|I joined the Liberal Party in 1979 having torn up my application to the Labour Party as I could not stomach the bigoted racist attitudes of the 1970s Labour and trade union movements. I simply could never have been a Conservative. My parents were in domestic service on a country estate in Northumberland – not quite Downton Abbey but posh enough. The one thing my parents drummed into me was I was no different from the kids at the ‘big house’ and I could do anything I wanted to. Money of course was a bit of an impediment.
I am a Liberal. I’m not a Socialist but I do see a role for nationalised industry. I never quite understood, and still don’t, why Government run industry needs to be synonymous with bad management and mega loss. I am a capitalist and I do believe in a prosperous economy and the ability of business to create wealth not just for a few but for everyone. I passionately believe equality, compassion, and the role of the state in providing healthcare, education, and welfare.
A society can choose to pay for what it wants and can afford a decent healthcare system and can afford education if it chooses. The thing, is no one ever grasps the nettle and says we have a choice. We are told it’s either too big and badly run (in which case fix it) or it’s all because we’re ageing and medicine costs too much partly because we can treat so much more so costs rise (in which case, hey we must pay more). Tinkering with taxes and cutting to make ends meet is not the answer.
We need to create a thriving economy and a tax system that is fair and pays for what we need even if that means more (which by the way I don’t think it does). Equally I have no idea what the purpose of trusts and free market has to do with providing healthcare or education.
I do think student loans was a fundamental mistake. Breaking the commitment to provide ‘free’ higher education was simply wrong. It was never free anyway and there were other ways to pay for it than student loans. Again, if society wants to it can pay for anything. And here’s a mind-blowing thought – I don’t think we are far off needing to work on what a world looks like where work can’t be the only way people earn moneAy as the need for physical labour decreases as technology increases. The benefit state we moan about might need far more thought that we can possibly imagine however we’re stuck between a ‘left-right’ argument over costs
dozen in elected office as vice-chair of the National league of Young Liberals, on the party national executive and a member of staff in Parliament and headquarters. My question is what happened to my party and where is it now?
How did we go from a party about liberty and social priorities whose natural ground was an enemy of the Conservative Party and was an alternative to Labour to a junior partner in a Tory Government and ceding the entire progressive ground to Corbyn?
I won’t call it left and right because I’m an awkward Liberal but equally there’s no time for a pseudo intellectual argument. The essential point is that we had our heritage and our clothes stolen by Labour, well, given away by our beloved Lib Dem leaders.
I’m told the party has gone over and over what happened under the coalition, so I won’t bore you all by going into what was the biggest political blunder of the century.
We were kippered by Nick, and the Tories laughed all the way home when you fell for a full-blown coalition and had to defend the Tory agenda. I know because I’ve spoken to friends the likes of Steve Hilton who were there. What Nick did you get to show for all this? “It wasn’t quite as bad as it could have been”, or “it was a bit less Tory than it could have been”, are hardly rallying cries for what we achieved in Government. Oh, and to cap it all you committed political suicide over student loans.
Where did any of our (the Liberals) big ideas go? Where did any radical reforming agenda go? I don’t mean those till born by our Tory partners like electoral reform but where did any of the vision of a better country go?
Wherever it went it’s left the Lib Dems a husk of its former self and left the ground wide open to Corbyn to give people the idea of a better place to live and work.
Utterly ill-conceived as much of what Corbyn talks about is, and not to mention the menace behind it of a return to unreconstructed 1970s economic policy backed by a re-fanged militant trade union movement ,any young person or radical thinker has to be attracted by Labour if only because there is no alternative.
Bring back the campaign radical Liberal Party that had big ideas and real passion. Take on the challenges of the future, like what we really do about employment in a world with fewer jobs and how we pay for education and healthcare.
Take on tax and say we need to pay for a fair and decent society but we need prosperity to do so. Think the unthinkable. Someone needs to do something fast or Labour gets a free run at any alternative to the Tories which is not good for anyone.
Here’s three ideas. The first is about work. Since the first hunter gatherer lent across the cave to his neighbour and suggested swapping a few hours of labour helping hunt for a haunch of mammoth our economy has been based on pay for work.
No work – no pay – no income and inevitable poverty for which government has created a safety net called benefits. Being paid for doing nothing is bad. Right? The idea that we all go through education and get a job is already changing. Ask any parent of a 20-year-old and they already know that. Artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation are about to make the industrial revolution look tame. Factories 10 years from now are likely to be human-free zones. Cars, lorries, and buses will drive themselves. Even if you are a lawyer you may be replaced by a software programme which doesn’t just churn out the paperwork but can come up with advice and a legal judgement just as accurate as their human counterpart can today.
Doctors, accountants, architects, engineers, and a whole bunch of professionals who probably believe they will always be needed may well be jobless. If you don’t believe me have a scroll through the stories of real advances already made.
Now, without a job and so no income how does you live? It may not be by work. Society must find a way of providing income to families which is not based on work.
So, forget about the evil benefit culture which we talk about today, that’s a momentary issue in a world changing very fast. Those in Momentum and the TUC who crave the return to trade union power may not have realised that their boat is burning under their feet as jobs go forever.
Is anyone talking about this.? Yes, in the world of AI and invention, but not in the world of politics. How about the Lib Dems spending some time grabbing the high ground on the issues of tomorrow rather than just trying to be a bit less Tory and bit less Labour. Time surely for some radical thinking?
My second idea is that our tax system is totally screwed. It worked in a world before globalisation and free movement of trade where you could pin down companies to pay tax where they operated. There is though a problem with relying on ‘income tax’ when you might not have any income.
SNORT WITH DISGUST
Now this is where the old school economists will snort with disgust, but you really must tear up the tax tables and start again.
I believe you must look at spending not income. For business a transaction tax is both fair and easy to police and could replace corporation tax overnight. No allowances or offsetting costs, simply levy a tax every time a transaction occurs in the UK. You don’t have to track down profits which have been funnelled up and out of the UK. For consumers, reduce VAT but have it applied across the board. Yes, on food and clothes but a very low level still produces more than is currently raised by income tax and our current VAT system.
Taxing food and clothes is radical stuff. I still remember the ‘dead parrot’ in 1987 where the Alliance briefly suggested it. But the world has moved on and it needs to revisit these issues. Where tax reform falls apart is if you don’t go far enough and try to mix income tax and VAT or corporation tax and transaction tax. It’s got to be a complete about face.
Finally health care and education free at the point of delivery is a fundamental part of a civil modern society. I have no idea what local trusts have to do with efficiency, but we’ll leave that one for now. I would simply argue we have to be up front and say how much a world class health care and education system costs and ask people to pay for it. With a reformed tax system, it can easily be paid for. It seems to me that the party allows itself to be limited by thinking we can only tinker round the edges. No! Stand up Lib Dems and give people real vision of the future and what it costs.
Perhaps you think I’m talking rubbish or science fiction? Google was founded 19 years ago. The first iPhone came out 20 years ago. Driverless cars will be tested in the UK this year and widely available in five years time. Innovation is speeding up exponentially and so must the change to the way we live and are governed.
Imagine if we can change politics as much as Google changed the way we interact. Imagine if we are not at the end of old party politics but the start of politics in a new world then, god that’s exciting! The future in here. The question is will the Lib Dems be a leader or a follower. I’d prefer to be a leader.