Sean O'Grady: Taxing the rich may impress the voters, but these policies don't stand up under scrutiny

Share
Related Topics

In his foreword to the Liberal Democrat "pre-manifesto", Charles Kennedy says that he is sometimes asked: "You Liberal Democrats are doing very well, but what do you really stand for?".

In his foreword to the Liberal Democrat "pre-manifesto", Charles Kennedy says that he is sometimes asked: "You Liberal Democrats are doing very well, but what do you really stand for?".

I'm not sure about the literal truth of those words. One doubts that, as he was successfully tramping the mean streets of Leicester South and Brent East, many quizzical citizens greeted him with that stilted inquiry.

Generally, Liberal Democrat supporters have displayed next to no interest in the party's policies. (The unkind might add that much the same applies to Mr Kennedy.) The party's appeal has famously been as a protest against whichever of the two parties that happened to be in power. Sometimes the official opposition has been so feeble - Michael Foot's Labour Party, William Hague's Tories - that people have turned to the Liberals to protest about them as well.

Mr Kennedy has been doing good business simply by being neither the allegedly duplicitous Tony Blair nor the supposedly extreme Michael Howard. Yet the Liberal Democrats have always been vexed by people's reluctance to vote for them rather than against someone else. Their self-prescribed treatment for this anxiety is to get cracking on a new policy document. This is the latest. Much of it is familiar. Gone may be the ritual promise to raise the standard rate of income tax by one penny, if necessary, to pay for improvements in education.

But the promise to tax the rich remains. A new 50 per cent rate of income tax on the last slice of annual earnings over £100,000 is designed to raise enough to pay for three specific improvements in public services: scrapping tuition and top-up fees for students; introducing free personal care for the elderly and disabled; and getting rid of the council tax.

As a positive pitch it is clever, combining three or four impeccably populist causes. No one need ever again lose their home to pay for care. Students can forget debt and get on with learning and enjoying themselves. The rich, and only the rich, will pay. It should do well on the doorstep, as it has already for the party in Scotland, where it has had a share in implementing some of those policies. It might even create a strange dual "core vote" of those just entering and those just exiting the political market place. The middle classes of all ages should love it. It should work. The real question is whether it deserves to.

For there is a certain lack of courage in this pre-manifesto. OK, in a good year for the economy £4.3bn might well be raised by taxing the rich, but what happens if growth stalls? On that possibility the pre-manifesto is silent. Most pitifully of all, it pays scant attention to the cause of the euro and has little to say on asylum and immigration. Whatever you think about their past approach on these issues at least they lived up to Keynes's invocation to "appear unorthodox, troublesome, dangerous, disobedient". No longer, it would seem.

The writer is a former press officer to Paddy Ashdown

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The handling of the tragic deaths of Bobby and Christi Shepherd in 2006 by Thomas Cook was appalling  

Thomas Cook case was a failure of heart

Danny Rogers
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine