Sir Menzies Campbell: Cut taxes for the low paid and hit polluters instead

New Labour has pandered to the right and ignored the liberal centre of politics

Related Topics

When Labour was elected in 1997, the Liberal Democrats shared much with the new government: a desire for democratic reform, a commitment to social justice and a belief in the United Nations. We welcomed the Government's spending increases in health and education. It was necessary to correct the underinvestment of the Tory years.

So where did it all go wrong? Labour has failed the public services. They have not spent the money well. They have failed to allow the professionals to get on with their jobs. And all the time inequality continues to grow. Under Labour taxation is complex, stealthy and unfair. Government is wasteful, inefficient and authoritarian. Labour tramples on our freedom at home and ignores international law abroad. New Labour has pandered to the right and ignored the liberal centre of politics.

As for the Conservatives, David Cameron's rhetoric - and that so far is about all we have had - does not change the nature of his party. Who honestly believes that 198 Tory MPs, elected on one of the most right-wing manifestos seen in this country, have changed their values?

The Liberal Democrats will retain our place at the progressive, liberal centre of British politics - the party of ideas, close to the heartbeat of the British people.

What does that liberal centre stand for? Britain needs a new approach to tax that reflects the growing sense in many low-income and middle-class households that taxes are unfair, over-complicated and penalise hard work. It is possible to be innovative and redistributive at the same time. We should be cutting the burden of direct taxes on the low paid and Middle Britain, and raising taxes on those who pollute the environment and on the very wealthy.

The Liberal Democrats are the one major party which takes the environment seriously. And yes, that does mean environmental taxes will rise. Climate change is the biggest challenge facing the world. The next 10 years are the point of no return - what we do now affects our children and grandchildren.

That is why we need to provide incentives to encourage the right behaviour and to penalise the polluters. A new generation of nuclear power stations is not the answer to climate change. They would come too late, be too expensive and too risky.

Britain aches for a democratic revolution - we need to restore accountability and legitimacy to government. Whitehall and Westminster must regulate less, legislate less and tax less. Fewer ministers, fewer MPs, fewer special advisers, fewer civil servants, fewer departments, fewer quangos - electoral reform for the House of Commons and local government and, at long last, an elected second chamber.

We need to bring an end to the monolithic centralised state that allows the Chancellor to dictate education and health policy to local communities. We need to empower local government and place greater influence in the hands of the electorate. Education and learning provides a route out of poverty. We should be ashamed that, in Britain, 40,000 children go to secondary school each year unable to read. These children are invariably the poorest and most disadvantaged. We should investigate the possibility of targeted funding by pupil, so schools have an incentive to accept and improve the education of the poorest in society.

Those of us who care about social justice must also care about criminal justice. The rule of law must be protected. People should not have to live in an atmosphere of fear or tolerate violence. I will never waver in my determination to uphold civil liberties and fundamental freedoms; nor will I waver in my view that breaking the law has consequences and, in appropriate cases, should carry punishment.

Deterrence and detection are much more likely to work with locally based, neighbourhood policing with strong ties to the local community. That is why we oppose the creation of super-regional police forces - yet another example where people feel they have no control over the decisions that affect their lives.

This is the liberal centre of politics. The Liberal Democrats have a great opportunity. Unlike the Tories, we don't have to reinvent ourselves. Unlike Labour, we don't have to shore up a crumbling edifice. We are closest to the values of the British people, who want a government that promotes freedom and choice, challenges unfairness, attacks injustice and confronts prejudice.

But the Liberal Democrats have to be able to meet the challenge - to become more credible, more disciplined and more professional. Since being elected leader 100 days ago, I have begun that process - implementing programmes to increase diversity in candidate selection, to streamline policymaking and to sharpen our campaigning.

The sky is the limit.

The writer is the leader of the Liberal Democrats

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture