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.