The road to redemption – a Lib Dem manifesto

With a new leader comes a new beginning.  Here are some thoughts.  Liberal Democrats need to make a more positive case for staying in the European Union and address the fears of those who backed Brexit.  We should argue for a real end to “austerity” which involves being honest about the government borrowing more and taxing more.  We need to make the polluters pay for the damage they are causing to the environment. And we should re-invigorate local government, and local services, by returning to a realistic level of council tax.

Yes, some of these suggestions will be unpopular but it is better to be unpopular and right than to be popular and wrong.  Let’s just be brave. We were brave over a second EU referendum and now it’s a widely held position and may even come to pass.

On Brexit, we should be trying to bring the country together again after the shambles of the last three years.  Immigration is clearly a worry for many English cities.  European regulation is resented by many businesses.  Some European court rulings are hard to take.  People fear a Federation of Europe dominated by a corrupt elite.  We need to address these concerns by saying: of course Europe is not perfect but we can reform it from within. There are other countries in Europe who feel the same way.

Besides, how else are we to trade with Europe, and indeed the rest of the world, except by agreements such as the Customs Union and the Single Market?  How else can we control the multinational companies? How else can we keep, and raise, labour and environmental standards? How else can we impose a tax on aviation fuel or money market transactions? How else can we ensure co-operation on defence and fighting terrorism and  international crime ?  How else can we stand up to Russia or China or the United States on trade or anything else except by staying in the European Union?

It’s become obvious that austerity has not worked. The economy and public services have suffered hugely without any great fall in borrowing, let alone debt repayment.  Even the Tories have abandoned the idea.  So we need to increase public spending to get the economy going again, and not just to produce “growth” but to start creating long-term worthwhile jobs which pay a living wage. Jobs in alternative energy, education, health, social care, sport and the arts.

For this we need to be honest about borrowing and taxes.  The rich need to shoulder more of the tax burden. They can afford it and there is no evidence that they will all flee abroad.  And by “the rich”, we have to mean the upper half of wage-earners, as well as the super-rich.

We have hardly begun to implement the popular principle of “the polluter should pay.”  But there is plenty of scope here for changes to the law which cost the government nothing. For instance, a levy on plastic packaging, or a ban on materials that don’t decompose easily, a legal requirement on decommissioning.  The tax breaks for the oil and gas and nuclear industry should be ended.  The cap on energy prices was always a bad idea and instead the renewables obligation should be increased.  There’s growing awareness that something serious has to be done about climate change and plastic pollution, so such tough policies should eventually find public support.

And finally, local government.  Council tax has simply not kept pace with inflation and people in large houses are now paying a pittance towards the rising costs of local services.  The search for an alternative to the council tax is proving difficult, if not impossible, so why not add a few upper bands to the existing system and have an automatic re-valuation every year, based on average property price rises in each area?

We should also be advocating the devolution of powers to local councils, instead of allowing education and health to become more and more centralised.  With more money and more powers, local government can become more of a political focus and perhaps restore people’s trust in politicians and representative democracy generally.

I hope our new leader will set up a series of study groups to examine some of these ideas and turn them into specific policies, wrapping them round with the age-old values of liberty, equality and fraternity.


* John Knox is a member of Edinburgh South Liberal Democrats, a retired journalist and a recent council candidate.

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  • We must be bolder and at least as radical as Labour. So we should advocate the replacement of council tax and business rates with land value tax. We also need to advocate increases in local government funding to levels similar to the most progressive European nations.

  • William Fowler 31st Jul '19 - 12:53pm

    Unfortunately, you have alienated a lot of people who might have switched over to LibDem to stay in the EU… if you want more public money the only acceptable way to do so, to voters, is to increase the burden on companies rather than individuals – indeed, replacing council tax with either a turnover tax or transaction tax on business would be immensely popular with voters (and use the same tax to replace business rates and employer NI to even out the high street and online sectors). If you are worried about house prices shooting up then have a sales tax levy related to postcode so that areas that start going up too fast are restrained by this levy on the overall sales price.

    I would also like to see an IHT levy on all inherited wealth (except between spouses) of 5-10 percent that would be called social care levy and there would be no exceptions with penal rates for trusts and companies set up to avoid IHT.

  • It’s not about “addressing fears”. It is about having policies with enough voter appeal and thus electoral traction to gain power. Politics is about compromise and that includes compromise with your employers who are the electorate.

