Friday 4 June 2010

Why the Clegg bubble burst (1)

Liberal/Liberal Democrat veterans such as myself have always supposed that if only the media would take some notice of us then the electorate would be so impressed by our "oh so beautiful" policies that they would flock to us in their millions and we should be swept into power. For a brief period towards the end of the February 1974 campaign the media did take notice of us and there was even speculation as to who would be in the Liberal cabinet (no talk of the half-way house coalitions in those high and far-off times), but the surge came too late for our policies to make a deep impression and the electorate turned back to the mixture as before.

By his outstanding performance in the first debate Nick Clegg achieved the Liberal dream. For almost the whole of the campaign we were not, as heretofore, on the sidelines trying to elbow our way in, but the centre of attention. Why then, was the electorate not convinced? I think there were two reasons: our policies were not sound enough and we have not done enough groundwork in previous campaigns, continuing, local and national, to tell people what Liberal Democracy is really all about (other than "working for you all the year round.")

One major policy which I believe to be unsound is to cut taxes by raising the income tax personal allowance to £10 000. Cutting taxes in a recession is standard Keynesian policy, but it was not sold as such. Instead it was offered to the electorate as a bribe: again and again Nick Clegg repeated the mantra "Every taxpayer will be £700 a year better off." This approach did not seem to make sense in the context of repeated references to the "black hole" in the nation's finances, and critics quickly, and rightly, pointed out that the policy did not and does not help the poorest with either no jobs or low-paid ones, and doubly benefited and will benefit higher-rate payers.

If it were thought too bold to stimulate demand by raising unemployment benefits, since unemployed people are major victims in a recession, or the imaginative policy of a Citizens' Income, or time-limited vouchers to pensioners or all recipients of welfare payments, then we should have concentrated on government expenditure directed at improving the infrastructure and green investment rather than a tax cut.

1 comment:

  1. I think you a right that the dynamic was that as uncommitted voters noticed the Lib Dems they were turned off by some of the 'liberal' policies. However I suspect that the immigration amnesty, child tax issues and the Euro (targetted by Lab & Con) were more critical than the 10K income tax offer.
    For me the election showed the limitations of the traditional Lib Dem strategy of supplanting Labour as the main opposition to the Tories. If it did not happen in 2010 it is hard to see how it could occur.
    By diminishing alarm over hung parliaments and two-party government the coalition, for all its risks, offers a strategic alternative.