is silly and must be dropped – I suggest everyone put it in their feedback about what to cut! At least no Liberal democrat will have to vote for it, and I hope many will vote against. But where did you get the stuff about free school meals? Isn’t it Labour’s proposal to give free school meals to every primary child which has been dropped, not free meals for those who get it now? As is the alleged ‘cut’ in university places – it’s a cut from what the last Govt promised, but not from what they had actually delivered.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 9th Jun '10 - 4:23pm

    I’m surprised there hasn’t been more coverage of the decision to cancel plans to extend eligibility for free school meals to families with an income of less than £16000.

    Would anyone care to put a case in support of the decision? (I’m thinking of something a bit more sensible than “Labour wasted billions on the Iraq War”.)

  • Anthony Aloysius St 9th Jun '10 - 4:30pm

    And did either the Lib Dems or the Conservatives say before the election that they would cancel the planned extension?

  • yes simon it is masterful as it is all men – that is why it doesnt matter about the cuts that you will make on those who have no voice. I am very upset by the whole thing – i used to think the lib dems had a soul – did not know they would sell it for power – there is no liberal party any more – just more tories loving to use cuts to destroy large groups of people and vulnerable areas in the north.

  • Paul Krishnamurty 9th Jun '10 - 5:43pm

    Yes, agree with you Pat Roche, its very upsetting. The sad thing is, so many opponents always said they would sell out at the first sniff of power, and like a mug I defended them against the charge.

  • “Would anyone care to put a case in support of the decision?”

    LBA (Liam Byrne Applies) – ie “I’m sorry minister there is no money”

    It’s becoming clear that Labour pushed through numerous spending plans in their final days in office – some in the teeth of Civil Service objections. Most of those weren’t ever going to be affordable and they knew that damn well.

  • To all those who have been voting Lib Dem and regard the forming of the Coalition as “selling out”…
    Did you not know that you were voting for a party that quite keenly wants a more proportional electoral system? Did you not realise that should they succeed in this aim, the result would be that almost all future governments would be coalitions? Why is it preferable to avoid “selling out”, in circumstances when to do so would mean that there would be no Lib Dem policies put into practice? Based on the results of the GE as they are, what is it you would have preferred the Liberal Democrat M.P.’s and/or Nick Clegg to have done?

  • i am not saying there should be no spending cuts but we are already hearing of closing librarys no school meals cuts to benefits for up to 5 years and a mandate to carry out cuts with absolutely no empathy – and not a sign of pr – how can i vote liberal again when i know they are tories

  • Paul Krishnamurty 9th Jun '10 - 10:37pm

    RCM – If there was any hint of a genuinely proportional system, the situation would be more tolerable. AV isn’t proportional though, and there’s no certainty that the referendum bill will even get through Parliament. If it doesn’t, while fixing the boundaries in the Tories’ favour, how stupid is Clegg going to look?

    What would I like to have seen done? Well, I posted on here the day after the election, that we should have let them form a minority government. Clegg could have accepted the Tories had the right to produce an emergency budget, and agreed to abstain. Beyond that, the Lib Dems could vote issue by issue, retaining their identity and principles. So when the Tories try their divisive schools policy, or their Murdoch-friendly media bill, or whatever nonsense the evangelical Right have in store, they would do so in the knowledge that the opposition could bring it down, and generate some terrible publicity for the govt.

    From a purely tactical perspective, being in opposition over the next five years was a golden opportunity. Make them take the heat for the cuts, all the while positioning ourselves as the ‘agents of change’ in a country that yearns for meaningful political change. This may sound brutally cynical, but i assure you that’s how both the Tories and Labour approach things. They are going to swallow the Lib Dems whole, and push them back to irrelevant early 1990s levels. Let me ask you this – do you think the Torygraph assaults on Laws and Alexander are a coincidence?

  • Paul Krishnamurty 9th Jun '10 - 10:41pm

    Another thing – Pat Roche makes the point about libraries closing. On Newsnight yesterday, the LDs were effectively being represented by one Mark Littlewood, who was scathing of the welfare state and the concept of natonally funded libraries. This guy was to the Right of John Redwood! If voters had any idea right-wing libertarians like him were part of the package, I bet millions of LD voters would have looked elsewhere.