  • John Marriott 31st Jul '19 - 1:08pm

    @John Knox
    Now that’s a name to conjure with, and coming from north of the border too. Living where you do, your idea of “local councils” may be fine; but down here in England things are not so clearly defined. We need to reform the structure of our local government before more devolution takes place. For me that means scrapping County and District Councils and, as in Scotland, having Unitary and Town/Parish/Neighbourhood Councils. Let’s add regional government to the mix as well and then we have a level playing field with the other nations of the U.K. (at least when NI can finally get its act together). Then we can tackle local government finance and make real progress towards the creation of a Federal U.K. Bring it on!

  • Joseph Bourke 31st Jul '19 - 1:25pm

    Good article, John and fair comment that “it is better to be unpopular and right than to be popular and wrong.”

    Your entreaty to set up a series of study groups to examine some of these ideas and turn them into specific policies, wrapping them round with the age-old values of liberty, equality and fraternity brings to a mind something written by John Stuart Mill in 1867:
    “The same persons who cry down logic will generally warn you against political economy. It is unfeeling they will tell you. It recognises unpleasant facts. For my part, the most unfeeling thing I know of is the law of gravitation. It breaks the neck of the best and most amiable person without scruple, if he forgets for a single moment to give heed to it. The wind and waves too are very unfeeling. Would you advise those who go to sea to deny the winds and waves – or to make use of them, and find the means of guarding against their dangers? My advice to you is to study the great writers on Political Economy, and hold firmly by whatever in them you find true; and depend upon it that if you are not selfish or hardhearted already. Political economy will not make you so.”

  • Hey John Knox I think we should tax those rich retired folk.

  • David Becket 31st Jul '19 - 1:43pm

    Yes LVT, but that will take time. You cannot rush a major change. In the meantime add some more bands to the existing system, which can be done quickly.

  • Yeovil Yokel 31st Jul '19 - 2:28pm

    I’m concerned about the speed with which a manifesto can be produced. During the Leadership election someone pointed out that it is Conference which makes policy, not the upper echelons of the Party. The most likely time for a General Election this year appears to be October, so will it be possible to produce a manifesto between the September Conference and an election held during the following month? – or is that not how it works?

  • The 2017 manifesto was actually really good. It’s a shame it got so little discussion and publicity due to the silly row over Tim Farron’s refusal to say whether he believes homosexuality is a sin and the ongoing backlash over the 2010 coalition.

    As someone concerned about the state of our democracy and about civil liberties. Some highlights from that 2017 manifesto:

    • Introduce the Single Transferable Vote for local government elections in England and for electing MPs across the UK.
    • Reform the House of Lords with a proper democratic mandate
    • Oppose any attempt to withdraw from the ECHR or abolish or water down the Human Rights Act.
    • End the ministerial veto on release of information under the Freedom of Information Act, and take steps to reduce the proportion of FOI requests where information is withheld by government departments.

    • Introduce a digital bill of rights that protects people’s powers over their own information, supports individuals over large corporations, and preserves the neutrality of the internet.
    • Oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption.
    • Notify innocent people who have been placed under targeted surveillance where this can be done without jeopardising ongoing investigations.

    • In light of the press’s failure to engage in effective self-regulation, seek to ensure delivery of independent self-regulation, and commence part two of the Leveson inquiry as soon as practicable.
    • Order Ofcom to launch an immediate full assessment of media plurality in the UK, including a review of the ‘fit and proper persons test’ and whether the communications regulator, and the Competition and Markets Authority, have appropriate powers to deal with concentrations of power in the digital economy.

    Hopefully the next manifesto will show a similar level of commitment to improving democracy, protecting rights and increasing transparency.

  • We need extra Council Tax Bands in England and Wales to make the system fairer. People with houses worth more than £2Million are paying the same as those with houses worth £500,000. A more progressive system would also bring in more revenue in addition to being fairer.

  • Peter Martin 31st Jul '19 - 8:05pm

    “Liberal Democrats need to make a more positive case for staying in the European Union…”

    We yes. I’ve always said Remainers should make a more positive case for the EU generally. No more that the EU is fine providing we don’t have to have too much EU.

    Guy Verhofstadt has it right. IMO

  • Jane Ann Liston 1st Aug '19 - 12:41am

    Re. our manifesto; I would like to see the end of ‘bed & board’ payments being clawed back from those found to have been wrongfully imprisoned. It’s not as though the people deliberately and dishonestly got themselves locked up to get free food and accommodation after all! They should be allowed to keep all of any award for wrongful imprisonment.

  • Laurence Cox 1st Aug '19 - 1:37pm

    And by “the rich”, we have to mean the upper half of wage-earners, as well as the super-rich.

