Friday, February 04, 2011

Caroline Lucas' U-turn on taxes

Channel hopping between Question Time and 10 O'clock Live, I caught the following exchange...

David Mitchell: The key is that ultimately, surely to save the environment things have to be made more expensive - the things that are destroying the planet have to be made as expensive monetarily as they are to the environment and that's going to involve a lot of sacrifice, don't you have to be honest about that?

Caroline Lucas: Well I will be honest about that, what I think it needs is a shift in taxation, not an overall increase in the burden of taxation, but if we taxed carbon instead of taxing income so much for example that would be a very good thing, we'd get more people into jobs, we'd also tackle the environmental crisis, so it's not rocket science...

This is a far cry from the Greens' general election manifesto that called for massive tax increases to close the deficit.

Whatever happened to "left wing plus"? Don't get me wrong here, I agree with the policy - but it is not a left wing one - the left much prefers taxing income to taxing consumption. I also agree with the question - if the Greens can't be honest about the sacrifices they expect, it is a bit rich to accuse other parties of being all talk and no trousers.

But more significantly, whatever happened to the Green Party being the last bastion of big tax and spend politics, appealing to the disaffected left? Is it really quite so shallow as to switch its whole politics from the hard left to the centre now it thinks there might be more mileage in attracting disaffected Lib Dems?

And has this monumental step really happened in an interview on a comedy news and politics show? Does the rest of the Green Party know anything about this? What do they think?

I am feeling a little stunned here.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Coalition FAQ

Why are you in coalition with the Conservatives rather than Labour?

Throughout the election campaign, we said that in the event of a hung parliament that we would talk first to the party with more votes and seats, and we spelt out our four policy priorities on fair taxes, schools, the economy and political reform. It was also clear that the country would need a stable government willing to take the tough decisions to tackle the deficit. The Conservatives won more votes and seats than Labour, they were more willing than Labour to support our policy priorities, and they were more willing than Labour to take the necessary decisions to tackle the deficit. And because Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined did not have enough seats for a majority in parliament, a coalition with Labour would not have been stable.

Do the two parties now agree on everything?

No. The coalition is a constructive relationship between two parties with differing values and priorities but willing to work together in the national interest. It would be extremely difficult to make this work if ministers were publicly arguing with their own government. We saw how damaging the conflict between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown was, and we are determined not to let our disagreements lead to rancour. However, we recognise that there have been problems of message and tone, and it has now been agreed that, in future, Lib Dem ministers will be freer to express distinctively Lib Dem views.

What influence are the Liberal Democrats having in government?

We are delivering on our four key policy priorities: reforming the tax system so that low earners pay less than they did under Labour; supporting the most disadvantaged children in schools through the ‘Pupil Premium’; investing in the green economy and reforming bank regulation; and fixing our broken political system with the right to recall MPs, fairer votes, and elections to the House of Lords.

We are engaged in all areas of government policy, with much of our manifesto being implemented, and the more extreme elements of the Conservative manifesto blocked. For example:
  • This government is rebalancing the tax system so that low earners pay less and high earners pay more. Rather than lower Income Tax for low and middle earners, under a Conservative government we would have seen Inheritance Tax cuts for the richest.
  • The coalition takes a moderate position on the European Union. It's likely that a Conservative government would have headed for a major confrontation with the EU, damaging the national interest.
  • A Conservative government would have shown less commitment to civil liberties, and no interest in constitutional reform. This government has strong programmes for rolling back Labour’s encroachment on our freedoms and making our democratic institutions fit for purpose.

Is there a coalition between Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in Sheffield?

No. There are no Conservative councillors in Sheffield, and the Liberal Democrat councillors follow Liberal Democrat policy. They have a good working relationship with the coalition but are not part of it, and are not influenced by Conservatives. In Sheffield there is a simple choice between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Will the coalition parties merge?

No. Nor will there be any pact between the two parties at the next General Election. The two parties have not changed their values and priorities: we have simply found a way to work together. But there is no guarantee we will need or wish to work together, or be able to find so much common ground, after the next election. We would be just as willing to work constructively with Labour in the future if the circumstances were right.