Sunday, 25 April 2010

The LibDem surge - is it income tax?

Before the election campaign began the Conservatives had a sturdy lead in most opinion polls despite not having put across a clear set of policies to distinguish them from the rotting putrescence of the incumbent government.

Could it be, I wondered, that they were keeping their powder dry with a view to unleashing a full-frontal attack on Labour once the race had really started? Yes, that had to be it. For years any good (by which I mean vote-winning) idea the Conservatives had promoted remained their policy for only a matter of days before the government announced it was doing the same and any significant electoral advantage was lost. Yes, wait until the real thing gets underway then we will see a clear plan for reducing government spending on pointless bureaucracy, dismantling the surveillance state, removing political interference from health care and education and so much more.

Oh dear. It looks like their distinctive policy document got lost in the post, just like my entry form for this year's London Marathon. There have been hints such as the proposal to free schools from political control and the general thrust of the "Big Society" notion, but no coherent plan to roll-back the State and certainly no courage to speak the truth about the real cost of both national debt and the additional debt that will result from a continued massive annual budget deficit.

I suppose I can understand why they have been so timid. The notion that only government can solve problems seems to have become so widely accepted by floating voters that any plan to reduce the role of government would cause people to fear a diminution in their quality of life. Politicians have to be realistic if they want votes rather than just the satisfaction of believing themselves to be correct. If reality is that the nanny state is seen as beneficial by the most important voters, then the nanny state it must be and no more than a little trimming at the edges can be attempted without risking the loss of numerous marginal seats. One argument I don't buy is that Mr Cameron and his merry men are ideologically dedicated to big government. Indeed I think this is apparent from the way the "Big Society" idea has been put forward. To my eyes it involves a concept of ceding control from central government in a number of fields whilst trying to ensure the result is genuine involvement of local people in local decision-making rather than it being removed from a remote central government and placed with an unaccountable local bureaucracy.

So far Mr Cameron does not appear to have succeeded in persuading large numbers that a Conservative government would be radically different from a Labour government. It would not be quite as full of time-serving incompetents but there is no point trying to draw any real distinction between the parties based on the moral rectitude of their MPs' claims for expenses. At the same time as we see the Conservatives apparently failing to make a big impression on the most impressionable part of the electorate we see a huge surge of stated support for the Liberal Democrats in the opinion polls. I am somewhat dubious about the chance of that surge turning into actual votes for the yellow peril, but there must be something of substance that the LibDems are saying that strikes a chord.

As far as I can tell there are only really two policies on which the LibDems stand out from the other parties. One is their support for the abandonment of the UK's nuclear weapons and the other is the raising of the income tax threshold to £10,000. The first does not seem to me to be a policy that would draw substantial additional support from either the Conservatives or Labour during the course of an election campaign. After all, it has been LibDem policy for a long time, those with strongly anti-nuclear views are unlikely to have been Conservative supporters anyway and Labour's strongly anti-nuclear faction lies predominantly to the left of the party and tends not to be floating-voter material.

That leaves the raising of the income tax threshold from the current paltry £6,475 to £10,000. Of course many other factors can lead to increases in support and it is said that the LibDem's main spokesman came across well in the first of the televised debates between the party leaders whereas Mr Cameron appeared somewhat uncomfortable. Try though I might I can never remember his name, I know it's something like Nora Batty. Nonetheless, it is hard to accept that even an electorate that voted for a party led by Tony Blair could switch allegiance simply because of the style of one politician. It seems to me it is far more likely to be based on policy and the only policy they have to attract floating voters is the income tax threshold.

There is a recent precedent for what has been seen. The Conservatives announced a proposal to increase the Inheritance Tax threshold substantially and enjoyed an immediate boost to their poll ratings, a boost that placed them well ahead of the other parties until Nora Batty appeared on the box and received rave reviews in the newspapers just a week or so ago. I might be wrong, there might be something else that is the main cause for the LibDems moving ahead of Labour, but I can't think what it might be.

Once it is clear that the overall tax burden would rise under LibDem plans the tide might ebb, I would certainly expect it to because they have no realistic prospect of forming the next government. It will be interesting to see whether the floaters currently wooing Mrs Batty will head towards the eternally high-taxing Labour Party or the generally slightly lower-taxing Conservatives.


Stan said...

I don't think it has anything to do with income tax or policies, FB - those policies you cite were well known before the debate and it was only after that that a Lib Dem surge happened.

It's about personality - and for Nick Clegg it's about not being David Cameron or Gordon Brown.

In truth the surge for the Lib Dems is a small proportion of the electorate who seem to be happy to vote Tory, Labour or Lib Dem. It's because the parties squabble over this tiny proportion of the electorate that they all basically follow the same policies. They have their core "tribal" support and they fight over the votes of the 10% who would vote for any of the three depending on who they like most that day.

That's why all three parties are fundamentally the same and why all three are progressive liberal. Meanwhile the 40% of the electorate who don't vote because no party represents them remain the "great ignored".

Jackart said...

Yup... I think you're onto something. And if you're right, it's good news.

Ajax said...

Voting floaters go Lava-Tory...