  • @Paul Krishnamurty “Let me ask you this – do you think the Torygraph assaults on Laws and Alexander are a coincidence?”

    No, I do not. There are a lot of Conservatives that are not at all happy about those “assaults”.

    Do you really think that the Tories would have plodded on as a minority government for five years? If they had done, how could the Lib Dems have prevented the cuts on school dinners ?

    Personally, I call a proportionally elected upper house a “hint of PR”, and a chance of winning a referendum on AV a start on getting it for the House of Commons, that is two hints. To this lifelong campaigner for electoral reform (who is the daughter of a lifelong campaigner for electoral reform), it is quite good to see those hints. I am not terribly bothered by how “silly” Nick Clegg will look if the Tories get every boundary change they want and we are still using FPTP by the time of the next General Election, I will be far more disturbed by the continuing limits on the British people’s ability to communicate their wishes to their leaders, should that time ever come.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 10th Jun '10 - 12:52am

    Hywel
    “Would anyone care to put a case in support of the decision?”
    LBA (Liam Byrne Applies) – ie “I’m sorry minister there is no money”

    I’m sorry, but I really don’t think that’s much of an improvement on “Labour wasted billions on the Iraq War”.

    Apparently there _is_ enough money to fund the policy of raising income tax allowances to £10,000, and thereby benefiting taxpayers by £700 a year each. The total cost of that was estimated previously at £17bn, but of course the bulk of that would go to middle-class taxpayers.

    The scheme that has just been cancelled, it’s been estimated, would have benefited a family with two children by £600 a year (comparable to the benefit of the £10,000 allowance). But because the benefit wouldn’t also be sprayed indiscriminately over the bulk of the population, the cost would be far lower – £350m according to Michael Gove and £215m according to Ed Balls. Only a 50th to an 80th of the cost.

    If the state of the public finances is really as dire as we’re told (despite the fact the deficit is £20bn less than was expected only a few months ago!) isn’t it obvious which would be the better way of alleviating poverty? And if the government is determined instead to pursue the hugely expensive general tax cut – in tandem with raising VAT and cutting public services, which are really going to hit the poor where it hurts – doesn’t that expose the stated aim of protecting the most vulnerable as a hollow sham?

  • it is horribly frustrating to see people attack the libdems for being in a coalition that is having to make unfortunate cuts in public spending. However, they are in a situation where the Labour Government basically left the country broke, and the country’s finances in a mess. Would the Libs love to give free school meals to everyone? Of course! Would we also want to eradicate child poverty and meet the UN’s target of 0.7% of GDP to be spent on aid, as Labour priomised 13 years ago and never did? Of course! but sadly the utter devastation of government finances means we can’t do it. So critics of cuts should grow up and tell us what they would cut if they were in a coalition as a junior partner.

    As for Paul Krishnamurty’s suggestion of allowing the Tories to be a minority governemnt, let me tell you what woudl have actually happened. They would have limped on for a little while. Unable to command a parliamentary majority for almost anything, they would have been unable to introduce the necessary austerity cuts, the markets would have judged the UK unable to pay down its debts and downgraded our ratings accordingly (making our debt repayments even more expensive and necessitating further cuts) and we would have had another election in a matter of months. The Tory press would, with some reason, blame the libdems for not helping to form a coalition, no doubt saying that as a party of PR we should have accepted the internal logic of our implicit support for coalition politics and joined the Tories in May; we would have got the blame for the period of weak government and thus bringing down the nation’s economy still further, and we would have been annihilated at the next election. In the meantime, not one single Libdem policy would have been implemented that wasn’t also a Tory policy. With Coalition, as Simon’s article suggests, we get some policies on constitutional reform and tax reform implemented, as well as other policies on the environment and housing etc. Plus we can, hopefully, neuter the savagery of the Tory axe. it ain’t perfect, but it’s better than what would have happened otherwise, both for the country and for the party.

  • Paul Krishnamurty 10th Jun '10 - 4:22pm

    Alix – I sincerely hope you’re right about Mark Littlewood. If the party doesn’t want to be labelled an uncaring, antisocial libertarian party, it would do best to ensure people like him aren’t involved in televised three way discussions with Lab and Con reps.

