David Cameron and Nick Clegg hold a press conference on anti-terror laws at No.10 Downing Street on 10 July, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Lib Dems steal a march on the Tories by pledging to cut National Insurance

Nick Clegg has pre-empted an expected Tory manifesto commitment. 

When the Lib Dems pledged to raise the income tax threshold to £10,000 in their 2010 general election manifesto many Tories questioned why they hadn't got their first. The answer was provided by David Cameron during the first TV leaders' debate: "I would love to take everyone out of their first £10,000 of income tax, Nick. It's a beautiful idea, it's a lovely idea - we cannot afford it." 

It turned out, though, that we could. The policy was included in the Coalition Agreement and the Tories, with some chutzpah, now present it as their greatest achievement in government. In his most recent Budget, George Osborne announced that the threshold would rise to £10,500 next year, exceeding Clegg's original target. 

The Lib Dems, however, have long made it clear that they want to go further by increasing the personal allowance to £12,500 by the end of the next parliament. Labour, meanwhile, has pledged to reinstate the 10p tax rate (a policy championed by Tory MP Robert Halfon) disastrously abolished by Gordon Brown in his final Budget in 2007. 

These announcements have left the Tories, many of whom, like Milton Friedman, are in favour of cutting taxes "under any circumstances and for any excuse", asking what their offer will be. One policy long rumoured for inclusion in the party's manifesto is a cut in the National Insurance threshold. At present, this stands at £7,956, far below the income tax threshold of £10,000. Cutting NI would ensure that the 1.2 million workers who earn too little to gain from another increase in the personal allowance (or from a 10p tax rate) would benefit. The Tories, still viewed as "the party of the rich", would be able to boast of a tax policy more progressive than that of their rivals. 

But as in 2010, the Lib Dems have got there first. Danny Alexander announced today that after achieving a personal allowance of £12,500, the party would "seek to raise the level that people start paying employee National Insurance". He added: "The Liberal Democrats are the only party in British politics with a long-term commitment to cutting taxes for the working people of Britain. We've delivered the largest programme of tax cuts for a generation over the last four years, despite all of the other financial pressures.

"These manifesto commitments will mean nothing less than a generational shift to a fairer tax system that rewards work and helps working people. That's the way to build a stronger economy and a fairer society and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to get on in life."

It sounds good, but the Chief Secretary to the Treasury notably avoided the question of how the move would be paid for. With the IFS warning that the next government will need to raise taxes (or cut welfare) by £12bn merely to keep departmental spending cuts at their current pace, all parties should be more focused on raising money than giving it away.

But nine months away from a general election, politics is trumping policy. That means the pressure is now on Cameron to deliver a conference-dazzling tax cut pledge this autumn. How he will do that while pledging to eliminate the deficit by the end of the next parliament, and to avoid any further tax rises, is another question

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The campaign to keep Britain in Europe must be based on hope, not fear

Together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of.

Today the Liberal Democrats launched our national campaign to keep Britain in Europe. With the polls showing the outcome of this referendum is on a knife-edge, our party is determined to play a decisive role in this once in a generation fight. This will not be an easy campaign. But it is one we will relish as the UK's most outward-looking and internationalist party. Together in Europe the UK has delivered peace, created the world’s largest free trade area and given the British people the opportunity to live, work and travel freely across the continent. Now is the time to build on these achievements, not throw them all away.

Already we are hearing fear-mongering from both sides in this heated debate. On the one hand, Ukip and the feuding Leave campaigns have shamelessly seized on the events in Cologne at New Year to claim that British women will be at risk if the UK stays in Europe. On the other, David Cameron claims that the refugees he derides as a "bunch of migrants" in Calais will all descend on the other side of the Channel the minute Britain leaves the EU. The British public deserve better than this. Rather than constant mud-slinging and politicising of the world's biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, we need a frank and honest debate about what is really at stake. Most importantly this should be a positive campaign, one that is fought on hope and not on fear. As we have a seen in Scotland, a referendum won through scare tactics alone risks winning the battle but losing the war.

The voice of business and civil society, from scientists and the police to environmental charities, have a crucial role to play in explaining how being in the EU benefits the British economy and enhances people's everyday lives. All those who believe in Britain's EU membership must not be afraid to speak out and make the positive case why being in Europe makes us more prosperous, stable and secure. Because at its heart this debate is not just about facts and figures, it is about what kind of country we want to be.

The Leave campaigns cannot agree what they believe in. Some want the UK to be an offshore, deregulated tax haven, others advocate a protectionist, mean-hearted country that shuts it doors to the world. As with so many populist movements, from Putin to Trump, they are defined not by what they are for but what they are against. Their failure to come up with a credible vision for our country's future is not patriotic, it is irresponsible.

This leaves the field open to put forward a united vision of Britain's place in Europe and the world. Liberal Democrats are clear what we believe in: an open, inclusive and tolerant nation that stands tall in the world and doesn't hide from it. We are not uncritical of the EU's institutions. Indeed as Liberals, we fiercely believe that power must be devolved to the lowest possible level, empowering communities and individuals wherever possible to make decisions for themselves. But we recognise that staying in Europe is the best way to find the solutions to the problems that don't stop at borders, rather than leaving them to our children and grandchildren. We believe Britain must put itself at the heart of our continent's future and shape a more effective and more accountable Europe, focused on responding to major global challenges we face.

Together in Europe we can build a strong and prosperous future, from pioneering research into life-saving new medicines to tackling climate change and fighting international crime. Together we can provide hope for the desperate and spread the peace we now take for granted to the rest of the world. And together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of. So if you agree then join the Liberal Democrat campaign today, to remain in together, and to stand up for the type of Britain you think we should be.