Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Playing in the major leagues now

It is a measure of how far that the Liberal Democrats have come from their traditional sandalista and organic muesli roots that their party leader got a hard going over from Paxo on Monday's Newsnight (well worth watching, by the way). Good to see Kennedy having to defend some of their policies, although he did look a little battered by the experience to start with.

Charlie floundered a little over the Local Income Tax, hoping that Paxman wouldn't notice that he was trying to answer the question that he wished he'd been asked, rather than the question actually asked. He didn't like it being pointed out (courtesy of the Liberal Democrats' own tax calculator) that many ordinary people would lose significantly - a fireman and a nurse in a typical Band D property would see their bill rise by £400 a year (predicated on the 4% rise in income tax, which is expected to be the average effect). Hardly going to make London more attractive for these key workers, is it? That will lead to pay inflation for key public servants and still higher taxes, quite aside from the bureaucracy required to administer it, which will potentially outweigh any savings from scrapping the council tax system.

He coped very badly when the Liberal Democrat hypocrisy over congestion charging was discussed - they back it in their manifesto, but oppose it locally in Edinburgh and Bristol and oppose extending it in London. But, runs the defence, this isn't hypocrisy, this is local people making decisions on local issues. In that case, why have it as a national policy at all, if the national party has no plans to bring it into being. What other policies will be dumped because they won't suit local situations? Pushed on the issue, he couldn't name one city where the Liberal Democrats would back congestion charging - perhaps our very own Liberal Democrat leader would care to make a stand for Birmingham? Much the same seems to apply to wind farms - Charlie opposes them in his backyard, but wants more renewable energy. NIMBYism is live and well and wears yellow. Sometimes, Charlie, you have to lead and say unpopular things - that's the trick of government.

If you want to be a real political force, you need to have some consistency across the party. At best, this is disorganised, at worse, it is simple opportunistic oppositionism. Neither makes for a party of government.

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