Daily Archives: 21 September 2009

Neal Lawson and James Graham: All your base are belong to us

The cat is now well and truly out of the bag and it will be interesting to see how the blogosphere responds. Beyond the usual “OMG!!1! YOU’VE SOLD OUT TO ZaNuPFLieBore!?!11!” of course.

I thought I’d add a few comments here in a vain attempt to clear a few things up and prebut some of the more predictable criticisms.

The first thing is, we are calling for a coalition of ideas and thus social liberal-minded (and liberal socialist-minded) individuals from all parties and none, not some kind of pact or deal between the Lib Dems and Labour. I am personally quite sceptical about how a coalition between the two parties could be steered in the event of a hung parliament next year. But this isn’t about positioning and all the sorts of things which obsessed the architects of the “Project” in the 1990s. It is interesting to note that Neal Lawson and I were on differing sides of that particular debate. Neal has become deeply sceptical of what he called that “coalition of five individuals” approach at our joint Social Liberal Forum/Compass fringe this evening. Meanwhile I have come to learn the importance of developing a cross-party dialogue between people with shared goals across the political divide. The right are much more effective at that (look at the chumminess between Nigel Farage, Dan Hannan and Mark Littlewood despite the latter’s principled and fundamental disagreement with the former two on the issue of Europe).

The second point is that this is certainly not on my part in any way about making excuses for Labour’s horrendous record on civil liberties. I broached this with Neal at our fringe this evening, challenging him on (for example) the failure of Compass No Turning Back statement at few months ago to offer a critique on Labour over civil liberties. While acknowledging that he sees Liberal Democrats has providing a valuable critique for Labour members regarding the civil liberties agenda (just as Labour members can offer a critique when it comes social justice), he did state that for him, Tony Blair’s attempt to impose 90 days detention without charge is the one issue which nearly caused him to resign from the party. Compass did indeed mobilise a grassroots campaign in opposition to that proposal which played a major role in stopping Blair from getting his own way on that occasion. If I didn’t believe Compass were allies when it comes to reversing the database state and this attack on civil liberties (even if they do on occasion require a little jostling), I would have resisted us even beginning this dialogue.

Anyway, those are the two most obvious brickbats hopefully broken. What do have to say for yourselves blogosphere?

The Peopl(ish) Budget

Vince Cable has been dropping heavy hints about raising taxation over the last few days, so it is not a tremendous surprise to see him and Clegg calling for a tax on the value of properties above £1m.

I will blog in more detail later, but initial responses? Firstly, it is regrettable that this is yet another badly handled stunt announcement which has bypassed the policy committee, but it will surprise no-one to hear me say that I believe it to be a step in the right direction. It doesn’t go anything like far enough though. 0.5% on properties above a £1m threshold? So a £2m valued property would be looking at a £5,000 tax. Chickenfeed for the people who have profited from a property bubble for decades.

It won’t raise very much – £1.1bn. Why, when it comes to public services is the emphasis all on “savage” cuts, yet when it comes to wealth taxes we are taking such baby steps? There is a real cognitive dissonance between the two approaches. We should go further and ideally the tax should be on land values rather than property prices (although if we want to introduce something immediately, the latter will be easier and it can be replaced by a land value tax over time). Even Centre Forum, the holders of the Orange Book flame, are calling for a 1% property tax (plus scrapping exemption of capital gains on property), which they would estimate would raise £6-10bn annually (pdf). That sounds like a good compromise to me.

The right, no doubt, will start hopping up and down and denouncing this as a tax on “aspiration.” What are tuition fees though, if not a tax on aspiration? Vince is currently calling for benefits to be scrapped for all middle income earners – families in particular. If that isn’t effectively a tax on aspiration, what is? They need to get serious and stop realise that aspiration is not a luxury that only the rich can afford.

Anyway, I need to digest this. In particular, I need to read what Vince has to say in ALTER‘s new pamphlet The Case for a New People’s Budget.