Slowly but surely, the Lib Dems are finding a distinctive political voice

Share
Related Topics

The Liberal Democrats are maturing into a serious and credible political force. The pre-election manifesto launched by Charles Kennedy yesterday was slick and professionally presented. More importantly, the mini manifesto was also a radical programme fleshed out by a fair amount of detail. It was not just a collection of vacuous soundbites.

The Liberal Democrats are maturing into a serious and credible political force. The pre-election manifesto launched by Charles Kennedy yesterday was slick and professionally presented. More importantly, the mini manifesto was also a radical programme fleshed out by a fair amount of detail. It was not just a collection of vacuous soundbites.

The document highlights the party's more distinctive policies. Sensibly, the party proposes that some Whitehall departments, including the mighty Treasury, should be moved out of London and that the Department of Trade and Industry should be abolished altogether. They have interesting proposals for the de- centralisation of public services giving much greater control to local communities, removing the stifling targets imposed by the Government. The pre-election manifesto is also clear about the party's support for the new European constitution while urging further reforms. The programme is cleverly presented under the three themes of Freedom, Fairness and Trust. These values are not explicitly rooted on the political left or right of the spectrum but have a broad appeal.

Inevitably, plenty of questions arise from such a document. On the thorny issue of taxation, they advocate a local income tax and a new top rate of income tax for higher earners that would raise money for some of their spending proposals. The money raised would pay for a lot of attractive, but expensive, policies, such as abolishing any charges for long-term residential care. Opponents will argue with some justification that the party is being optimistic about the amount of cash a higher rate of tax would produce. Indeed, it would be well advised to scrap this policy, which smacks of gesture politics.

The abolition of a property tax is, in many ways, a sensible proposal in a country with often wildly fluctuating house prices. The current Council Tax is unfair on low earners who own homes that have soared in value. Pensioners are especially vulnerable. Even so, a local income tax will be a daunting prospect for some middle-income earners, especially if councils are given the freedom to decide on the level of the bills. Switching local taxes is an awkward business especially for a party that opposes excessive intervention from central government. How could such a government keep any control on the level of local taxation?

But on the whole the party's policies have been carefully costed. The tone of the document is not excessively idealistic, yet it has a distinctive edge. Mr Kennedy is benefiting from the input of senior Liberal Democrat MPs, such as his thoughtful shadow Chancellor, Vincent Cable, who have a greater interest in policy detail than some of their predecessors. They have made an underestimated difference to the party's broader pitch. Under the leadership of Paddy Ashdown the Liberal Democrats mattered because of their leader's energy and his relationship with Tony Blair rather than for their policy programme. Under Mr Kennedy, they are becoming more of a political force in their own right.

Mr Blair has created political space by his cautious defensiveness on several policy fronts. Often he is more focused on out-manoeuvring the Conservatives than promoting radical policies. In response, the Conservatives have moved further to the right, which leaves the Liberal Democrats with an opportunity to develop distinctive policies.

They still have a long way to go before they can claim to be an alternative government. The performance of their parliamentary team is erratic. They benefit from a lack of media scrutiny over their policies. There are some marked internal tensions over the role of the state in the provision of services.

Even so, recent polls suggest that support for the Liberal Democrats is growing significantly - and it is not entirely due to their stance opposing the war in Iraq. The two bigger parties face a third political force that is not only becoming more credible, but more popular also. And this could yet make the general election more interesting than many expect.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Why it won’t be the i wot won it – our promise to you

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A relative of dead Bangladeshi blogger Washiqur Rahman reacts after seeing his body at Dhaka Medical College in Dhaka on March 30,  

Atheists are being hacked to death in Bangladesh, and soon there will be none left

Rory Fenton
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor