Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Clegg shows leadership over tax review

Having been on my holidays, one of the joys of returning home is sifting through all of the political news that you missed whilst in depeest darkest Devon. I understand that the LibDems are now mooting (but not confirming) abandoning Local Income Tax and instead backing a reformed land tax instead. So, let's check on how all these LibDem sacred cows are doing ...

The party of "1p extra tax for education" is now the party of low taxation.
The party of "tough liberalism" now believes you shouldn't lock anti-social youths up.
The party of students is now considering dumping its opposition to fees.
The party of scrapping the council tax now thinks it may be OK after all, if you tweak it a bit.

Only really the Iraq cow is still there, although fewer and fewer people notice that cow despite the occassional "moo". And what do I make of all this? Step forward my new hero ... Nick Clegg.

Now you'll be aware (and nobody believed me at the time) that I thought Chris Huhne was a much more dangerous LibDem leader for Cameron to deal with and that Clegg was a lightweight who would snap in the political wind. Although popular opinion may think that to be true (there is no love for Clegg on the doorsteps of Norwich), I think Clegg is (to quote Cameron) building a house with solid foundations.

Gone are the populist LibDem ideas, where the party would run a whole election with only 3 policies (Iraq, council tax and tuition fees). Gone is the idea that the LibDems are too nice, or too gutless, to have a real policy debate. Clegg is taking on his party and good on him.

Whereas the LibDems used to debate goldfish in bags or porn for 16 year olds, they now seem to be addressing some of the "hard choices" (copyright, T Blair) facing Britain.

Nick Clegg has taken a long hard look at their policies and their election result - LibDem PPC in Guildford, Ms Doughty, has long said that the LIT cost her seat in 2005 because it hammered young professionals and working families too hard. She was right, and credit to Clegg for seeing beyond the populism of "axe the tax" to think about an alternative. Louise and I were hundreds of pounds a year worse off under the LibDem LIT at a stage in our lives when we can least afford it, with 2 young kids. How many more people in our position realised this and didn't vote LibDem as a result?

Even though many of these cows are not yet dead, just wounded, it is clear that Clegg may yet have the political courage to take on his party - even the SDP dwellers. I don't yet know if he is Blair circa 1994 or Cameron circa 2006, but Clegg has shown in the last week he may yet surprise us all.

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