...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day 3360: Brum Brum


We've all been to Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in my new favourite city: BRUM, named after the famous CAR.

And what a BRILLIANT Conference the Liberal Democrats have had there! I've got LOADS to tell you: all the BIG IDEAS, a fair start, fair tax, fair politics and a fair amount of investment in green jobs too; lovely Sarah and Mr Vince; the economics and the promise of HOPE.

Daddy Alex gave a speech at Auntie Helen's fringe event and Daddy Richard was, for the first time ever, a voting representative which meant actually shaping new Liberal Democrat policy!

Daddy assures me that he used his badge very responsibly and did not at all go completely power-crazy!

His very first vote was in the ballot to pick Sunday morning's emergency motion where he supported the VERY IMPORTANT "Freedom, Creativity and the Internet" motion, which was narrowly chosen over a debate about Hard Labour cuts to the NHS.

This does NOT mean that supporting the NHS is not important to us, but we already have LOTS of good policy about Health, and the Internet policy was needed urgently as a response to the "Digital Economy Bill" (also known as the "Giving the Digit to the Internet Bill") and an ill-judged amendment supported by our Lords TweedleTim and TweedleTimmer.
What had happened was that the First Lord of Darkness, Mr Mandelbrot, had wanted to give himself LIMITLESS POWERS to police the Internet – or make himself Sherriff of Mandelson, as one debater put it – by blocking websites and cutting off innocent Internet users on a whim. The Lords Tim had said no, no that was wrong: big business should have to go to COURT to wield that sort of monstrous arbitrary power rather than just a minister. So, NEARLY right there, boys, but did you spot the DELIBERATE MISTAKE?

Of course, the REAL point is that NO ONE should have the power to censor the Internet, and that making Internet Service Providers into your SPIES and INFORMANTS (lest they get sued for unknowingly carrying something that just MIGHT be someone else's copyright) is going to CHILL a lot of freedom and creativity out of the Wibbly Wobbly Web, just like British Libel Laws are starting to CHILL scientific debate and decent journalism. And closing down people's websites without warning, not even a polite request to maybe not use the possibly-copyright material, is just plain RUDE.

We went on to debate all this first thing on Sunday morning, of course, which meant a VERY early start for my daddies if they were to eat their way all though the BREAKFAST BUFFET and still make it to the main hall in time!

It was an excellent debate, with excellent contributions from Mr Mark Reckons, Mr Dr Count Packula and Mr David.

And yes, I CAN say it was an excellent debate, even if all of the speakers spoke in favour, because all of the speakers raised DIFFERENT important points.

The most excellentest contribution, though, was from TOTALLY AWESOME Ms Bridget Foxy, Liberal Democrat PPC in Top Target seat of Islington, who – in addition to brilliantly leading the debate – had been up to Brum on Friday to join Daddy at the LDV fringe and then BACK to London that night to do a full ACTION DAY of campaigning in Islington on Saturday (do go and help her win Islington for the Liberal Democrats at Westminster as well as local level, if you can!) and then BACK AGAIN to Brum on Sunday morning to win the vote at the Conference.

This is why Lib Dems are ACE! We can mix GEOGRAPHICAL community politics with INTERNET community politics and fight for freedom and fairness in both.

More importantly, this is a HUGE example of how the Liberal Democrats are a Party where the members can make a REAL DEMOCRATIC DIFFERENCE! No sooner had the Lords make their mistake – and I do subscribe to the theory that it was a FLUFF UP rather than FOUL PLAY – than members were instantly responding in blog pieces and articles and letters to Lib Dem News. The Party in Parliament were already responding and then, thanks again to Ms Bridget, Conference was able to ACT.

The end result was an enormous win for the motion (maybe one or two hands raised to vote against, but the chair didn't seem to notice them). Hopefully this will help our team in Parliament fix this Bill before the Election gets called.

So, having helped to get the D E debate on the agenda, Daddy then stayed in the Conference Hall for a lot of the rest of the day, using his badge to support and amend motions, while also hearing speeches from awesome Mr Dr Vince and Lovely Sarah Teather.

What was particularly IMPRESSIVE was the JOINED-UP way that Liberal Democrat policies seemed to flow from one into the next.

Beginning with a FAIR START, an education policy to improve the life chances for everyone and get them into a position where they are better able to get better jobs, it follows naturally into SUPPORT FOR MANUFACTURING, so that there are GOOD JOBS for people to get!

