Okay, they haven’t really. But don’t you think, in like of the whole Deripaska affair, they should do a chariddy cover version of this?
One is an annoying talking donkey who came to prominence by getting in the face of a grumpy ogre (who goes by the name of Gordon Brown). The other is the shorter half of a former double act of curmudgeons with an interest in variety performance. And the answer to this question matters a lot: it directly affects the electoral chances of the two main UK opposition parties.
For the past few days, the Tories have gone on the offensive on economics. Following a lead given by his Shadow Chancellor, David Cameron said on the Andrew Marr Show this morning that nationalising Northern Rock would be “the most complete humiliation and failure for the government”. Meanwhile, Vince Cable has spent the last couple of months insisting that nationalisation is the only viable short term option for the company.
And let’s be honest, both Osborne and Cable have had a good few months recently. Agree with it or not, it has to be said that Osborne’s proposal to raise the IHT threshold did him a lot of favours, while Vince Cable’s tenure as Acting Lib Dem Leader won plaudits from across the political spectrum.
All things being equal however, a cursory look at the men’s CVs rather suggests that Cable is the safer pair of hands to run the economy than Osborne. A doctorate, policy advisor to the Kenyan government, lecturer, civil servant, former Chief Economist at Shell, advisor on the Brundtland Commission… Cable broadcasts experience and it comes across. Gideon Osborne on the other hand is a history graduate with some journalistic experience and lots more experience as a political adviser on both sides of the benches. The brutal reason why Cable got all the airtime over Northern Rock in October-November was that it was clear that he reeked of authenticity while Osborne rarely made it further than the partisan soundbites.
Cameron and Osborne’s latest assault is an attempt to regain the agenda on the economy; a tacit acknowledgement that since their IHT coup, both the government and Cable have outmaneuvred them. But once again, does it add up to much more than a bit of partisanship? Their argument is that the government put off a decision because of the prospect of an October election and they cite an offer by Lloyds TSB as one that should have been more seriously considered.
But does this charge stack up? Look at it this way; if Darling had gone for a quick sale (which according to Mervyn King would have involved a whopping loan to Lloyds TSB), would we now be in a remarkably similar situation with Cameron denouncing the government for rushing into a decision because they were planning an early election? Indeed, isn’t that rather similar to the scenario we had in 2005 with Michael Howard attacking Brown for bailing out Rover (only several times larger by order of magnitude)?
My own instincts tell me that regardless of the rights and wrongs of the whole credit crunch debacle in general and Northern Rock in particular, rushing into a quick sale would have been a remarkably irresponsible thing to do when it directly affected billions of pounds of taxpayers money and thousands of jobs. And that’s even assuming the shareholders would have let them (my grandmother is getting bombarded with letters from SRM at the moment). I appreciate I’m biased but the Tories’ line here doesn’t merely strike me as easy partisan point scoring, but bad policy too.
For a long time I’ve felt that Osborne is one of the Tories’ weakest links. A good marketing man, true, but not one with a particular feel for economics, and one with a whiny tone of voice that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. He is certainly in the wrong job. Cable on the other hand has always been one of the Lib Dems biggest secret weapons. Well, he’s not so secret any more and that could spell trouble for the Conservatives. If the Lib Dems manage to eat into the Tories’ commanding lead as the party most trusted on the economy, then things really could start to get interesting as it is the Tories’ greatest asset and one of the Lib Dems’ greatest perceived weaknesses. Yet could Cameron even contemplate cutting Osborne loose, his closest ally?
Of course, I’m not the only one thinking the unthinkable here: Tim Montgomerie was arguing for him to be made Party Chairman/Tsar back in October. Tim wasn’t attacking Osborne for being weak on the economy, but to argue this at a time when Osborne was still basking in his IHT glory said it for him.
Either way, Clegg should not be shy about keeping Cable in the limelight over the next few months; notwithstanding the importance of giving the public a chance to get to know Clegg himself, Cable should now be considered a central part of the party’s appeal and should be seriously exploited, particularly when the Tories use Osborne.
Once again, I was delighted to be invited to be invited to take part in another of Millennium’s interviews with party figures. At first we interviewed the two leadership candidates, but it seemed like a good idea to get an interview in with Vince Cable while he was serving as acting leader. He graciously agreed to do this and so the inteview took place at teatime on Monday. But then you know all this because you’ve presumably read all the other versions of the interview already. Apologies for my lateness, I spent the rest of the evening out with friends and have only just had a chance to sit down and do the interview justice.
