Taxing times, and a high-profile guest

Clegg was supportive of the idea of accelerating the move to a £10,000 personal allowance.

Today marked the real start of conference, with a full day's worth of debates and speeches in the auditorium, and a packed schedule of fringe events.

Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was one of those who made a speech, announcing the government's plan to employ an additional 2,000 tax inspectors to tackle tax evasion and raise revenues.

He also announced that the party is considering going into the next general election with a pledge to increase the threshold at which people begin to pay income tax even higher than the £10,000 which the party promised last year and which the government is currently implementing.

Coincidentally, it was on the topic of the income tax threshold that I questioned Nick Clegg when I joined three fellow bloggers to take part in an interview earlier today. Given the squeeze on living standards that is currently taking place, it strikes me as an excellent idea for the coalition to move faster on this policy than was originally planned.

Not only would such a move assist those on low incomes who feel the effects of inflation most acutely, but it would also help the economy by stimulating demand. Clegg was sympathetic to the idea: "In an ideal world we would accelerate the shift to £10,000, for economic reasons [and because] it is socially the right thing to do".

However, he cautioned that this is something that the government is not currently planning, though I think that's undoubtedly more to do with the naturally conservative nature of the Treasury - particularly in times of fiscal crisis - than a lack of desire on the part of Liberal Democrats in government to make such a change. I wouldn't rule it out altogether, though, particularly if inflation remains high.

I also managed to get a seat in an excellent fringe event on the topic of phone-hacking and other related privacy and media issues, at which the star guest was Hugh Grant. Last time we held our conference in Birmingham in March 2010, the most high-profile guest I spotted was Clare Short - how times change.

Nick Thornsby is a Liberal Democrat member and activist. His own blog can be found here.

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As Donald Trump once asked, how do you impeach a President?

Starting the process is much easier than you might think. 

Yes, on Friday, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. And no, you can’t skip the next four years.

But look on the bright side. Those four years might never happen. On the one hand, he could tweet the nuclear codes before the day is out. On the other, his party might reach for their own nuclear button – impeachment. 

So, how exactly can you impeach a President? Here is our rough guide.

OK, what does impeachment actually mean?

Impeachment is the power to remove an elected official for misconduct. Here’s the relevant clause of the US Constitution:

“The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Impeachment is actually a legacy of British constitutional history, and dates back as far as 1376, but according to our own parliamentary website, in the UK “this procedure is considered obsolete”. 

It’s up to the US Congress to decide whether to impeach and convict a President. Both houses are controlled by the Republicans, so impeaching Trump would mean turning against one who is – technically at least – one of their own. Since he’s already insulted the neighbouring country, supported discrimination against Muslim immigrants and mocked a disabled reporter, their impeachment threshold seems pretty high. But let’s imagine he surpasses himself. What next?

The impeachment process

Members of the House of Representatives – the lower chamber of the Congress – can start the impeachment process. They in turn may be encouraged to do so by voters. For example, there is a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to people who tried to impeach Barack Obama. One Impeach Obama supporter simply gave his reason as stopping the President from “pushing his agenda”. Another wanted to do so on the grounds of gross incompetence...

But for an impeachment attempt to actually work, the impeacher needs to get the support of the house. If a majority agree with the idea of impeaching the elected official, they nominate members to act as prosecutors during the subsequent trial. This takes place in the Senate, the upper house of Congress. In most impeachments, the Senate acts as judge and jury, but when a President is impeached, the chief justice of the United States presides.     

Two-thirds of the Senate must vote for impeachment in order to convict. 

What are the chances of impeaching Donald Trump?

So if Trump does something that even he can’t tweet away, and enough angry voters email their representatives, Congress can begin the process of impeachment. But will that be enough to get him out?

It’s often assumed that Richard Nixon was kicked out because he was impeached for the cover up known as the Watergate Scandal. In fact, we’ll never know, because he resigned before the House could vote on the process.

Two decades later, the House got further with Bill Clinton. When it emerged Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinsky, an intern, he initially denied it. But after nearly 14 hours of debate, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives decided to impeach him on grounds including perjury and obstruction of justice.

In the Senate trial, Clinton’s defenders argued that his actions did not threaten the liberty of the people. The majority of Senators voted to acquit him. 

The only other Presidential impeachment took place in 1868, when President Andrew Johnson, removed a rabble-rouser from his Cabinet. The guilty vote fell short of the two-thirds majority, and he was acquitted.

So, what’s the chances of impeaching Trump? I’ll leave you with some numbers…

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.