Clegg and Cable at odds over welfare cuts

Clegg would trade welfare cuts for a wealth tax, but Cable won't accept a "penny more" off spending.

A senior Lib Dem adviser told me last week that internal polling indicates very clearly that the electorate attributes the cut in the top rate of tax to the Tories and the rise in the income tax threshold to the Lib Dems. Thus this year's conference slogan - "Fairer tax in tough times" - was born. And you can see this differentiation strategy in action now, everywhere you look. For example, when Nick says - "I will not accept a new wave of fiscal retrenchment, of belt tightening, without asking people at the top to make an additional contribution"- there’s a very clear indication that George Osborne will only get his welfare cuts – his Tory welfare cuts – if there’s a suitable quid pro quo.

This is all well and good, so long as the message is a consistent one. You can have your evil nasty policy, but only if give me something exceptionally nice in return. However, I detect that certain parts of the party have moved on already. Vince, for example. "We’ve used the phrase not a penny more, not a penny less," he says. "I’m implementing spending cuts and it’s very tough. We are not agreeing anything over and above the cuts that have already been agreed in the spending review."

Not a huge amount of wriggle room there. Not much of a quid pro quo on the horizon. One wonders what, if anything, Vince will say in his speech. Has he had the messaging strategy "clarified"?

For someone like me, who’s spent two years telling party folk that the electorate are quite capable of differentiating between a Lib Dem policy and a Tory one, and that the "not a cigarette paper between us" strategy was disastrous, this is all good news. And indeed, suddenly, everywhere you look, differentiation is writ large. But are we doing deals with the Tories – or just saying no? I can feel a row brewing.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Liberal Democrat Conference.

Vince Cable has said he won't accept "anything over and above the cuts" that have already been agreed.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.