A Fair Start for all school-kids is the first of the FOUR PRINCIPLES that Captain Clegg has laid out for our election campaign and the next Parliament, and NEW JOBS in GREEN industries is the second.

The City of Brum is FAMOUS for MAKING THINGS, not least CARS including the famous cat-monster brand of Jaguar, but also all sorts of things from custard and chocolate and HP Sauce to jewellery and Bakelite. Also two of Great Britain's famous failed banks were founded here (Lloyds Superbank wot we own, and Midland wot was bought up by the HSBC), but never mind that.

So it was GOOD to be debating the importance of reclaiming Great Britain's position as a manufacturing nation there in the Iron City. And Captain Clegg made a point of this in his big speech too, saying we need a change from an economy based just on City bankers gambling. The Captain pledged:
"Under the Liberal Democrats, it WILL change. No longer just betting on things, we will start Britain building things again."
He spoke, too, of his hope that former shipyards could be retooled to build the wind-turbines and wave-power generators of the future.

And you can therefore see how LOGICAL it is to carry on from Liberal Democrat hopes for a revival in our inventive, creative industries to our plans to confront the Climate Crisis in the debate on CLIMATE CHANGE AFTER COPENHAGEN.

Recognizing that the next Parliament may be our LAST CHANCE to save the PLANET, we refused to be STUFFED by the total STITCH UP between Americaland and China that was the Copenhagen Agreement. Instead, Liberal Democrats, the only TRULY INTERNATIONALIST Party, want to use our key place in the European Parliament to get Europe to move further and faster in cutting emissions and investing in the new post-recession GREEN ECONOMY.

Europe is the World's LARGEST trading bloc and together we have the economic muscle to make a difference. And this doesn't have to be an economic BURDEN – no matter what some environmental DINOSAURS seem to think (and remember what happened to the Dinosaurs! OK, they got hit by a ROCK, but that's PRETTY CLOSE to getting done in by catastrophic climate change) – no, it can be an OPPORTUNITY because there are jobs and savings and profits to be made, rewards to be claimed for getting in there in the new green economy.

And the excellent amendment, accepted by the movers, calls on Local Councils to invest in green projects, including purchasing electric and LPG vehicles, which isn't just a great example of "think global act local" but also ties back in with the support for manufacturing and new green jobs initiatives.

The THIRD pillar of our principles, then, is bringing FAIR TAXES, and we debated those in the afternoon.

The main aim here is to raise the personal allowance to ten thousand pounds: that is, no one pays any tax on the first ten thousand pounds that they earn.

People with lower incomes tend to SPEND extra money first, unlike people on higher incomes who are more likely to save it. So a tax cut here means more spending which means a boost to the economy. See how this ties in with support for new green jobs already?

To pay for giving this money back we would: shift the tax burden onto polluters with green taxes on aviation; equalise the rate paid on Capital Gains with the rate paid on income (putting this back to how it used to be, so the richest can't use property as a tax dodge); abolish the EXTRA credit that higher rate taxpayers get back for paying into a pension fund (so they just get the same credit as everyone else); crack down on other tax avoidance; and introduce the a mansion tax on homes costing more than two million pounds.

I'll just present the DOWNSIDE: This is based on what we think is AFFORDABLE. A person over 22 has a minimum wage of £5.80 an hour. So working full time (48 hours a week, per the European Working Time Directive) for 52 weeks a year they would earn £14,477, and therefore, they CURRENTLY have to pay £1,600 a year or £31 a week. EVEN under the Liberal Democrat tax cut, they would STILL have to pay tax of £895 a year or £17 a week. (There's National Insurance to pay too, but that's not changed.)

I hope we all realise that that is WRONG – you shouldn't be on the MINIMUM income and STILL have to pay tax.

However, seven hundred pounds a year (in fact £705) for EVERYONE is a SUBSTANTIAL cut in tax, and one that hopefully will help stimulate spending by putting pounds in people's pockets (unlike the Hard Labour VAT cut which gave the cash to the retailers rather than the workers).

Cutting tax for people who earn less paid for by people who earn more or who own more is FAIR. And it is easy to understand: making tax SIMPLER makes the system FAIRER too, because it means that fewer people pay too much tax, or miss out on complicated tax credits or means-tested benefits. A system that is simpler means less BUREAUCRACY for businesses and fewer forms to fill in for tax payers. And it is more HONEST to have a TRANSPARENT system, rather than disguising how much people pay or don't pay in a system that no one properly understands.