So, what to make of the “greatest leader we’ll never have” (TM all newspapers)? Well, when Vince first arrived in Committee Room 19 he came across as quite diffident and uncomfortable. Right from the start it was apparent this was not going to be like the interviews we’d had with Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg.
Millennium allowed me to start off and, a little unprepared, I proceeded to spend five minutes waffling on about what should have been a very simple question: given the party’s opposition to the “Conservative consensus” and the Liberal tradition’s opposition to inherited wealth, how did Vince justify our presently uncosted policy to increase the IHT threshold up to Â£500,000 (for more on this by me, see Comment is Free)?
Vince’s short answer was that our policy is to crack down on IHT, and that the real issue is that the way IHT has been set up means that the wealthy find it very easy to get around it and that it is the comparatively less well off that end up paying it. The Lib Dem policy to extend the so-called “seven year rule” so that gifts would only be exempted if they were made fifteen years before the individual’s death would make it harder to avoid.
Was I convinced by this? I’m afraid not, for three reasons. First of all, the policy has never been sold as “toughen up IHT”, but rather “raise the starting threshold” (pdf). The matter of the threshold wasn’t dealt with at all, despite it being the basis of my question. But finally, I have serious doubts about the practicalities of extending the gift rule. Both my mother and my partner’s family have recently gone through probate. It takes a long time and isn’t a walk in the park. If the concern is for middle-class families who find themselves caught out by the system, I have real concerns that these are precisely the sort of people who will end up getting screwed. Meanwhile, it may catch out the super-rich at the margins, but only those who die in skiing accidents as opposed to the ones who die in their beds. In short, for people already well versed in avoiding the tax, it will be a mild annoyance. For the rest of us, it will be a serious hassle. I’m still entirely unconvinced this is a more practical policy than an accessions tax, I’m afraid.
My second question was about multiculturalism, something which Vince has written two Demos pamphlets on the subject. I made the mistake of poorly phrasing my question, asking how we “calm down” the current debate on conflicting identities in the UK, something which he strongly rejected we should seek to do. Instead, he said, we should try to create a society where such debate can flourish, knowing that conflict will arise from time to time. He singled out Evan Harris for taking part in the Oxford Union debate with David Irving last week. On tackling discrimination there were no simple, coin-in-the-slot answers, he argued, pointing out that the experience of different ethnic communities – not least of all the white working classes who deserve the same attention as any other group.
This is all impeccably liberal stuff, and despite my rants about the Oxford Union last week I’m quite happy that Evan was there to argue against Irving given that the meeting was going to go ahead anyway (I still question the Union and its rather selective approach to free speech however) – I certainly don’t condone the rather strong arm tactics of the protesters who attempted to shut down the debate by force. But I don’t think it moved us forward particularly. What I was hoping for was a pocket summary and update of his latest paper on the subject Multiple Identities – a pamphlet which I enjoyed even if I didn’t agree with all of it. I got the sense this question rather irritated him however, which wasn’t my intention at all.
Vince warmed rather more to my final question however, on how he rated George Osborne. His answer was, basically, that Osborne is a smart political operator but an economic lightweight. He argued that Osborne and Cameron are inseparable and that he would stand or fall with his leader.
In particular, he took issue with the Conservatives’ “opportunistic” stance on Capital Gains Stance, pointing out that the Tories opposed taper relief when it was first introduced by George Brown. This is a good point, and one which we perhaps ought to drive home more strongly.
Overall, Vince gave us all fairly straightforward answers and by the end had warmed up immensely. I particularly appreciated his responses to Paul’s question about Gordon Brown’s “psychological flaws” (he doesn’t have them, but has deep intellectual flaws) and his satisfactory answer to Jonny’s question about whether the “Mr Bean” line was doing the same to Brown as we deplore was done to Ming (answer: Ming was criticised for his appearance while Cable was criticising Brown for his ineptitude). He was quite insightful, and surprisingly upbeat in response to Alix’s question about the Heathrow expansion, arguing that it wasn’t a done deal, that the fact that the environment has gone up the political agenda makes it much harder for the government compared with the last Heathrow expansion and that could only happen if the government were to get its way over planning reform (which is being strongly opposed in the Lords).
The best leader we’ll never have? Impossible to tell. If he had been a candidate I suspect we would have had a very different interview, just as he would have had a very different past month. It is clear that he is a major talent however and one that the new leader – whoever he is – should ensure remains at the centre of our front bench team.
See also: Liberal England, Liberal Burblings, Lindyloo’s Muze, The People’s Republic of Mortimer, Millennium Elephant (plus Love and Liberty and Hug a Hoodie when they get around to typing their versions up).
