So, the Guardian finally recognises the usefulness of the Liberal Democrats, years too late

The Guardian Building Window in London

The Guardian has spent the last five years spewing poison in the direction of the Liberal Democrats. Now, a week into a majority Tory government, they finally realise what good we did. I suggest that this is not entirely a surprise. A cursory glance at the Conservative manifesto gave an indication of what would happen. David Cameron’s pronouncement, back in 2012, that he’d govern like a true Tory if it wasn’t for the Liberal Democrats, went unignored.

Here’s what they had to say in an editorial posted last night:

…yet it is true too that the Lib Dems were frequently a moderating, and on occasion a truly positive, force within the coalition. Even in social security, a field in which they ultimately proved disappointingly willing to fold, they postponed the serious Conservative assault for a couple of years. On the core liberal territory they proved more determined – defending human rights, seeing off the snooper’s charter and rallying to defend equality laws. It has taken precisely one week of majority Conservative government to remind Britain why, in the absence of a liberal party, one would have to be invented – and indeed, why one will now have to be reinvented and rebuilt.

They then acknowledge that Liberal Democrats are needed because their precious Labour party can’t be relied upon to stand up for civil liberties.

In all of these areas, most of the Lib Dems who could previously have checked and balanced in the Commons are no longer there to do so. Even if Labour were not as bewildered as it is right now, it could not be relied on to do the same. It is just as often authoritarian as it is libertarian, and – with the impressive exception of the early Blair years – it has been constitutionally conservative through much of its history.

It assumes that our recovery must be slow and painful. I’m not so sure that this is the case. Our politics is volatile and fraught. Look at the way the SNP have gone from also-rans to key players at both Westminster and Holyrood in just over a decade. All it’ll take is for something this awful government does to capture the public’s imagination and we could be back on track again. I’m not underestimating the scale of last week’s defeat, which was brutal and which I don’t think most of us have even begun to properly feel yet, but we do need to pick ourselves up and be there to be the voice of liberty and reform.

I’d also take issue that we merely postponed Tory welfare reforms. Let’s be clear, I opposed many of the coalition’s cuts to social security, notably the Bedroom Tax, the limitations on Employment and Support Allowance and the benefits cap. However, it’s wrong to say that Liberal Democrat ministers had no influence at all. There were many things that we absolutely put a stop to. For example, I understand that the Tories wanted to charge people to make appeals against benefits decisions and then make them pay back any benefits if their appeals were unsuccessful. Let’s see if that one raises its ugly head in George Osborne’s forthcoming budget. The effects of such a decision would be devastating.

Freed from the constraints of government, Alistair Carmichael is back on blistering reform, commenting on his Facebook page:

Where do you start? The North London left wing elite finally acknowledge Liberal Democrat influence in government – just a bit too late, guys. The time for this sort of commentary is past and maybe if it had come earlier then we might still be in there making the difference that you NOW acknowledge we made. What really gets me, though, is the reference to us being wiped out in “mainland Scotland”. Clearly they would love to say “wiped out in Scotland” but the technicality that people living in “island Scotland” returned a Liberal Democrat MP prevents them from doing so. I hope that the author of this self-indulgent piece of nonsense chokes on their quinoa tomorrow. Well, obviously, I also hope that someone else is on hand to perform the Heimlich Manoeuvre, just in the nick of time….

The Guardian would do well to recognise its own role in what happened to us last week. Our positive impact on the coalition didn’t suddenly become obvious this week. The signs were all there. The Guardian just chose to ignore them for five years.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • But what use is ‘The Guardian’?

    Discuss… … … 😉

  • The issue is that we (as a party) didn’t highlight to the public that we were the cushion to the Tory hammer, as when one is being struck they don’t feel that cushion; only the hammer. Now that cushion has gone and each blow is felt in full force. Labour’s blood-letting will stop them being the Opposition they need to be, while the SNP will only stock pile this as ammunition ready for the next inevitable referendum. We need to show the electorate that there is a Third Way between savage cuts and rampant spending, a way that to be united doesn’t automatically mean dictation from Westminster, that basic guarantees to freedom and liberty are at the centre of our Constitution. We need to sow those seeds now so we can reap the rewards for years to come.