The OTHER tax thing that we would do is abolish Council Tax altogether… well, not at once; there would be trials first, but we'd get rid of it and replace it with a fairer local income tax.

Some people have pointed out what looks like a contradiction in introducing one property tax, the Mansion Tax, while revoking another, the Council Tax. However, that's not quite true, because the Mansion Tax does take into account ability to pay by allowing people to roll over the tax until the property is disposed of. The Mansion Tax is really a genuine tax on WEALTH, designed to pass the burden of taxes onto those who HAVE MOST, with the side benefit that it can stop money being bundled unproductively up into property; the Council Tax, on the other fluffy foot, is not much better than a moderately-banded POLL TAX: properties in Band H pay only about three times what properties in Band A do, in spite of being worth at least ten times as much, and of course the sort of properties that would get taxed by the Mansion Tax are worth FIFTY times as much, or more… and still only pay the same Band H rate (or Bank I in Wales).

A properly FAIR tax system needs to be BALANCED between taxes on WEALTH (or property) and on INCOME, so that very rich people cannot avoid paying their fair share by shovelling their money away into land or investments.

Also, the idea is that both tax changes should be broadly NEUTRAL – that is, the cuts in taxes are all paid for by raising other taxes. In practice, this means some people should pay more and other people should pay less – which makes for a rather REDISTRIBUTIVE change, with the much better off helping the middle- and the less well off more.

The only ADDITIONAL tax that we would raise – OK, OK, the only tax that we have PLANS to raise (and yes, I know that that raises all the heckles of anyone who remembers that "we have no plans to raise VAT" is Conservatory code for "we will raise VAT") is a levy on the banks as a charge against their profits for the implicit (or even EXPLICIT) support that they have received from the taxpayer to stop them all going BUST. This money would be used to reduce the huge budget deficit.

Captain Clegg was quite clear about this when he answered Mr James Graham's question in the Q&A on Saturday afternoon.

That Q&A was quite fun, with the Captain trying to capture some of the feel of his "Town Hall" meet-the-voters sessions that have gone so well. And it wasn't like he didn't face some proper sticky questions from the Lib Dem audience, although no one was interested in the meeja's favourite question: "who to get into bed with in a Hung Parliament" – funny that!

However, the real star turns were from the Sainted Mr Dr Vince, who received a standing ovation just for entering the room, and the Lovely Sarah.

It is an interesting and possibly depressing thing that the Housing Brief is, like Lovely Sarah and me, easily overlooked. Which is a SHAME because actually housing is at the root of an awful lot of things that have gone horribly WRONG.

The Conservatory "right to buy" scheme of Queen Maggie – linked to her refusing to allow councils to build NEW properties – critically reduced the availability of social housing, creating a short term fillip to the economy at the cost of keeping families on waiting lists for years and years into the future. Planning regulations that concentrate on not letting cities grow bigger at the expense of not caring whether developers build rabbit hutches mean we have some of the teeniest and therefore unhealthiest living conditions in Europe and encouraged house builders to profit by keeping the supply of houses less than the demand. Then the shortage of housing drove up house prices, trapping more people, young first-time buyers (or rather not-buyers) and low earners, in rented accommodation or their parents' homes by pulling the "housing ladder" up after the lucky existing homeowners while simultaneously fuelling the economic bubble that just blew our economy to pieces. And now the rumour is that the Conservatories want to let social housing rents "float" up to the cost of private rental, meaning even more people will have no choice but to go onto Housing Benefit because work doesn't pay enough to let them live.

Or as Lovely Sarah puts it:
"Put poor people into worse housing, and make them pay more for it. That's it. That's the Tory big idea."
It was a REALLY good speech, full of the sort of passion that comes from real anger about seeing her constituents repeatedly ground down by the failure of Hard Labour and Conservatory housing policy, and with a solid promise that the Liberal Democrats would do better: over a billion pounds to bring a quarter of a million empty houses back into use, real investment that would create jobs in construction as well as liberate families from the waiting lists.

After the election in 1997, Lovely Sarah reminded us, Lord Blairimort travelled to one of the poorest estates in the country and pledged to stand up for the forgotten people. Well he BROKE that pledge, and Hard Labour FORGOT the "forgotten people".