    This will be really unpopular because you’re going to be catching many people who don’t think of themselves as remotely rich. The median income (that’s the amount that half the population earn more than) was just £28,400 for 2018 according to the ONS. I would argue instead for not reducing NI for higher-rate taxpayers and increasing taxation on unearned income and capital gains to the same level as income tax+NI combined. That would be better targetted at people who are really rich than your proposal.

  • @Laurence Cox “This will be really unpopular because you’re going to be catching many people who don’t think of themselves as remotely rich. The median income (that’s the amount that half the population earn more than) was just £28,400 for 2018 according to the ONS.”

    It’s funny how often the retired show a preference for taxing income (which they don’t have so much of) rather than wealth (which they have much more of). I wonder why that is?

  • William Wallace 1st Aug '19 - 3:22pm

    John Knox IS a splendid name. But I suspect it did not get so many offers of a free dram as I used to benefit from when travelling around Scotland as a student….

  • David Garlick 2nd Aug '19 - 12:41pm

    A bit late to contribute to this but it is my understanding that our policy is that a University Education should be free of tuition fees. Can we make a move to regain this as our policy?

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Aug '19 - 2:21pm

    I believe work is already underway on producing a new Manifesto. We don’t lack good policies to draw on, I would hope particularly from excellent policies passed at last September’s Brighton Conference. And the proposed policy on Fairer Shares for All, if accepted this September at Bournemouth, looks at first quick read to be fast-forwarding our policies on reducing poverty and reducing austerity in this country – to my mind the most important area on which for us to state our intentions. As a recent thread here insisted, we must oppose austerity. And as our new leader Jo has suggested, we need a new social contract, which I hope she means must be for ALL the people, and restore means of living securely for the thousands of deprived and disadvantaged families and individuals currently living precariously in the UK today.

  • In the hurry to prepare a manifesto let’s remember that it should read well to potential voters with little prior allegiance to any party. I’ld suggest, for example, that if we’re ever tempted to refer to the GDP we resist it, and speak instead of the National Income as a yardstick. They may not be quite the same thing to pundit economists and politicians; but they are the same thing, pretty well, just looked at from different angles. So what is said about the one generally applies to the other (up or down, pounds-per-head, etc). And what interests everyone come voting time time is ‘what’s in it for me?’: and that means “how it will affect my income, as part of this National Income?” Gross Domestic Product is good for ‘the experts’ — but to me in my street it sounds like a case for the plumber.

    In a similar way “Austerity” has acquired a spectral character of its own. It’s bad, but the tories are ending it. They say. But it has been applied to squeeze the poor and enrich the rich, because everyone can see the sense in Maggie’s Maxim, “You don’t get out of debt by borrowing more.” I believe half the Conservatives believe it: the other half have conned them, and others besides. But if you’re a self employed taxi-driver, off the road with a failed tyre, will you scrimp and save for a month or a decade to buy a new tyre? Or will you buy one tomorrow with a credit card?

    I have never had any thought of voting Labour, because I believe it is fundamentally but mistakenly paternalistic and authoritarian. I am too old to follow the ins and outs of left and right in any detail, so I am left supposing (but unable to assert) that Labour’s basic economic plan is much more sensible than the press and media pretend. I believe it will be more sage than Boris’s economics: but I choose our Lib Dem way , as more human and humane. If that matters, it is something our manifesto should demonstrate in its language. Even if he meant it Jeremy Corbyn would not say “B***** Brexit” out loud. When we said it, people sat up and took notice.

  • John Stephen 2nd Aug '19 - 11:54pm

    congratulations to all those members who helped to win the brecon & radnor seat. now that the tories are down to a majority of one maybe boris will stop behaving like a bull in a china shop and realise just how fortunate we all are to live in a democracy!
    some suggestions: do more, much more to build our membership – we will certainly need far more members and helpers on the ground to leaflet and canvass. we need people from all walks of life but particularly the younger better educated supporters to join our ranks
    bring out a manifesto which can be understood by all – and no jargon.
    the next general election will be the best opportunity our party have had for years to win a lot more seats. that will take money. can we really rely on membership fees alone. some hefty donations from those who have the faith that we can succeed would be most welcome!
    and lets make more effort to promote the advantages of remaining in europe. a united europe means that the uk would no longer have to carry to heavy burden of defence on its own.
    we should also make a concerted effort on the important green issues like global warning. i do not want to think of my grandchildren burning up du to extremes of temperature.
    one last thought – we in the uk should do a lot more to ensure that international companies really do pay income tax on profits made in the uk. billions of pounds have been stolen over the last few years and our services especially the nhs have suffered seriously. it is not fair that taxes on their profits should g0 to the caymans and other money grabbing countries.
    solve these problems and we will have a great chance whenever the general election comes!!

    (Converted from upper case by moderator).

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