God, Labour really are in a full scale rout at the moment, aren’t they?
The tax system should reward married couples, a cabinet minister has said.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Andy Burnham told the Daily Telegraph: “It’s not wrong that the tax system should recognise commitment and marriage.”
He did not advocate specific changes to the tax system, but said there was a “moral case” for using tax to promote the traditional family unit.
On the claim that there is a ‘moral case’ for using tax to promote marriage, he could not be more wrong. One of the least moral reasons going for getting married is acquiring tax advantages and if the system ends up penalising single parents, many of whom are not single through choice, then already unstable families will end up doing worse out of the system.
If there is a moral argument for marriage, money ought to be immaterial. You can’t tax and spend your way to righteousness.
Presumably we can depend on Harriet Harman, the only member of the Brown government to have a mandate from the party, to put the opposing view? After all, she’s been lambasting Cameron on this issue for months. But of course Harman’s first act as a government minister back in 1997 was to cut benefits for single mothers. I’m sure she’ll find a way to reconcile her own stated views with Andy Burnham’s. Her idea of radicalism in office is to call on Gordon Brown to do something that he committed himself to doing in a White Paper published three months ago, and which will not materially affect anything (if the Prime Minister has a majority in the Commons and demanded an election, do you seriously believe the party would turn him down?).
What amazes and appalls me the most though is how, in the space of a fortnight, Labour have seemingly done everything they can to transform Gideon Osborne’s reputation from whining top hatted toff who is totally out of his depth to a Svengali-figure who sets the entire political agenda of the UK. It’s utter madness. He came up with a few proposals that were economically irresponsible and fundamentally didn’t add up, and the entire Labour front bench falls down in a heap, struggling to emulate him in every way they can. Truly this is the single greatest mystery of modern politics.
Labour in freefall: huge Lib Dem opportunity. Time to step up a gear perhaps?
Which party was the first in this Parliament to call for an increase in the IHT threshold?
The Liberal Democrats
Which party was the first to call for replacing air passenger duty with a tax on planes?
The Liberal Democrats
I ask, because Gideon Osborne has today been branding the “theft” of policies as “scrabbling around in a panic,” a “cynical stunt” and “followership not leadership.” If the cap fits…
There are two ways you can indulge in a bit of fantasy at Blackpool this week. One is to see Hot Ice, the iceskating spectacular. The other is to listen to Gideon Osborne for an hour. If you are under 50, the former would probably be more worth your while.
To be fair, his idea of a flat rate charge on all non-doms (I thought someone who is not dom was called a submissive, but clearly I frequent with the wrong sort of people) is worth considering. It is very easy to threaten to crack down on people who live here yet evade taxation, yet Gordon Brown has demonstrated that the reality rarely matches the rhetoric. We should not dismiss a proposal out of hand that would at least do something. I have an open mind, and I’d be interested in hearing what others thing of this.
This tax rise is to be balanced out with two tax cuts: one on stamp duty for first time homebuyers, the other on inheritance tax. Sadly, both of these cuts are wholly irresponsible.
Firstly, the cut in stamp duty for first time homebuyers for property values up to Â£250,000. Sounds fair enough, although it means chuff all to anyone buying a first home worth more than Â£250,000. Is a one-off payment of Â£2,500 really that significant to a first time homeowner? We might see a few houses just below the Â£250,000 threshold drop their prices in the very short term, but it is also likely to increase inflationary pressure on properties worth significantly less than that. Overall, it will do nothing whatsoever to make houses more affordable or to discourage speculative property investment.
The proposed inheritance tax cut is even worse. It will lock up even more property that would otherwise be available to first time home owners. It will benefit those families who have benefited from the massive increase in property values over the past decade while punishing everyone else. Far from rewarding hard work, as Osborne suggests, it will severely curtail the purchasing power of anyone struggling to get onto the housing ladder.
I’m not denying that Stamp Duty Land Tax and IHT are bad taxes, although I suspect my definition of bad differs from Osborne’s. I would replace them, along with all other existing wealth taxes with a single land value tax. Simple, fairer and a dampener on property speculation.
Let’s be clear about this: these tax proposals will result in higher, less affordable house prices for first time buyers, while offering the already wealthy a significant tax cut. They are about entrenching privilege not expanding opportunity. Faced with a choice of cutting income taxes on low wage earners and rich homeowners, they’ve opted for the latter. True to form, but the fact they are pretending otherwise really sticks in my craw.
“Of course we want a very dynamic and successful City of London. But Britain cannot just be the City of London and then 50-odd million people living off the back of those who work in financial services.”