  • I agree with James. There are lots of Lib Dem-sympathetic Guardian writers and so many potential LD voters among their readers. Right now the party needs all the support it can get. I wouldn’t like to see the 12,000 new members treated like this just because they weren’t there for the Lib Dems during the election campaign. (disclosure: I’m one of them and looking forward to getting involved)

  • I am sorry but most folk I speak to think the Liberal Democrats shielded the Tories with their cuts by often appearing on T.V spouting fairness.

    I believe if the LibDems had gone with the Tories on a supply and demand basis, they could have mitigated a lot of these cuts because a lot of people thought them unfair.You had the Nuclear option has Vince Cable once put it.

    Now we have a massive rise in food banks.Child poverty is rising.It was not only the student fee vote that decimated the LibDems but also Welfare.

    If you want to get back into mainstream politics,this needs to be acknowledged.

    Also many people are saying the Tories never thought they would have to administer 12 billion pounds worth of cuts to the poorest in society.Most think they expected another LibDem coalition and 3 billion pounds worth of cuts could have been negotiated. And would have give the LibDems the credit for stopping them which may have satisfied their own right wingers.

    So expect the Bedroom Tax to affect many more and the under twenty fives to get little or no benefit.I believe this will end in tears.

    I am nearly sixty and on benefits,and am very afraid of Osbornes new round of cuts in July.

  • Pete B,
    While there was the Prime Minister’s Power to call an early general election the option of “supply and demand” was not available as Cameron would have cut and run in the middle of Labour’s leadership process.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 16th May '15 - 11:46am

    No, actually, Mark, I don’t agree. Benefits should be based on need, not on someone else’s judgement on what a particular person or family deserves.

  • I see you still haven’t learned anything from your drubbing. Why would you think that attacking your voters, former voters and a supportive newspaper to be a good idea?

  • Simon McGrath 16th May '15 - 12:20pm

    @caron – but who defines what the need is ? Is 25,000 a year tax free really inadequate for most families ?
    The cap should be higher in London where the cost of housing is so high though.

  • Samuel Griffiths 16th May '15 - 12:42pm

    I really don’t see the argument that people who didn’t vote LibDem somehow voted the Tories in. If you make a substantial shift to the right – and let’s face it, it was absolutely massive – then you will lose the voters whose values you have been promoting for so long. That is simple logic and inescapable. You can certainly ask those voters to tactically vote for you, especially in order to prevent the Conservatives gaining a majority, but that only applies if it’s very obvious that the Tories will come out top party. It was not. Polls up to the day itself were assuming Labour will be biggest party and need to form a coalition. Keep in mind that the entire Tory campaign was based on why their voters shouldn’t want a SNP-Labour government. LibDem voters shifted their support to the left, as to them this alliance was preferable to more coalition. I imagine some voters didn’t bother at all, especially with such dire choices for a Liberal on the ballot (but that’s another discussion).

    There is no use blaming the guardian for LibDem policy decisions. You can argue until the end of time that the coalition was good, that it prevented the worst from happening, that it was the only option, etc. But at the end of the day the coalition did not represent the values and outcomes of the sort of people who usually vote Liberal Democrat. There is no easy “blame paper X” or “voters should have done Y”. Instead, you should look at the positives of this. Even considering the damage done by the last government, the guardian wants to be able to back the LibDems again. They are giving it a positive light in which to recapture it’s vote. guardian writers are not stupid, they are entirely aware that a lot of the LibDem seats fell to Tories, meaning they need the left to support the LibDems again if we are to kick out the Conservatives. This is an avenue worth taking, but only if the party is serious about holding it’s old values again.

