Daily Archives: 26 October 2005

He’s already buggered Iraq, don’t put in him charge here!

With both Tony Blair and John Prescott away, it would appear that Geoff Hoon is running the country.

PANIC!!!

Seriously, they can’t BOTH be away can they? When was the last time that neither of them turned up to PMQs? Surely the point of having a deputy is that when the boss is away, the number 2 takes over?

It just goes to show what a complete irrelevance PMQs has become, and the complete disregard the government now considers Parliamentary scrutiny to be.

New opposition tactic: agree with everything

Whatever doubts I may have about Labour’s new proposals on education, I will agree with Jonathan Calder on one thing: it is entirely consistent for the Tories to agree with them. Cameron is quite right to point out that after eight years we appear to be right back to Grant Maintained Status.

Cameron’s tactic is quite sound. Embrace Blair like the Tory he is, further alienating the Prime Minister from his backbenchers, and further putting pressure on Brown to jump one way or the other (calculating that he will jump into the backbencher’s arms or find his eventual premiership fatally lacking in authority from the start).

But what is Davis’ game? He has been crowing, in his typical unsubtle way (you remember, the type of guttersniping that left him blamed for trying to make capital out of the Camerondrugs debacle), at Cameron’s bid to be Blair’s heir, yet at the same time he has decided to drop his opposition to Labour’s terrorism bill.

Superficially, this resembles adopting a similar tactic: side with the Prime Minister against his own backbench. Yet Davis hasn’t dropped his stated opposition to any specific measure in the bill, just that he isn’t prepared/can’t be bothered to take a principled stand against them. In fact, it looks rather like a time-honoured Blair tactic paying off: adopt a Tory agenda and watch them run around like headless chickens while trying to decide what to do about it.

As it stands, it means that Davis’ credibility on civil liberty issues has been fatally undermined. His opposition to ID cards always was tactical rather than principled, as his speech at the inaugural NO2ID meeting demonstrated last year (admittedly, he was stronger than Mark Oaten, but that goes without saying really), and he wants to abolish the Human Rights Act, but you did at least get the sense that he had calculated that part of the solution to fighting Blair was to portray him as a despot and the Tories as liberators.

Clearly we were giving him too much credit. He’s blanched at the first hurdle. Yet again he has demonstrated why Cameron is the better man. Yet again, he has given us reason to recall Bruce Anderson’s analysis of him: “It would be wrong to describe him as useless. He is far worse than that.

From the point of view of the Lib Dems, I suppose I should be praying every night that the Tories elect him. But from the point of view of British democracy, he needs to be utterly humiliated.

Tax Commission Response 3: Devolution

I’m massively behind schedule on my attempt to blog the Lib Dems’ Tax Commission (pdf), so without further ado…

This chapter is basically wrapped around a single proposal. That is, to radically shift the tax burden of local authorities from 20% local taxes / 80% national government to 80%/20%.

In principle, I absolutely applaud this initiative. One of the deep concerns I’ve had about the party’s local income tax policy is that it didn’t seem to particularly tackle this fundamental imbalance, which seemed absurd.

Of course, I don’t wholly subscribe to the detail. For one thing, people will be unsurprised to learn that I would like to see council tax, business rates and stamp duty replaced with a land value taxation, half the revenue of which would go to the local authority and half would go to the national government. Indeed, it seems to me that a per capita distribution of land values would be a more efficient basis for calculating how much support local authorities get from national government, with the richest areas getting nothing at all. In the short term, I’d see this as being set to raise no more revenue than CT, UBR and SD combined do at present (although I’d want to see it increase over time, replacing income tax in the way I described earlier).

According to the working group estimates, that comes to around £45bn. If half of that went to national taxation, the shortfall would have to be made up by devolving another 6p of income tax.

However, before we get too excited and start abolishing national income tax altogether, the one thing this chapter doesn’t consider is devolving environmental taxation. Just as I have argued earlier for the Tax Commission to consider handing back a portion of the revenue raised through environmental taxation/receipts from selling emission trading rights, so it is that at least a proportion should come back to local authorities, again on a per capita basis.

A major weakness of this chapter is that it explores devolution from the context of the status quo, rather than using current Lib Dem policy as a starting point. For example, the chapter also proposes devolving VED to local authorities. This is fine, so long as we are going to keep VED, but party policy is to replace it, and fuel taxes, with a road user charging system. Personally, I am slightly sceptical about road user charging in general, and extremely sceptical about replacing fuel taxes with it specifically (for reasons I will explore in more detail in my next post), but it certainly makes sense to me that any tax which nominally exists to pay for road use should go to local authorities.

The chapter doesn’t explore whether we should be devolving spending as well as taxation at all. This is understandable given the remit of the working group, but we need to decide exactly how to pay for, for example, devolved healthcare and public transport. In turn, this raises the question of whether we are going to abandon our longstanding commitment to regional government in favour of “city regions” and local authorities. We will have to revisit devolved taxation again when these issues have been thrashed out in much more detail; what the working group should be concentrating on now are some robust principles that will stand the test of time.