    RCM – thanks for your reply. Re the Torygraph assaults, I’m glad it isn’t just me who was concerned. The problem is, the LDs have no sanction against this sort of thing happening. Given the relentless smearing and representation from Tory media – particularly Sky and other Murdoch affiliates – during the election campaign, I can’t help but feel the LDs have just entered a pact with the devil. Its not hard, for instance, to imagine them building a narrative around crime/terrorism/culture wars, that blames the LDs for the lack of Tory populism.

    While I share your enthusiasm for electoral reform, I cannot agree with you that this is a step in the right direction. For starters, I’m far from convinced any referendum bill will even get through Parliament, especially the Lords. Even if it does, winning that referendum will be a tall order, not least because its opponents will point out that AV is barely more proportional. Labour and Cameron’s internal opponents will present it is a stich-up to serve the LDs personal interests, rather than as a democratic reform. That could damage the cause for decades.

  • Paul Krishnamurty 10th Jun '10 - 4:36pm

    Dominic

    There would never have been any need to bring the Tory minority govt down. It would have been perfectly fair for Clegg to say “We will be a responsible opposition. We will not support any no-confidence measures. But we are independent of both parties, we are different, and we reserve the right to support or oppose any bill we like.” I wish he’d said that on the campaign trail, thus closing down the costly speculation about indecision. Alex Salmond’s govt operates perfectly well in similar circumstances. That is what I thought the discussion of ‘balanced Parliaments’ meant.

    If we were smart about it, there was no need to thwart any legislation beyond that which is wholly unacceptable, and by definition dangerous politics for the Tories to be standing alone on. The Tories are only 14 short of a real majority (i.e. w/o Sinn Fein votes). It really shouldn’t be hard for the combined opposition parties to ensure enough absentees or rebels to give the Tories enough rope to hang themselves. So what if the Parliament only lasted two years? Brand Cameron was in freefall for months even before the election. If they want to call an election because they can’t get their divisive schools policy through, so be it. Let them explain that policy to the country and take the consequences. Likewise, if they want to form a Christian Right alliance with the DUP, let the world see their true colours.

    There was no certainty the LDs would have been annihalated next time, which may well happen anyway now we’re being branded as the Tories’ little helpers. I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your attention that around a fifth of LD MPs are in Scotland, not to mention all those Southern seats reliant on tactical Labour support.

    The only valid justification in my view is if you get real policy concessions. The jury remains out on that. Already, the CG tax proposals are being undermined and watered down. For me, the test is whether Vince is allowed to reform the banks. What I would like to know is the price at which this coalition becomes unacceptable. Just how much compromise is Clegg prepared to accept before pulling the plug?

  • Dominic Curran 10th Jun '10 - 5:24pm

    Paul,

    It wouldn’t be a case of the Libs or anyone else ‘bringing down’ a minority Tory Government. It would be a case of the Government being unable to, er, govern as it would not be able to pass any measures to bring down the deficit, thus making our economic situation even worse. That’s the crucial background to all this. It wouldn’t be about the next election being called because of a schools policy – it would be about a downgrading of our credit rating, a spiralling deficit and associated increased costs of repayment, and a worsening of our economic situation. In that situation it wouldn’t be the Tories who would get the blame as they would have tried to make a go of coalition ‘back in May 2010’ – it would be the LibDems who would get the blame, not least as the Tory press would ensure that that was the case.

    You’re right about the risk of getting shafted with the decision we took, though – i think it was the least worst option but it’s certainly not risk free.

    Alex Salmond’s ‘Government’ is a poor example – it actually has passed very little legislation in the last three years as it has been unable to get a majority to do so. Some might say that that’s a good thing. Whether or not it is for Scotland I don’t know, but I do know that the UK Government has a far more significant set of responsibilities that Holyrood, and inactivity and indecision is not an option for Westminster in the way that it can be north of the border.

    The policy concessions is a key part of the calculation as to whether coalition was a good move. Don’t be too sure about the CG moves – nothing’s been confirmed yet. Redwood has been making some noises but he’s not in Governemnt. Let’s see what Vince et al get in the Budget. As for other policy concessions, i think PR for the Lords woudl be an amazing policy achievement. Again, let’s see. The coalition has barely had a month – i think we have to allow a little more time to judge its success!