This line has clearly been carefully crafted to simultaneously look like a genuine concern for the poor, while making it absolutely clear to the city that the Tories not only are not having a go at it, but consider it to be the main source of wealth. According to this rubric, a speculator who has been profiteering on the selling on of financial products based on unsecured loans to the poorest in society is creating wealth, while someone who works a 48 hour week in a factory (longer, if Gideon and John Redwood have anything to do with it) is a parasite. The conclusion is that the rich City stoke broker must pay less tax while the “recipient” (i.e. everyone else) should be prepared to make up the shortfall.
This really is the world turned upside down. I’m looking forward to the Jock Coats response.
Oh please. This is so childish. Gordon Brown meets George Bush, so Gideon Osborne instantly has to do the same. You can just imagine his whiny voice down the phone to the White House ‘It’s not fair! It’s not fair! And Gordon Brown smells of wee!’
Now the little squit, having been outed for shamelessly going around trying to get MPs to defect, is suggesting that the people he has been button holing ought to respect his confidence:
It was a private conversation between the two of us and only one person went and told the press about it, I guess, because it wasnâ€™t me, so youâ€™d better go and get David Laws on your programme and he will tell you.
Utterly defensive, utterly pathetic.
Meanwhile, I hear reports that Cameron has started writing to PPCs again, claiming what a liberal Conservative he is. The problem he has is that when it comes to liberal issues, he can’t get his own party to follow him into the division lobby.
For example, a majority of Tories voted against their own manifesto commitment on Lords reform. An overwhelming majority of his own MPs defied him over the sexual orientation discrimination regulations. Oh, and let’s not forget the ignoble end of the A-list. To be blunt, when the Conservative Parliamentary Party doesn’t agree with Cameron, it simply ignores him.
This issue can only grow and grow as tensions begin to increase over the party’s drawn out policy development process. They’re still the unruly stubborn mules who dragged John Major into the dirt. For all Cameron’s sweetness and light, they can’t be lead. Anyone with true liberal instincts who is superficially attracted to the idea of defecting to them has seen this, which is why Gideon and Dave’s attempts at courting them has amounted to seducing just a handful of no-marks.
If Gordon Brown can time the election just right, for all his failings, he will look like a paragon of credibility next to his Tory rival. When it comes right down for it, however tired they are of Labour, however poor the choice, I suspect the public will back Joe Stalin against another John Major trying to manage a pack of rabid dogs any day. As soon as they realise that is the choice they are being asked to make, Cameron’s days are numbered.
The Tory Shadow Chancellor has unveiled a masterful new strategy for attacking Gordon Brown: whinge for Britain:
“It seems to me he has been nothing but unpleasant in his dealings with me,” Mr Osborne told a lunch meeting for women political journalists in Westminster yesterday. “That’s a decision for him to take. I’ve had very good relationships with other ministers I’ve shadowed. I understand from conversations I have had with other Labour ministers that this is not an uncommon experience.”
Mr Osborne drew a contrast between the “wide range” of people who advise and talk to David Cameron and what he called “the five-strong cabal surrounding Gordon”. Mr Osborne complained that since he became Shadow Chancellor, after the general election last May, he had had only one telephone conversation with Mr Brown, who rang to brief him about a trip he was making to Gaza. At other times, he said, Mr Brown has deliberately ignored him, passing him in the corridor “without a flicker of recognition”.
Note that this was at a lunch of women journalists. I know his sort, I went to school with them. They sit in the corner of parties and look miserable so a girl will take pity and come up to them. Then, they jump on them for a snog at the first opportunity. It takes a certain low cunning, but they rarely amount to anything.
Regarding the stuff about Brown snubbing him in the corridor, whisper it, but did it ever occur to him that Gordo might be a bit shortsighted? Perhaps if Georgie was more than 4ft tall the Chancellor might have a chance of spotting him.
I know Cameroons get off on imagining themselves as characters in Lord of the Rings (the fact that the heroes in Lord of the Rings end up throwing power away appears to have passed them by) – you can just imagine them being the sort of annoying gits who used to spend their lunch breaks hitting each other with rubber swords – but far from Lord Sauron and Merry, I actually think Brown and Osborne more closely resemble these two fantasy characters.
DONKEY: Hey, hey, hey, come back here! I’m not through with you yet!
SHREK: Well I am through with you.
DONKEY: Uh-uh. You know you was always me, me, me. Well guess what? Now it’s my turn. So you just shut up and pay attention! You are mean to me. You insult me, and you don’t appreciate anything that I do. You’re always pushing me around, or pushing me away!