  • Simon McGrath 16th May ’15 – 12:20pm
    @caron – but who defines what the need is ? Is 25,000 a year tax free really inadequate for most families ?

    It is inadequate for most families. In London it is not even enough to pay the rent even if you Iive on fresh air sandwiches.

    As someone who along with my wife has a joint income of less than £25,000 a year (we still support the youngest member of the family at university because of those pesky Coalition tuition fees) and who lives in London – I feel qualified to answer Simon’s question.

    It is adequate for me because I already own my own house, my 13 year old car; Rosemary makes her own clothes, I grow fruit and veg in the garden. I neither drink nor smoke and the only trip abroad we have taken in the last six years was to my son’s wedding.

    I would guess that Simon knows very few if any families who survive on less than £25,000 per year. He will no doubt correct me if I am wrong. He sounds a bit lke Iain Duncan Smith boasting that he could survive on tuppence a day and still have change from a fish supper.

  • The loss of the News Chronicle is still lamented, however we now live in the age of the internet and newspapers struggle to survive. With the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, spending cuts would have had to be made by whoever was in power. Don’t forget Labour made cuts in the 1970s.
    In the next five years there will be massive complacency concerning the creation of a new hi-tech economy that can withstand the challenges of globalisation.

  • @John Tilley the point is not so much the absolute amount, but 1 the relative amount and 2 as Jedi points out the assent of the majority in providing the safety net for the minority.

    As Mark Williams also points out we need to find some way to write policy that addresses the justifiable concerns of those on very modest incomes who “do the right thing” when faced with those who patently don’t.

  • Graham Evans 16th May '15 - 2:24pm

    The problem with the £25K cap is that it includes (I believe) housing benefit, and this totally distorts the impression of how much benefit recipients receive. On the other hand many taxpayers feel it unfair that some benefit recipients can live in expensive areas of the country, where someone on average wages could not afford to live. The benefit cap is therefore in effect not really a way of addressing benefit dependency, but a crude way of addressing the housing crisis. Until there is a major expansion of house building far in excess of what the political parties have “promised” then the benefit dilemma will persist. However, taxpayers would still be entitled to ask the question as to whether it makes economic sense to subsidise housing in places like London, rather than using the money to build homes in cheaper parts of the South East, perhaps at the same time improving the public transport network.

  • I guess the left is now regretting targeting liberals, over the last five years as this has gifted the right it’s majority government…

  • Graham Evans 16th May '15 - 2:46pm

    @Carol “benefits should be based on need”. Defining ” need” is ultimately a subjective judgement, and therefore juxtaposing ” need” and “desire” is a false dichotomy. Moreover, on the subject of need, one of the things I find so depressing about delivering leaflets on many relatively recently built social housing estates is that allocating social housing solely on the basis of so-called need seems to have produced a generation of tenants, many of whom do not appear to give a damn for the environment in which they live.

  • Simon McGrath 16th May '15 - 2:49pm

    @John – did you miss the bit where i said the cap should be higher than £25k in London because of housing costs ?

    and I am a bit puzzled by this :”we still support the youngest member of the family at university because of those pesky Coalition tuition fees”
    Why would tuition fees mean you need to support her ?

  • Bill le Breton 16th May '15 - 3:03pm

    Move on Caron – if the Guardian had recognised the value of the Liberal Democrats that would have still left 4.5 million actual human beings and citizens of our countries who were quite sure from at least autumn 2010 that they didn’t think we were any use at all.

    Because we refused to change then and any time since, who can blame them for continuing to hold this opinion of us?

    Those who continued year after year, election after election to say we were doing the right thing and that things would pick up soon ought in my opinion to do some serious thinking.