    As for AV, what people tend to forget is that, as of last month, the only way that the UK was going to get any change at all to the voting system was if the Libs formed a majority government. Neither big party was ever going to agree to a system where they lose the chance to have absolute rule for 4/5 years at a time on 35% of the vote. And an outright LD majority govt was, even to my optimistic eyes, some way off. A commitment to AV is a step in the right direction, and would, in its own way, cement the Libs (at current voting levels) at 70-80 seats. Not proportional, by better than simple FPTP. I think that that, taken together with other constitutional measures, constitutes a decent deal, all things considered.

  • I really think that the parties that do not want electoral reform, and anybody else who thinks that FPTP can survive indefinitely should read this:

    http://www.parliamentarybrief.com/2010/05/the-last-post

    I do realise that it might take a few more hung parliaments for some people to get it, but I really believe they will. If John Curtice is right, they will have to.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 10th Jun '10 - 8:45pm

    Andy

    “Meanwhile, as fun as I imagine it is to just sit there harrumphing about “cutting public services”, perhaps you’d like to give even the slightest hint of what you are suggesting should be cut instead?”

    My point – rather obviously, I’d have thought – was that if you dispensed with the £17bn tax handout, you could achieve the same level of “deficit reduction” with £17bn less cuts!

    And it really doesn’t qualify as an “economic stimulus” if it’s going to be paid for by a combination of raising other taxes and cutting public spending, which will have an equal and opposite depressive effect on the economy.

  • Dominic Curran 11th Jun '10 - 9:37am

    Anthony,

    As i understand it, the £17bn tax rise isn’t happening. Some of it will, via a higher CGT and some enviro-taxes, but most of the tax switch is only promised to be in stages, and there’s no timetable for those. So don’t get stuck on the £17bn figure – it doesn’t exist.

    However, your basic point seems to be that if we raised taxes by a lot, we wouldn’t have to cut any spending. Well, yes, i suppose that if we raised taxes by even more than the £17bn we’re talking about we could even increase spending, and give everyone free school meals. However that is economic illiteracy. Every nation round the world is cutting back spending due the massive deficit reductions needed, and we’re no different.

    i think If you really want a party that will never cut anything, you’re on the wrong website – Respect is where you want to be.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 11th Jun '10 - 11:10am

    Dominic

    “However, your basic point seems to be that if we raised taxes by a lot, we wouldn’t have to cut any spending.”

    No, my basic point is – as I wrote just above – “that if you dispensed with the £17bn tax handout, you could achieve the same level of “deficit reduction” with £17bn less cuts”.

    It’s quite revealing that you apparently felt you had to misrepresent completely what I wrote.

  • Dominic Curran 11th Jun '10 - 11:25am

    Anthony – there isn’t a £17bn tax handout. There is some switching of tax – using a rise in CGT and other taxes to fund an increase in the income tax threshold, but there is no magic £17bn tax handout. So what exactly are you asking for, given that the figure that you premise is based on is fictional?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 11th Jun '10 - 5:25pm

    Dominic

    I’m honestly not sure how I can explain it more clearly.

    Put simply, if you didn’t cut income tax, you wouldn’t have to cut public spending as much in order to achieve the same level of deficit reduction.

    It will probably help if you stop worrying your head over rises in CGT, how many years it’s going to take, and whether or not the figure is exactly £17bn. None of that is relevant to the point I’m making.

  • Anthony,

    You’ve explained yourself very clearly, but i fear it’s you who doesn’t understand. The cut in income tax is being paid for by a rise in other taxes. it is a re-balancing of the tax system, as promised in our manifesto. It is tax neutral overall, so the total tax take taken by the state is the same, it is just raised in a different, fairer (we say) way. So, looking past your patronising comments about worrying my head (i worry more about your surname, to be honest), far from being irrelevant to your point, other tax rises are absolutely central to your point, even if you don’t realise it. If, instead of reducing income tax for the low paid (which has its own economic benefits of making work more attractive an option, giving people on low pay a helping hand and increasing their spending power), the government simply raised taxes in order to fund greater public spending, that would certainly make arithmethical sense in the short term, but i think that it is more important at the moment to get the deficit down than to fund a whole new round of entitlements.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th Jun '10 - 4:35pm

    Dominic

    Again, you’re wilfully misrepresenting what I’ve written. Of course I’m not suggesting that the government should raise taxes to “fund greater public spending”. Obviously there is going to be some combination of raising overall taxation and reducing overall spending. The point is that the government has a choice about how much taxes should rise and how much spending should fall, and about _which_ taxes should rise and _which_ spending should fall.