Hard Labour forgot them, but WE haven't. We have the principles and the policies to bring them HOPE again.
"That's why, when we are out day after day, knocking, stuffing, delivering, phoning, when we are using energy even we didn't know we could muster, that's what keeps us going."
This theme of the Liberal Democrats being the party of HOPE re-echoed what Mr Dr Vince had been saying earlier.

Now, Mr Dr Vince is probably the only politician in the country who can announce big cuts in spending and still get cheers. It's in the WAY that he does it. He lays things out openly and honestly and expects to consult people. Identify savings and debate them in public. This he contrasted with Conservatory butchering the public services in private, telling us nothing up front, and with Hard Labour's living in total denial about the need for cuts at all.

And he DID spell out lots of the ways that he would make savings, gaining particular cheers for pledges to kick the current Government's habit of costly consultants and to end the expensive, illiberal databases.

Limiting public pay awards to a cash sum, four hundred pounds, rather than a percentage is good economics: it means that you CAN still give a rise that is helps the lowest earners without wasting money on one that the better off can scrape by without. And it's also good politics because you don't look like you are rewarding the already-rich elite. No thousand pounds a year pay rises for MPs under Chancellor Vince!

He's not afraid to remind people that we got things RIGHT. We warned the Government about important things like the housing bubble and the personal debt mountain, we were first to point out the need to nationalise the banks, and we told the Government that they should crack down on the bonus culture. As Chancellor and the Prime Monster, Mr Frown didn't listen to us. Heck, he didn't even listen to his OWN advice: Prudence was abandoned; Golden Rules were fudged and ignored. THAT is why Hard Labour failed.

But Mr Dr Vince also castigated the Conservatories for making SINISTER threats of financial meltdown in the event of a hung Parliament.
"Playing fast and loose with the financial stability of this country for political gain – destabilising the markets – is dangerous, irresponsible and wrong."
Captain Clegg returned to this subject too, referring to the Conservatories as Britain's first OFFSHORE Political Party and their scare tactics as no more than a PROTECTION RACKET!

But Mr Dr Vince ALSO said that Liberal Democrats would be the Party offering HOPE: a new National Investment Bank to channel funds into new green jobs, a tax cut of seven hundred pounds a year for lower and middle earners, and above all an HONESTY about the way out of the deepest debt crisis that the country has ever been in.

People, he said, would accept austerity – for a time – so long as you were honest and fair. They will not accept it "from a government that imposes hardship on the majority while rewarding rich cronies, grovelling to tax exiles and non-doms and ignoring the widening inequalities in income and wealth. " I wonder WHO he could mean!

Which sort of brings us to the fourth of our key principals principles: making politics FAIR, LOCAL AND HONEST again, and we debated this on Sunday morning (after the emergency D E Bill debate) setting out a clear, ten-point plan:

  • Fair votes
  • Right of Recall
  • Fixed term Parliaments
  • A proper expenses system
  • If you want to sit in Parliament you should pay your tax in Britain
  • The ability to investigate and revoke peerages
  • An elected second chamber
  • A hundred and fifty FEWER MPs
  • Parliamentary oversight of Executive powers
  • Stronger devolution
We would also give more power back to local people, power over schools and hospitals and police, abolishing Hard Labour's QUANGOs and Targets while rebuilding the whole idea of local banking to support infrastructure and business.

So there we have them, our FOUR KEY PRINCIPLES for the coming election, all tied together and joined up so that each makes more sense together with the others. Quick recap:
  1. A Fair Start for all kids with a pupil premium for schools to invest in the least well off;
  2. A rebalanced, fair economy with investment in new green jobs to start the country growing again after Hard Labour's recession;
  3. A Fair tax system with no tax to pay on the first ten thousand pounds you earn; and
  4. Cleaned up politics including Fair Votes, a smaller parliament, no more unelected second chamber so no more cronies and the ability to sack your MP if they let you down.

The REALLY good thing about these four is that they are THE RIGHT SIZE for the telenews to quote all four IN FULL. Which they DID! Which then makes our opponents look like right IDIOTS when they arrogantly trot out their usual refrain of "we don't know what the Lib Dems stand for". YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN LISTENING THEN, you maroons!

It has in fact been a GREAT conference for coverage all over. We started with the news that a lady who used to make RUDE FILMS has switched to the much more SCANDALOUS profession of politics, which was quick to grab the headlines of the easily TITILLATED TABLOIDS (er, Grauniad and Independent and, for shame, BBC).