  • Michael Beckett 16th May ’15 – 2:43pm
    “I guess the left is now regretting targeting liberals, over the last five years as this has gifted the right it’s majority government…”

    To be fair, the Lib Dems have also spent five years targeting the Labour Party. In particular, by parroting the Tories message about ‘clearing up Labour’s mess”.

    If Clegg et al had spent the same energy targeting the Tories, perhaps we would not have a Tory majority now.

  • Housing Benefit is nothing more than a giant £20bn tax-payer subsidy to private sector landlords. And we wonder why by-to-let is so rampant? That it falls to the Tories to challenge that eternal subsidy to landlords (who they are usually the mouthpiece for) is disappointing. That liberals, of all people should be defending giving £25k+ of subsidy to individual private landlords power year is mind-boggling.

  • @MBoy – Many buy-to-let landlords are normal people – one I know uses the monies gained to provide for her two special needs children; I hope you can understand why having had tenants on benefits who think it is okay to not pay rent and trash the place she no longer lets to people on benefits…

  • Mark Wright. You could explain how most of that benefit money is going directly into Landlords’ pockets.

  • Peter Andrews 16th May '15 - 7:49pm

    Totally agee with MBoy and have been arguing the same thing for years. Why the state subsidises rents but won’t (rightly IMHO) possibly subside mortgages is telling. Its all a consequence of selling off council houses .

  • Jane Ann Liston 16th May '15 - 8:59pm

    Rents used to be regulated, I think in the 1960s, but this didn’t work – I think it reduced the number of properties available – so they were deregulated.

    It might be possible to introduce some form of rent control, but we would have to learn from why the previous system did not work and ensure that any new system avoids these pitfalls.

  • Matt (Bristol) 16th May '15 - 11:49pm

    Several Guardian pieces during the election worked very hard to portray the election as a dualistic choice between a Labour-SNP coalition and a Lib-Con coalition — the idea of a Lib-Lab coalition was undermined thereby, along with the credibility of our statements on the matter. I think this sort of line was bought and sold by many, that there was little effective difference between us and the Tories, and we would fall-in behind them in another coalition. And I suspect that the general acceptance of this didn’t only lose us left-leaning voters.
    Of course our strategy of explicitly touting for a coalition probably didn’t help, but this was one of a number of ways the Guardian seemed to be aggressively ‘punishing’ us for our partnership with Cameron (I may of course, be overstating the case).
    However, I read many Guardian writers with respect – or at least, interest. Let’s not dismiss the whole paper and all its readers, that would be foolish.

    I find it hard to argue against benefits caps in the abstract, and have experienced the same outrage from the same people Mark Wright has, but a national benefits cap is barking, and housing benefit and council tax and council tax benefits should be set and regulated in tandem by local authorities – or consortia of local authorities – which should likewise be able to decide their policy on spare rooms without meddling or dictation from Whitehall, just as they should be able to plan, invest and build to meet their local social housing demand.

  • Mark Littlewood 16th May '15 - 11:57pm

    The Guardian is an almost total irrelevance in electoral political terms. It is just simply amazing that so many people in the cosy bubble of the political elite care about it at all. It may or may not be a good publication but it is of almost zero impact in driving voters towards -or away from – voting LibDem.

  • We have a choice about our strategic campaign in the face of a Tory government which has an impact on our leadership contest. Do we emphasise the lack of restraining influence or do we make a clean break with the Coalition years?

    Depending on what the Tory government do, my hunch is that the former could be more successful, but it carries the implication that we still entertain thoughts of another coalition. In reality I think another party would have to concede a huge amount before we would consider a coalition worthwhile. The danger with a clean break approach is that we would be rejecting a large swathe of potential voters and become marginalised as a parliamentary pressure group.

  • Jefferson Horsley 17th May '15 - 8:50am

    I won’t stop reading the Guardian in spite of its inherent suspicion of the Liberal Democrats.. There is precious else to read in the press that even begins to reflect on truly Liberal values. Where will I find another Polly Toynbee, Owen Jones and many other feature writers who empathise with our cause?