    Your insistence that the overall level of taxation is somehow divinely ordained is simply an evasion of the issue.

    And again, the fact that you are _still_ pretending this is a tax cut “for the low paid”, despite the fact that the great bulk of it will go to those on middle incomes, speaks volumes in itself. It seems that – at least in your eyes – this is a policy that can’t be defended without misrepresenting it.

  • Dominic Curran 14th Jun '10 - 5:44pm

    Anthony,

    Thanks for your response. Going all the way back to the start of this discussion (it seemes to have dragged, rather), your implied point, if i have it right, is that the Coalition government should have funded Labour’s promised extension of free school meals. However, as I understand it, this was unfunded within the outgoing government’s own spending plans (presumably, taking the current government’s claims at face value, was one of those many promises that Labour cynically made knowing they were unlikely to be in a position to implement them). So how should the new government pay for it? You are suggesting – and no doubt you will correct me if i’m wrong – that, instead of pursuing the tax policy on which the libs stood at the election, ie raising CGT and other taxes to fund a increase in income tax theresholds, they should use the extra income from those taxes (since there ain’t any other money lying about) to pay for labour’s policy on free school meals. well, that’s a lovely policy, but not one on which the party stood, and not one that the last government actually funded. Your contention that it is somehow more moral/right/desirable to follow Labour’s unfunded policy instead of the one on which the Libs stood for election is one that that i simply can’t accept. The reason for that is two-fold:

    1. it is an election commitment. Labour didn’t win, or at least, since no one won, didn’t end up in government, and so, while i accept that people don’t often vote on policy, because it is right that parties seek to implement their manifesto in power it is perfectly correct for the libs to pursue the policy.
    2. while of course i’d love free school meals for all who need them, i’d also love a million other things that we can’t afford. there’s always going to be something more worthy than a tax cut – university places for all; more teachers; higher pay for social workers; more new cancer units; more public transport projects and so on and so on – you do have to draw a line somewhere and live within your means.

    Ultimately, i suppose, it is just a matter of personal opinion – which would you prefer, spending more money on school meals or on tax cuts which help those worst off the most. I think that the tax cuts policy is a good one because it will proportionately help those on the bottom end of the pay scale more than those at the top (the very poor of course earn no income at all, but we can have a debate about benefits another time). i will explain.

    To answer your point about raising the threshold, you are missing three crucial parts of the argument.

    Firstly, it adresses an inconsistency in public policy. we say that there should be a minimum wage, which amounts to about 12k p/a for someone in full-time work. Yet we tax people on half of that. It’s perverse to say ‘we’ve figured out that you need this much to live on but we’ll ensure that you don’t get it becuase we’ll take a chunk in tax’. So it corrects that anomaly. I’d like to hear your alternatives to dealing with this if you’re against the policy.

    Secondly, while it will give more cash back in absolute terms to those on higher incomes, it will give a proportionately greater amount to those on lower incomes. As you know, at the bottom end of the income chart, every pound that you can keep has a much higher value to you than at the top end (you could argue that no one really needs £100k per year to live on), so being able to increase the take home pay of those at the bottom end of the pay scale has enormous social good. I find it really odd to hear apparently left-wing people arguing against a tax measure that will give, as a proportion, a much bigger share of income back to poorer people than to richer ones.

    Thirdly, the measure reduces the disincentive to work by reducing the marginal tax rate for those on benefits. This will encourage people into work in a much more humane way than simply reducing their benefits to the point where people cannot live at all on them (sadly i fear this is being considered by IDS). So it performs a broader social good outside of the direct benefit to those in low paid work.

    I am happy to defend the policy. It doesn’t need misrepresenting, just patient explainig to those who haven’t quite got it yet.

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  • David Raw
    @ Peter Martin The Greens are no threat to me, Peter. You assume too much. I appreciate their contribution at Holyrood which is not insignificant....
  • Peter Martin
    @ David Raw, I don't have a problem with environmental radicalism but I do trying to understand why anyone on the left thinks it's radical to support a euro-...