I’ve been very good this past month and have managed to keep schtum about the Liberal Democrat Youth and Students’ decision to reject local income tax in preference to land value taxation until after the elections were out of the way. Now I see that the entire motion is up on the ALTER website, I suppose my self denying ordnance can come to an end.
LDYS has a proud history of leading where the party subsequently follows, and I’m hopeful that this will prove to be another example of this. And it is timely, with the National Institute for Economic and Social Research comparing the rise in property prices to the national debt. Aida Edemariam wrote a good summary of how the problem is affecting the whole of the UK in the Guardian on Friday. We have to do something, and a tax on land values is a lot more economically respectable than a crude property tax.
One of the problems the party faced in the latest round of elections was a failure to stand out from amid the crowd. Taking on intergenerational equity would give us a USP. It isn’t simply an old-versus-young issue as older people who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time have lost out just as much as the younger generation who are now left with the consequences. The introduction of any new tax could be matched by a cut in other taxes, ranging from existing property taxes such as stamp duty through to income tax. Such a tax shift need not be unpopular.
Fundamentally, we have to tackle this situation whereby people have more incentive to invest in bricks and mortar than in stocks and shares. That is bad for the economy whichever way you look at it. I don’t want to sound all Marxist, but if the political system doesn’t solve this problem, the economic system will do it for us in a way that will be much more painful. I’m amazed that the political class isn’t looking at the emerging picture and isn’t worried. To be fair, some individuals such as Vince Cable and David Willets, have been warning about this for some time, but their views have been falling on deaf ears.
But there is no prospect of Local Income Tax on the horizon. With the combined SNP/Lib Dem seats in the Scottish Parliament 2 short of a majority, it won’t be introduced there. Labour and the Tories have resisted the simple populism of LIT with good reason: they appreciate the danger of scrapping property taxation altogether even if they lack the courage to introduce a proper system that doesn’t have the flaws of council tax. Rather than dismissing this as stupidity, the Lib Dems ought to consider why this is one popular policy our rivals (except for the SNP, which in itself should tell you something) have declined to steal.
I still have high hopes that sooner or later the Lib Dems will realise that this is one issue that we could really make our own. Gordon Brown’s announcement to cut income tax by 2p in the pound has forced us to revisit our taxation policy (it’s amazing how much of the paper we passed last year has been borrowed by the Tories in Labour in such a short space of time). Hopefully, more radical minds will prevail.