Today’s news that the Liberal Democrats have reviewed the pledge to cut the overall burden of taxation is timely and welcome.
It was obvious that financial pressures were disproportionately hitting those on the lowest incomes, even before the start of the recession. Labour’s 10p tax fiasco showed by public reaction that hitting the poorest is not only no way to achieve a fair society – it offended the public as a whole.
Liberals should applaud a commitment to tax the lowest paid, less. That commitment must go hand in hand with measures that promote equality; as we recently confirmed, extending access to further and higher education, as well as committing to invest in vital infrastructure works that create jobs, are the right answers in the teeth of a financial crisis. Those commitments cannot be lost amid the well-trailed squeeze on public finances.
Neither, however, can Liberal Democrats avoid facing up to a financial squeeze that looks inevitable regardless of the colour of the carpets in Number 10 in 2010. The early thinking is promising. There is no shortage of waste within the public sector, and social Liberals cannot be too unhappy about the areas Nick Clegg has earmarked in his interview with the FT. What is now needed – as far as it is possible – is clarity of an approach that protects the most critical elements of our public services, in order to avoid the obvious attack from the Left that a review of public spending – even if that means scrapping Trident – is in some way an attack on those core services.
Today’s statement also helps by putting right what appeared to be a fudge; that statement of wider, unspecified tax cuts last Autumn rapidly looked hard to achieve. Nick Clegg has sharpened the focus of the Liberal Democrat message, and done so in a way that strengthens our position as the only party committed to greater equality and social justice.
Gareth Epps is leader of the Lib Dem Council Group in Reading and the candidate in Reading East