I’m continuing to catch up with blogging the events of this weeks conference and have reached the main event – the great debate on tax.
Hang on? Why was the debate titled ‘Make it Happen’ in the agenda and what is all this other stuff in the motion? The fact is that this was supposed to be the debate on the new vision document, a chance to talk about an attempt at the Liberal Democrat narrative, and to highlight the ideas that will feed into the manifesto for the next election. Except that it wasn’t. That opportunity was lost when the leadership of the Party decided to make it about cutting tax.
So it became the tax debate – and what a great debate it was. It was one of the best debates I’ve had the privilege to be in the hall for, with brilliant speeches on both sides. I won’t go through the debate speech by speech, others have already done that. I would point you at Alex Wilcock (although I wouldn’t be quite as harsh on Evan Harris as Alex is) and Liberal Democrat Voice. However, I will highlight two speeches; Tim Farron MP and Chair of the FCC, Duncan Brack.
Tim Farron gave what I thought was the speech of the week and one of the best speeches I have seen at any conference. Speaking against the amendment he started by saying; “This motion is about a redistribution of wealth from the super rich to the less well off and I am passionate about that. But I am intolerant of false choices….It is an insult to our intelligence to say that because we must tackle inequality that we must not further cut taxes.” His argument that this was a redistributive measure and that we needed to have the freedom to be imaginative in our policies. He was keen to stress that his views where in the mainstream of the Party and that he wasn’t speaking as a tool of the leadership saying “I feel slightly awkward not being part of the awkward squad”. But he said the amendment was “just about talking to ourselves” and that we needed to fight the next election not the 1997 election. The times had changed and the economy had changed so the Party had to change to match. “I don’t know how the scientists are getting on with their black hole but there seems to be a time warp around here.”
The speech crystallised for me why I had decided to vote against the amendment and for the motion. I feel both that this is a progressive measure, a redistributive measure, that will help the poorer members of our society in a time of economic hardship. But I also feel that politically it puts the Party in tune with the times and talks to where the vast majority of the voters are coming from. The movers of the motion were trying to align the Party with the Country, whereas the movers of the amendment where really trying to make a point about the Party irrespective of the circumstances we find ourselves in.
Duncan Brack who supported the amendment on the basis of “process, politics and principle”. On process he highlighted the unsatisfactory way this debate on tax had been forced on Conference by the actions of the Party leadership and that the lack of clarity there was about the proposals wasn’t fair to conference attendees. On politics he was worried that the lack of clarity would make this appear to a shift to the right and confuse our message. On principle he wanted the money generated from the proposed savings should be put into tackling climate change.
On process and politics I agree with Duncan. The post I wrote last week, the first time I think that I have been directly critical of the Leader of my Party on this blog, stemmed from my anger about how this has been approached. I am also very concerned that the lack of clarity will make it difficult for us to sell this policy in the media and on the doorstep. But on principle Duncan was wrong. Climate change was just one of the many things that the money found from savings could be spent on. The supporters of the amendment suggested several. You could go on for ever finding things to spend the money on and so you would never cut taxes.
The Liberal Democrats are now a party of redistributive tax cuts, and I find myself entirely happy with that.
This content was originally posted on my old Process Guy blog.