Azara Blog: Liberal Democrats manifesto is launched

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Date published: 2005/04/14

The BBC says:

The Liberal Democrats are the "real alternative" to Labour and the Tories, leader Charles Kennedy has said, as he launched his election manifesto.

The Lib Dems say replacing council tax with a new local income tax will make 15 million households better off.

Well if 15 million households are better off then presumably 10 million are worse off. So this is just suggesting that a small majority should have money handed over to them by a large minority, and in theory that is a good idea electorally (but with tax it is never so easy). The LibDems would probably claim this is just restitution for money that was sent in the opposite direction in recent years because of Labour tax policies (again, the situation is more complicated). The big winners will be the non-workers (e.g. students and pensioners), the big losers will be the workers.

At least the LibDem manifesto is not very long. Of course it is largely irrelevant, since the LibDems are not going to come anywhere near winning the election (they might even lose some seats, although that seems unlikely). But some Labour voters will opt for the LibDems just because they can't stand Blair, so perhaps worth knowing what the LibDems claim they would do in the parallel universe in which they run the UK government. And refreshingly there is certainly less spin in their manifesto than in the Labour one.

The LibDems want to abolish the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry), it's just about the first thing mentioned. How odd, that sounds like a Tory policy (less government and all that). But no doubt the DTI is largely a waste of money.

The LibDems want to scrap the so-called Child Trust Fund (a.k.a. Baby Bond) and use the money instead to reduce primary school class sizes. The Child Trust Fund is one of the worst pieces of legislation on the economic front that Labour introduced during the last term. But it is almost certainly bound to be electorally popular since all parents will think of themselves as winners (even though averaged over a lifetime many will not be) and non-parents were not supposed to notice the extra few pounds being handed over in tax to subsidise the parents. (There are much bigger subsidies being handed over, after all.) So it's amazing that any political party has the will to suggest abolishing it, but good on them. Not that reducing primary class sizes will really do much good. Far better to increase the budget for books and computers in schools.

The LibDems will not introduce ID cards. This shows they obviously realise they will never be in power, because any politician who aspires to power also aspires to run a Police State, as New Labour has amply demonstrated.

The LibDems will abolish university tuition and top-up fees. Tony Blair, and most other politicians of his generation (the so-called useless generation; John Major another member), received university education for free (including a grant for maintenance) but decided what was good enough for him was not good enough for today's students, so he pulled up the ladder behind himself, without even a hint of contrition.

The LibDems will introduce free personal care for elderly and disabled people. Labour has this ridiculous idea that if you cannot look after yourself because of certain health problems you get free care, but for other health problems you have to pay (a lot). It's a nonsense. So the LibDems would change that, although it will get very expensive in future.

The LibDems want to increase the (marginal) income tax rate to 49% for income over 100000 pounds (from 40%). Well this is better than increasing National Insurance (NI), as Labour is wont to do. But not much better. It is always tempting to "soak the rich". And this policy will see the richest 1% handing money over to the remaining 99%, so again it ought to be electorally popular. But it is not as easy as that. If it's 100k today it will probably be 90k tomorrow, then 80k, etc. (Or the equivalent automatically if the 100k is not indexed to inflation.) So more people might see this as a tax that will eventually entrap them. And most people who earn over 100k have accountants. And accountants are good at tax minimisation. In particular, the capital gains tax rate is 40%, and it won't take long for the rich to divert some of their income to capital gains. So back to square one.

(The increase is to 49% because there is an employee NI payment of 1%, so the sum of 50% is their headline story. But why bother with that triviality. First of all none of the other parties would have done so. Secondly, it is not really being that honest, because it ignores the much higher employer NI payment, which is really another income tax in disguise. The real marginal rate of tax would be something like 55%. See the memo on NI for the situation in the 2001-2 tax year.)

Then the manifesto bizarrely claims "The environment features on every page of this manifesto -- a strong green thread running through everything we do and promise". Huh??? No mention of anything to do with the environment up to that point. Or immediately afterwards either. So this reads oddly. But the following sections all end with a "green" claim.

In the section on health, they mention that "We support the adoption of the EU Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) Directive" (a typical piece of interference by the Eurocrats, which will mean more animal lab deaths, mainly for the benefit of the so-called environmentalists). And they want to promote walking and cycling. Well that's controversial. That is the sum total of the LibDem "green" policies on health.

And in the section on education they say "All plans for new educational buildings must be good for the environment as well as good for education". Well hopefully the same applies to non-educational buildings. And unfortunately what is good for the environment is not necessarily the same as what the chattering classes (led by the so-called environmentalists) believe is good for the environment. (In particular, the urban planning elite all want housing to be high density slums, because treating the workers like rats is considered to be "sustainable".)

In the section on crime they even manage to come up with some spurious "green" connection. They are going to "improve the enforcement of pollution controls".

The LibDems are going to increase the (lowest) stamp duty threshold from 120k to 150k pounds. (The Labour Party just increased it from 60k to 120k, as part of their cynical election campaign.) They claim this "cuts the cost of home ownership". But it does no such thing. It just means that house prices will increase (almost) exactly to compensate for the removal of this tax. So not very impressive. But none of the political parties seem to be very sensible on stamp duty. In particular none of them have promised to change the thresholds from being absolute to being marginal, which is the real problem with stamp duty.

Their "green" action on the economy is to change from the Climate Change Levy into a straight Carbon Tax. Fine, if they do this fairly. But car drivers already pay a carbon tax and bus and rail commuters do not. Yet you can guarantee that with the LibDems, car drivers would pay more and commuters less. So this is just politically correct hot air. They are also going to "promote clean energy" (more hot air) and not build any new nuclear power plants.

The LibDems say that they will make sure that "within seven years 60 per cent of all household waste is recycled". A nonsense policy. It does not address the real issue, which is the amount of waste created in the first place. It is recycling for recycling's sake, so very middle class. They say "Manufacturers will be held responsible for disposing of their products and materials that are difficult to reuse or recycle". Sounds great, but in implementation it is almost certain to be more middle class nonsense.

The LibDems, like most of the chattering classes in the UK, hate GM crops. "No commercial GM crops unless we know they're safe for the environment." This is just a way of saying "never", because the anti-GM zealots will never accept any evidence that GM crops are "safe".

The paragraph on aviation is stark. "To encourage more fuel-efficient aircraft and discourage half-empty planes we will press for international agreement on extending emissions trading to aviation, while at the same time implementing per-aircraft rather than per-passenger charges. We will oppose the construction of international airports on new sites, and also the expansion of airports in the South East. We will end the regulation on busy national airports which results in retail rents subsidising landing charges and encouraging congestion and pollution."

Are they going to discourage half-empty trains? (Almost every train from Cambridge to London outside the rush hour is half-empty.) Anybody who has ever been on one of the cheap airlines like Ryanair or EasyJet knows full well that the planes are generally quite full. The LibDems also seem to be opposing the expansion of Stansted, so they are sticking two fingers up to East Anglia. They also believe they know how to run airports better than the airport operators. How dare any business subsidise one part of their sales from another. Well it would be interesting to see how many air travelers object to this. Definitely a policy for the chattering classes (who travel by air far more than the typical British citizen).

All in all a B-. The same as Labour without Blair.

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