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Showing posts from 2010

The Browne Report - where to go from here

Dear Nick,
I believe that tertiary education should be available to everyone in the UK, rich or poor, especially poor, who can benefit from it.
But I have never supported scrapping tuition fees. That would involve using State taxation powers to compel the lower-paid, who are less likely to have benefited from tertiary education, to subsidise the higher-paid who are more likely. I don’t think John Stuart Mill would have approved.
People with degrees get paid more. It is only fair that a person who gets the benefit and is able without hardship to contribute to the cost, should do so.
In view of the huge expansion in tertiary education, I believe scrapping tuition fees is unaffordable. It was unaffordable before the banking crisis. It is even less affordable now that the country is burdened with a huge deficit caused by bailing out the banks.
That is my personal view but current Lib Dem policy, made democratically by vote at Conference, is otherwise. Scrapping tuition fees is party polic…

First CGT, now VAT, what next?

The Lib Dems are holding an awayday tomorrow on the coalition, which I can't go to because of my day job. As possibly the Federal Policy Committee's longest-serving member, I call on them to come up with a solution on how to handle our coalition partners (at Westminster level but certainly not at mine!) when they try to depart from the coalition agreement. A solution means stopping them from doing it. For me, it is hard enough to accept that we helped the Tories into Downing Street and are helping keep them there. I can accept it on the basis that each side did a deal whereby a mix of policies derived from each side would become the new programme, and that the coalition agreement sets out that deal. And an Englishman's word is his bond, or at any rate the best of them's is. But almost as soon as the ink was dry on the coalition agreement, the coalition started departing from it. I can understand this if a new unforeseen circumstance ("Events, dear boy, events&quo…

Tory breach of contract on capital gains tax

The Lib Dem-Con coalition agreement states: "We will seek ways of taxing non-business capital gains at rates similar or close to those applied to income, with generous exemptions for entrepreneurial business activities." The Treasury's budget report states: "Effective from 23 June 2010, capital gains tax will rise from 18 to 28 per cent for those with total income and taxable gains above the higher rate threshold... Basic rate taxpayers will continue to pay an 18 per cent rate on their gains. The 10 per cent capital gains tax rate for entrepreneurial business activities will be extended from the first £2 million to the first £5 million of qualifying gains made over a lifetime... The 50p rate of income tax took effect from April 2010 and will remain in place for the time being."
Spot the difference? Of course you do. This means that the Tories have already reneged on the coalition agreement for the sake of their friends the haves, and will do so again if allowe…

What people are talking about

The coalition has been the only topic of conversation on Westminster's streets for the last two days, or so it's seemed to me on walks between Victoria and Fleet Street. The novelty of the new setup attracts curiosity, unsurprisingly, but I also detect an unusual level of goodwill. It is as though a higher percentage of people than usual feel that they own a piece of this new government. And they can, because about two thirds of those who voted supported a faction that is now part of the government. Another factor behind the general air of optimism could be a response to enthusiastic fresh faces in ministerial posts. Or is it just because it's spring, and the grass is full of daisy flowers in St. James's Park? By the way, for those who rate omens, there was a rainbow over the Palace of Westminster on Tuesday evening.

The prize

Remember that line about being wary of them even when they bring gifts? That is how I feel about the Conservatives with their very late offer of a referendum on the Alternative Vote system. Behind the courtesy at the negotiating table they thought the Lib Dems had no alternative to a Tory-LD deal. The Right were salivating at the thought of getting power back. It seems they thought they could get away with not offering a referendum. The offer was only dragged out of them when the LD team began to walk away. Clearly the Conservatives still love First Past the Post and that is not surprising - it has served them very well. But the national interest requires that the era of phoney majorities based on a minority of the popular vote must end. The electorate has this time withheld a majority whether in the Commons or in votes cast from any party. Many more people voted against the Conservatives than for. Even the inscrutable millions who could have voted and didn't were expressing some…

It is so strange!

Something enormous happened early on Friday morning, in an understated and very British way. The Lib Dems suffered casualties, but emerged from the latest contests with 57 MPs, who now block the entrance to 10 Downing Street for a humbled David Cameron (only weeks ago so confident of victory). It is so strange! How best to exploit the advantage handed to us by millions of individual choices made by the British people? Some object to a deal with Labour, others to a deal with the Tories, but this is not on: our MPs are not in a situation of their own choice and they have to deal with a reality that is not of anyone's making, or rather is of everyone's making. I cannot fault Nick Clegg's announcement so far that fundamental political reform is a sine qua non of any deal, and if David Cameron doesn't like it, tough: he will probably find minority government is worse. As for other conditions, like millions of people I would be relieved and glad to see Vince Cable as Chancel…