  • Personally I find the i more to my taste and a lot cheaper. Although I do miss Owen Jones since he went to the Grauniad.

  • Jefferson Horsley: I presume you are joking. Polly Toynbee who days before the election referred to us as the “treacherous Liberal Democrats”. Toynbee has been a committed Labour tribalist for some time now.

  • Like Jefferson Horsley and John Kelly I am a fan of the writing of Owen Jones.

    John Kelly, if you are missing his work I suggest you follow him of Facebook, you can usually read his articles there before they appear in The Guardian.

    I also recommend his book ‘The Establishment – And how they get away with it.’.
    Get it out of your local library now, assuming the Tories have not already closed your local library.

  • Stop blaming the Guardian. They have to sell newspapers. Given their readership it would have been very silly to continue backing the Lib Dems after 2010. Their readers wouldn’t have stood for it. It’s perfectly obvious to anyone on the outside that the Lib Dems decided to make a strategic break – from being a party supported by the Guardian to one for people who read the Economist and Financial Times. Miranda Green was positively salivating about the endorsement the Lib Dems got from those two publications before the election. It didn’t appear too be worth many votes though.

    One of the most encouraging things about recent years has been the Keynesian revival in economics. Sadly his former party decided to go the other way.

  • ” Keynesian revival in economics”, more of a special theory than a general theory.

  • Eddie Sammon 17th May '15 - 11:04am

    Jefferson mentions Polly Toynbee and Owen Jones as representing liberal values. I can see Owen Jones, even though I don’t agree, but I recently complained about Polly for simply being a Labourite journalist. Most of the time she doesn’t tackle things from the left or right wing point of view, but the present Labour Party point of view.

    In the run up to the election the Guardian lost credibility as a centre-left newspaper due to taking the Labour Party line. I’ve also become disappointed by Andrew Sparrow inserting comment and his opinion into his live reporting. I didn’t used to notice this, but have started to notice it recently, so I’m trying to get more of my news from the BBC than usual.

  • @ Caron
    “No, actually, Mark, I don’t agree. Benefits should be based on need, not on someone else’s judgement on what a particular person or family deserves.”

    The benefit system has always involved subjective judgements about both need and desert. The only way to avoid this is to replace all benefits with an unconditional ‘citizen’s basic income’.

    I share what I infer to be your wish to avoid a moralising, officious – and above all incompetent – bureaucracy bossing people around, ‘sanctioning’ them and so on…

    However, means-testing and conditionality – which, in turn, implies some means of enforcing the conditions – are unavoidable in a system which wants to deliver targeted support at an acceptabl cost. Both the attraction and the fundamental problem with a basic income scheme is precisely that it has nothing to do with need; it is dependent on citizenship not economic or other circumstances. As a result it is a very expensive way of helping those in need or else it is much stingier than the current system. I have yet to see a model for one that squares this circle.

    Given these drawbacks of a CBI, we are inescapably in a world where benefits have to be based on subjective judgements. These judgements will include the purposes and extent to which those paying for the system are willing to continue doing so. I hope this does not take a punitive character and focuses more on things like making work pay and reducing the inflation of housing costs (the latter being the underlying driver of the housing benefits bill); but clearly it cannot involve taxpayers writing a blank cheque. Crude as it is, the household benefit cap is a recognition of that and explains the strong public support for it including among Labour voters.

  • Eddie
    “…news from the BBC than usual.”

    I recommend the TV station ‘France 24’ for news. It broadcasts in English. It is far superior to the BBC.

    It reminds me of what the BBC News used to be like before you were born — when they had some idea of perspective.
    When the BBC had some sense of journalistic professionalism, when they did not follow the wolves in the Murdoch pack.

    In those days ‘The News’ consisted of more than just reading press releases and the words of spin doctors whilst showing pre-prepared, soft-focus images of David Cameron using only his “good side”.