We also scored the coup of former senior Conservatory and widely-respected MEP Mr Edward Macmillan-Scott defecting to the Liberal Democrats because of the bonkers company that Mr Balloon chooses to keep in the European Parliament. His line: "I used to be a liberal Conservative; now I am a conservative Liberal." And I can live with that.

And we finished with Captain Clegg getting the top spot on the news.

Our opponents certainly don't know what to do, with BOTH Hard Labour's Mr Lord "He's No" Adonis and Conservatory former Secretary of State for tripling the national debt, Mr Fatty Clarke appearing on Mr Andy Marrmite's show to claim that "naturally" we are closer to THEM.

("Naturally", they are of course closer to EACH OTHER – both being right-wing, pro-war authoritarian Parties that suck up to billionaires and bankers and have no idea whatsoever about how to repair the economy.)

Both of them seem to have lost track of the meaning of WORDS in the English Language. Mr Lord "Who Mourns for" Adonis asserting (to general guffaws) that Hard Labour are a "socially liberal" party – clearly it's been a while since he understood EITHER Socialism OR Liberalism.

Meanwhile, Mr Fatty Clarke thought that "the risk of a hung parliament" was why "the Liberals are in such a dilemma" and he said this as though he meant we were split or confused or somehow damaged by the accusation.

Technically I suppose a "dilemma" is "a choice between two undesirable alternatives" which might sort of be right, though it seems, er, unlikely that Mr Clarke was admitting that the Conservatories are UNDESIRABLE.

He went on to make the usual over-proud blandishments that we need a "strong Government" to get us out f this "financial calamity", like it wasn't a "strong Government", one that didn't have to listen to anyone else, that got us IN to this "financial calamity"!

Equally ARROGANT is the claim by Mr Wendy Alexander that we had "admitted" that there will be a Hard Labour or a Conservatory Government after the election.

Captain Clegg, of course, has said NO SUCH THING. What he has said – and quite right too – is that it is up to the Great British PEOPLE to decide – they, we, you are the kingmakers – and whoever has the strongest mandate has the right to govern.

THAT COULD MEAN US, almost as easily as one of those two tired old Authoritarian Parties.

Maybe it won't. Maybe you don't think that is very CREDIBLE and maybe it's not. But that's NOT to say that it CANNOT be the people's choice. No, that would be ARROGANT PRESUMPTION, taking the people for granted, yet again. Basically, TYPICAL Hard Labour, thinking that THEY know better than everybody else.

Not that Ms Teresa May Not was any more sensible, with her silly gabbling that "they don't know how to fix the economy; they don't know where they are on cuts; they don't know where they are on ring fencing…" Mr Dr Vince EXPLICITLY ruled out ring fencing – we've never believed in it, and we have to look everywhere to find all the savings that we can. She more accurately describes her OWN side's (complete lack of) economic policies.

And then there was the SURPRISE news that the sinister minister, Mr Jack Man'O Straw was to announce plans to abolish the House of Lords Club, as though this was some special treat to tempt us (and to leave Mr Balloon looking like defender of the fuddy-duddies). I think President Ros put it best:
"Elected House of Lords, Mr Man'O Straw? Bring it on!"
So, while the other Parties continue to swing all over the place – one minute deciding they are just like us, the next claiming that we are completely anathema to them; one minute saying that we are irrelevant; the next clearly we are important enough that they want to flatter and lovebomb us – the Liberal Democrats keep a clear and consistent line, setting out our principles and policies and promises to the Great British public.

Because we're NOT like the other Parties. As Captain Clegg put it in his speech:
"People say all politicians are the same. They are not. Of course, Liberal Democrats are not perfect. But no Liberal Democrat MP "flipped" their home in this way. None of our outer London MPs even claimed a second home allowance. And it was Liberal Democrats who fought Labour and Conservative attempts to keep the scandal hidden. So don't let them tell you we are all the same because it isn't true."
Or, as I heard one representative put it:
"We're CLEAN, we're GREEN, we're KEEN… to work for you."

And now, here is Captain Clegg's big speech and, we all thought, one of his best:

…with text here, courtesy of Liberal Democrat Voice.


People wanted to know who Captain Clegg had been SNOGGING to get his Husky Conference Voice™. But apparently it was down to the AIR-CONDITIONING. No, do not ask: I do not know why he was snogging the air-conditioning.


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