Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cutting taxes by increasing them

Earlier in the week, Nick Clegg - also known as the invisible man of British politics - persuaded his party to leap dramatically to the right and change their historic stance on taxing us a bit more and become the party dedicated to slashing your tax bill. Of course, Clegg can promise us anything he likes, given that the chances of him ever being able to put it into practice are roughly zero - even a third of Liberal Democrat supporters believe this to be true. Even so, surely there should be some more meat behind the proposals than the age-old trick of promising to crack down on waste? £20 billion is a lot to find - perhaps they should try looking behind the sofa - and I just don't believe that their tax changes would benefit 90% of the population.

Additionally, it would help their case if they didn't keep making promises about new spending. Is that £2 billion for personal care still on the table? There's a further 10,000 police required, which will set you back something close to £500 million, a plan for a high speed rail network at some undetermined price (the proposal for a new London-Scotland line alone was around £36 billion a few years back) and restoring the pensions/earnings link will cost around £8 billion (and is something Labour will do in 2012 anyway).

But they haven't given up on making those pips squeak. A while back, the Lib Dems promised to put £2000 road tax on those big 4x4s and they've now changed that policy. It should be £2500 now. I'm sure the many workers at Land Rover who live in Yardley and Solihull will be delighted with that news and will be only too delighted to support their Liberal Democrat MPs in this crusade. And there's also 20p extra tax to go on fuel, which will surely help to ease inflation and transport costs.

But then Clegg has problems of his own. At a time when conventional wisdom says that the Lib Dems should be reaping disgruntled Labour votes, polls suggest that support for the party is down to 12%. A third of Lib Dem supporters think he's a weak leader and he's shown himself to be massively out of touch lately. Quite aside from that childish interview with Piers Morgan, when he tried to demonstrate his sexual prowess by claiming thirty or so conquests, this week he guessed that the basic state pension for a single person was around £30 a week (rather than the £90 reality). And he's suffered in today's tough economic climate. God knows how hard he finds life. I mean, he may be married to a successful lawyer and bring in a salary of £61,000, but the mortgage on that £1.3 million London house can't be cheap and his wife has even had to start

gravitating away from Ocado towards Sainsbury's, just on price. I have to say, the difference is pretty big
What has the world come to when the leader of the third party can't afford to shop at Ocado? But at least he can afford to ensure that all his children will be privately educated. He's looking rather out of touch, is Clegg.

Ironically, Clegg's rather lacklustre speech - which was spun as being delivered without the safety net of notes, but actually required the use of three large screens facing the stage to ensure that he didn't lose track - was then followed up with cold calls to 250,000 houses in 50 constituencies across the country with a message from Nick. Ironic because the Lib Dems have been at the forefront of complaints about other parties' use of telephone calls to voters.

One of the fringe groups at the conference produced a booklet forecasting the potential electoral demise of a number of their MPs to a revitalised Tory challenge. In the Midlands, their handful of parliamentarians look to be under severe threat, with only John Hemming forecast to survive the upcoming cull. We'll see about that one.

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