  • Nick Tregoning 17th May '15 - 12:14pm

    Stopped reading the Guardian years ago. Too much polenta-fuelled Labour-supporting tribalism. Happily transferred to the Independent.
    I really don’t care if the Guardian has come to the belated realisation that a strong liberal voice is vital in building a progressive society. Their endorsement or otherwise was an irrelevance before 7th May, and is an irrelevance now. It is for us to feel the weight of the rejection we have suffered, analyse the reasons, ( others more eloquent than I have done so to my satisfaction – the trust issues, the split the difference stance, the parroting of words like ‘stability’ without offering definitions thus evacuating them of meaning) and rebuild a party committed to the defence of human rights, civil liberty, progressive, radical, welcoming of diversity, internationalist, committed to reducing inequity in health, which nonetheless treats economic health seriously, but runs the economy as.though people mattered. Rant over…

  • I agree with James, Bill le Breton & steve above.

    It’s the only national paper still in print to ever come out in support of the party, it’s had more positive Lib Dem press than any other, giving us the nearest thing to an international platform (look at the stats on this, compare with party). I don’t think Guardian readers have changed much in the last 5 years, it’s still a centre left paper which gives space to many differing view, some of those are supportive, some aren’t. It can’t be reduced to single articles or positions without misunderstanding the platform.

    >The Guardian would do well to recognise its own role in what happened to us last week.

    How? AFAIK their readership is stable and the website gets ~9 million views a day (3rd biggest news website on the planet), so I don’t think it’d really do anything for them as an organisation. They seem a lot more open and liberal than the Lib Dems, I think the party has a lot to learn from the paper, not the other way around because it’s the biggest UK liberal institution.

  • I agree with those who say the benefit cap should not be a uniform national figure. But then on the same logic both the minimum wage and public sector pay scales should be localised to take account of differences in the cost of living. As usual, these decisions get taken ad hoc rather than looking at the system as a whole, what we want it to achieve and at what cost.

  • This must be what happens to Observer readers. It’s because they’re all so wild and extreme, you can’t let them out in public, you’ve got to keep control of what they’re saying or anything could happen!

  • If you think the benefit cap should vary across regions why do think it shouldn’t vary according to size of household? Isn’t size of household the main factor in determining how much that household needs to subsist? Why should we expect a family or six or more to live on less than the average wage of a single person? The benefit cap takes no account of need or contribution. It incentivises large families to split up. It’s clever, nasty politics but wrong in principle.

  • Jane Ann Liston 17th May '15 - 1:07pm

    ‘ … the benefit cap is absolutely right. If you want to understand why, knock on doors in an area of the working poor, and have your hair dried and straightened by the angry voices of people wanting to know why other families are getting more in benefits paid for by their taxes, than they are earning with two people working full time.’

    Fortunately, my hair is already straight, as although it is tempting to side with anger of this kind, it may not be the right thing to do. The angry constituents might even be mistaken in some of their assumptions about their neighbours. It reminds me of when I was a councillor, and people denied a council house complained about other tenants whom they perceived as being unfairly favoured. I used to attempt, gently, to suggest that they might not know every detail of the situation of any other household apart from their own, though that was not often too well received.

  • Jane Ann Liston 17th May '15 - 1:11pm

    AndrewR, I often wonder how many households on benefit comprise 6 or more people? If not many, then the financial implications of such a cap will be minimal in comparison with the amount of hardship and ill-will generated; in other words, despite what the Daily Mail might say, not worth it.

  • Alex Sabine 17th May '15 - 1:30pm

    I was addressing the point made above that a large component within the benefits cap is typically housing benefit. The principal factor in this is rent levels, which vary substantially by region and are much higher in London than elsewhere.

