I’ve already rebutted that argument and don’t intend to repeat myself. But I’m not blind to the fact is that by repeating this nonsense argument, Clegg is subtly contrasting himself with Chris Huhne and his stance on Trident. The subtext is that he’s the candidate that will concentrate on the issues that matter to the public, while Huhne would have the party revisiting old policies in an act of ideological purity.
And as I said yesterday, in that respect he’s right. Huhne’s Trident stance is, in my view, good policy but bad politics. This isn’t a debate the party should be having during this contest. It smacks of vanity, and at 11% in the polls, vanity is something we can ill afford.
If Huhne wants to talk about policy, he should concentrate on issues which have immediate relevance to large sections of the public. I’ve already mentioned two interrelated ones – housing and intergenerational equity – I’m sure he could come up with others. He should be concentrating his firepower on Clegg’s inability to make his own rhetoric match his detail, calling on the party to move out of its comfort zone and reach out while being apparently afraid of saying anything of substance along those lines in case it alienates a wing of the party.
Huhne’s advantage is that by going for the big tent approach, Clegg has compromised himself. In a large number of areas he will struggle to say anything at all that won’t alienate either David Laws or Steve Webb and their respective camps. He should be pressing that advantage home, not making Clegg’s points for him.
While at the start of this campaign I was guilty of a bit of policy arson myself by rubbishing our existing commitment to replace council tax with local income tax, even I wouldn’t expect either candidate to use this opportunity to set out detailed policy in that area. This is a good opportunity to signal areas that need revisiting, not to spell out solutions.
Last night the Department of Finance and Personnel reiterated the answer they gave to Mr O’Loan when he asked what consideration the minister (Peter Robinson] was giving to the rating of agricultural land.
It said: “Under the current rating system agricultural land is not valued nor rated and there are no plans to do so.
“However as you are aware the current review of the new domestic rating system that was introduced by direct rule ministers in April 2007 is examining a wide range of options for change in the shorter and longer terms, which were included in terms of reference agreed by the Executive.
“Strand 2 of the review is addressing longer term issues including possible alternatives to the current arrangements and one such alternative is Land Value Taxation.
“I have commissioned the Ulster University to investigate the experience of other jurisdictions that have used Land Value Taxation.”
This is being presented as a scandalous attack on farmers, but Tony Vickers makes an excellent case in his recent book for the replacement of agricultural subsidies in favour of LVT.
Either way, it is interesting to see that Stormont is investigating LVT as a possible replacement of the rates – the Tory government in the 80s not having scrapped them in Northern Ireland along with everywhere else. Without being saddled with the mess that is a Council Tax that hasn’t been revalued in 17 years, it would be relatively painless to introduce there and the potential benefits would be immense. And if it could be shown to work there, it would be an easier sell for the rest of the UK.
This is all putting the cart before the horse of course – it remains to be seen if the mishmash coalition in Stormont is capable of pushing anything through. But it is certainly worth keeping an eye on.