    If you think benefits should be based on ‘contribution’ then you need to fundamentally redesign the system way beyond simply opposing benefit caps, abolshing means-testing and moving away from the ‘need’ principle. I don’t think the benefit cap is the ideal way to put downward pressure on costs or to give people more independence – partly for the reasons you cite – but, going right back to Beveridge, social security has never been envisaged as a pure ‘demand-led’ system in which payments have been granted without a link to contributions on the one hand (the social insurance principle) or a subjective assessment of absolute or relative deprivation on the other (the social assistance idea).

    Certain benefits have been conditional on behaviour (eg job-seeking in the case of unemployment benefit) which some people associate with being deserving or undeserving; and they have been rationed by the total amount the Treasury has been willing to spend (which, by the way, has risen in real terms as society has become wealthier and during periods of rising and falling inequality alike).

    My main point is that, as with the tax system, you need to start from first principles and then devise a reform strategy rather than a piecemeal approach of resisting particular measures and defending the status quo. It is not good enough merely to offer a critique based on welfarist rhetoric that most voters seem to be alienated by. The true defenders of a strong welfare safety net will be those who can most credibly reform the current ramshackle system into one that gives the best possible incentives, dignity and independence while containing the overall bill to a level which the public finances and taxpayers are prepared to support.

  • Jane Ann Liston 17th May '15 - 2:02pm

    @Alex Sabine ‘… as with the tax system, you need to start from first principles and then devise a reform strategy rather than a piecemeal approach of resisting particular measures and defending the status quo.’

    I agree; we’d better get started on it soon.

  • There was an article in the Guardian yesterday about the new pensions minister, Ros Altmann (never heard of her) which ascribed the pension reforms introduced by the coalition as being a consequence of her initiatives and managed to completely avoid mentioning the work of Steve Webb, widely regarded as the best and most innovative pensions minister in living memory. I see this as a harbinger of the future: all the benefits that the Liberal Democrats brought to government in the last five years will be claimed as Tory successes and we will be written out of history. It is, after all, the victors who write the history books.

  • Jane Ann Liston 17th May '15 - 3:27pm

    The Guardian, eh? Well, its rediscovery of our usefulness didn’t last long, did it?

  • Alex Sabine,

    fully agree with your comment that “as with the tax system, you need to start from first principles and then devise a reform strategy rather than a piecemeal approach of resisting particular measures and defending the status quo.”

    However, where I would part company with your analysis, is I firmly believe that an adult Citizens Income should be the foundation of a welfare reform strategy.

    The Mirrlees tax review made a strong evidence based recommendation for merging tax and national insurance. This measure combined with replacement of tax and NI reliefs on a personal allowance of £12,500 provides for a basic income equivalent to the current level of JSA/ESA etc.

    Means testing could go entirely and the work disincentive of benefits withdrawal eliminated. Housing benefit for under ’65s and the non-disabled can be made conditional on being habitually in employment or single-parents engaged in rearing of infants, supported by apprenticeship/guaranteed employment schemes for those in need of them.

    There is no reason why such reforms should not be part and parcel of an overall drive to reduce welfare bills by removing the general employer subsidy that working tax credits represent.

    We squandered the benefit of North sea oil in the Thatcher years on mass-unemployment/incapacity benefits instead of investing in retraining. We squandered the boom in financial services on a failed experiment in redistribution via tax credits instead of investing in economic infrastructure, skills development and rebuilding our advanced manufacturing base.

    With the mass of private and public debt that has accumulated over recent decades we may not get another chance to put the economy on a long-term sustainable footing, if we don’t get it right before the next serious downturn comes along.

  • Ian Sanderson

    A re-issued coalition cabinet picture with Liberal Democrat ministers from 2010-15 air-brushed out, would help us enormously in 2020. 🙂

  • Alex Sabine 17th May '15 - 4:09pm

    tonyhill: Ros Altmann is probably the most widely quoted (in the media) expert on pensions and champion of pensioners there is. Not saying she’s necessarily right about everything but she’s kind of hard to miss whenever the subject of pensions, annuities etc comes up in TV studios and on the airwaves! I’m sure you would recognise her even if you don’t know her by name. It seems that in this area at least Cameron has continued the tradition of appointing a minister who actually knows about the pension system.

  • Alex Sabine 17th May '15 - 5:11pm

    Hi Joe. Fully agree re merging income tax and NI. I’d be interested to see the calculations showing this would finance a CBI: there would be administrative savings certainly, both to employers and to the public purse. There would also undoubtedly be BIG administrative savings (notably in unproductive employment) from scrapping means-testing wholesale. I grant you that. But I can’t see how these would go more than a small part of the way to paying for a CBI. The Green party came unstuck on this point during the recent election campaign.

    If you are proposing scrapping the personal tax allowance, then yes we are talking serious money. But would this not amount to taxing people more heavily in order then to give them a (thinly spread) universal benefit? I can see that a stronger case can be made for lump-sum payments if we are talking about things like distributing the future revenues from natural resource wealth (eg from ‘fracking’) or from taxes on economic rents (eg a land value tax), but higher taxes on earnings to finance them doesn’t seem so appealing.

    In any case, paying a basic income at the level of JSA would still not deliver enough support to those with greater needs who currently receive a range of other benefits – so presumably means-testing would survive in some shape or form…?

    But I agree that your kind of system-wide approach asking fundamental questions about the purpose and design of the welfare system, employment support and training is what is needed.

  • @Alex Sabine – Benefits and Citizens income

    I think the big benefit of a citizens income is that it is an ‘income’, whereas benefits are really ‘expense allowances’ based largely on known expenses.

    Once you break the direct link between say the level of housing benefit someone receives and the actual amounts of money they spend on housing, different opportunities arise. Firstly, a person/household’s income is no longer so directly tied to their current circumstances, enabling them to make changes without regard to the impact this may have on their ‘benefits’. Specifically move out of a high priced rental area or alternatively enable someone living in a high cost transport area to no longer be so constrained. Hence I think, certainly in the first instance, a UK wide citizens income could be set, just as we have a UK wide tax system.

  • Alex Sabine,

    for calculations see the institute for economic and social research paper published last month outlining two feasible ways of implementing a revenue neutral citizens income scheme

    The abstract reads:

    A Citizen’s Income – an unconditional and nonwithdrawable income for every individual – would offer many advantages, but because the UK’s current benefits and tax systems are complex, transition to a benefits system based on a Citizen’s Income could be difficult to achieve. This paper builds on the results contained in a previous EUROMOD working paper 2 by proposing two financially feasible ways of implementing a Citizen’s Income. The first method would be an ‘all at once’ method. That is, it would establish a small Citizen’s Income for every citizen of the UK, of whatever age. This paper shows that a strictly revenue neutral scheme is available that could be paid for by raising Income Tax rates by 3%, by abolishing Income Tax Personal Allowances, and by making adjustments to National Insurance Contributions. This scheme would impose almost no household disposable income losses on low income households at the point of implementation, and manageable losses on households in general. A second method – a ‘one step at a time’ method – would turn Child Benefit into a Child Citizen’s Income, then establish a Young adult Citizen’s Income, and then enable those in receipt of the Young adult Citizen’s Income to keep their Citizen’s Incomes as they grow older. This method of implementation would impose almost no losses in household disposable income at the point of implementation. The paper concludes that both ‘all at once’ and ‘one step at a time’ methods would be financially feasible.

  • @ Caron Lindsay “The Guardian has spent the last five years spewing poison in the direction of the Liberal Democrats. ” – no, they haven’t. Writing as a Guardian reader and a Liberal Democrat, I would say that they have done a reasonable job of being the only progressive newspaper in the UK during a difficult period for Liberals.

    So, why not give us some examples of this “spewing poison”?

  • “So, why not give us some examples of this “spewing poison”?” – Polly Toynbee?

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