Honestly, is there a more disproportionately over-politicised tax? Two problems with this ‘ere idea of Darling, darling!‘s idea to temporarily suspend stamp duty.

1. It won’t work, according to Dr Cable.

2. It won’t work, according to Everybody Who Has A Job And Lives In A House.

Our Vince’s problem is that artificial boosting is the last thing we need in an overheated market that badly needs to be allowed to recover naturally (though he qualifies this carefully in a CiF piece on Northern Wreck, stressing that he is “not arguing for laissez faire” and that mortgage lenders should observe a strict code of conduct when dealing with arrears etc etc). It will also harm the tax take further at a time of natural slowdown.

Everybody Who Has A Job And Lives In A House’s problem is that suspending stamp duty will be about as likely to have an impact on the decisions of the average first-time buyer as the economic stance of the Kingdom of the Potato People. It’s bonkers, this notion that in a market where the average house is worth a sum approaching 1000% of the average salary that the alleviation of a 1-5% sting in the tail is going to be the occasion for anything other than hollow laughter. And let’s be clear, Darling, darling!, first time buyers is what this is all about. If the government really is barking enough to want to kickstart an overheated market, then they’ve got to introduce significant supplies of fresh demand rather than start a game of state-sponsored musical chairs among existing home-owners. And they’ve chosen one of the Ways Least Likely to do it.

What are these people thinking? Not just the politicians who periodically try to make political capital out of lowering/scrapping stamp duty “to help struggling first time buyers”, but the journalists who apparently wipe their brains of everything they know off by heart at a dinner table for long enough to write a report on it with a straight face. Where does it end? Any chance the press team would consider testing the point with a press release explaining how the Liberal Democrats plan to help struggling farmers by giving them all a free packet of Baby Bio?

Sometimes I wonder if I am an alien sent here for the purposes of research with a modified memory which  is getting a bit worn and needs a new Imporosity Patch, and so memories of the economic circumstances of my home planet keep leaking through (whaddya mean, you never get that?) Because the one, the only, the sole way this insane proposal would make sense would be if everybody was paid in bubble mixture and a decent house costed a small handful of lentils and stamp duty was compulsorily rendered in bits of yellow string, and it was generally possible to achieve an barter rate of 1,000 lentils per pot of bubble mixture but yellow string was absolutely unobtainable unless you were a lentil quadrillionaire. Is this how it works on earth, then?

Yesterday’s kite-flying in the Torygraph can now be put into some kind of context. They’re just having another anti-Lib Dem week. Apparently we’re, you know, at death’s door again. Nothing to worry about, everybody, perfectly normal for the time of year, just keep your umbrellas up…

There are many choice comments from the usual stupidity merchants - and also a piece of outsider’s balanced analysis from one Igonikon Jack at 8.12am which is well worth reading to re-orient oneself - but this is my absolute favourite. My emboldening:

“Rumour has it that Nick Clegg is suggesting that if he got into power he would increase the tax take on privately funded pensions for all higher rate tax payers.

What a clot! How dull is that?

At a time when pensioners are in dire trouble over their care provisions, brought about in no small part by the Brown raid on pension, he is advocating making it worse for them.

Sorry, if Mr Clegg is so inept and out of touch with what is going on in the real world he is unelectable.”

Er…

We’ve all crunched numbers wrongly and had to backtrack. Embarrassing as it is, sometimes there is nothing to be done but bite the bullet, hold your hands up, make a clean breast of it, turn over a new leaf, dust yourself off and wake up and smell the backbench rebellion.

So when it emerged that our rash promise of a puppy for every new reader had seriously alienated our core “traditional” readership, we knew what we had to do. Yes, we had to lift cute puppy pictures from all over the internet and use them as a bribe, even though those who already have cute puppy pictures will derive extra benefit from the exercise over the puppy-deprived. It’s a tough decision, but someone had to make it.

Simplicity itself?

It is interesting (to within an order of magnitude; when you’re at work; and it’s a slow Facebook day) to consider the professional response to Labour’s 10p blunder. Suggestions on this forum ranged from “restoring the 10p band and cutting benefits” to the solution eventually adopted.

Professional opinion is pretty much universal that the whole move was daft, a disgrace etc. In particular, there is a healthy scorn for the notion which Darling, darling! has successful palmed off on laypeople (ooh, you weirdos), that losing the 10p rate is somehow a giant leap forward in “simplification”. Any adviser will tell you that a single, immobile universal tax band on income with no exceptions or optional extras ranks as one of the simplest tax measures imaginable (then they’ll charge you £550+VAT).

Particularly galling to me was Darling, darling!‘s repeated weaselly insistence that one “cannot just unpick” a Budget when it is precisely as unpickable as any other bill on its Third Reading (which I concede may not be very unpickable at all; the point is there’s nothing special about tax legislation). Again, he’s relying on lay unfamiliarity here. The bit of legislation that says the personal allowance shall be £x, the starting rate shall be 10p, the basic rate shall be 22p, the higher rate shall be 40p etc etc says… well, pretty much that. And every month thousands and thousands of payroll agents up and down the country go into their payroll software and implement what the legislation says.

Pay As You Earn tax is a system which is, on the whole, foolproof and immune to abuse. There’s really nothing mystical about changing the rates, nor is there anything profoundly simplifying in doing so. It’s the work of five minutes and one crazed junior treasury minister with a blank piece of Statutory Instrument headed notepaper and a pen, and after that they never have to think about it again.

It’s not the income tax bands that make tax complicated. Not even near. It’s the reliefs, the exceptions, the oddballs, the (nasty word approaching) loopholes, most commonly found in capital gains tax, corporation tax and inheritance tax and rarely sighted anywhere near your common or garden PAYE income tax, that make up the complications.

However, it was clearly in Darling, darling!‘s interest to suggest that the whole process was vastly more complicated than it actually is, because that bought him time to negotiate the borrowing of the £2.7bn. What he really meant by claiming that it’s difficult to unpick a budget is that he can’t just palm off the cost on another group of taxpayers after the main budget debate has been and gone; he has to get more funding from outside instead. Good to know that Labour still shrinks from that much open tyranny.

In fact, never mind the complication, it’s still in his interest to pretend the whole thing was just a ghastly mistake (it was a Big Fat Lie; there is no way it could have been anything else; a junior tax assistant could have spotted the problem, given the figures on earnings and tax credit take-up). He’s not just blinking with terror like a rabbit in the glare of The Great Jon Snow because he’s had to make a U-turn. He’s blinking because he’s still trying to hide just how disgraceful the whole thing is. We’re treating this as the crisis point for Labour over the 10p tax affair when in fact this is the home straight. They’ve nearly got away with a shocking piece of straightforward deception.

That goldarned two-party consensus again

Sadly for the British people (not a phrase I care to use very often because it makes me queasy, as if I’ve eaten a big lardy slice of Tory Pie) the official opposition are in cahoots with Darling, darling! on this. It’s in Gorgeous Georgina Osbourne’s interest to make the whole thing sound far more complicated than it is as well, because he doesn’t understand a single bloody word of it.

This is why he keeps uttering mystical pronouncements such as “The cupboard is bare” and “They didn’t mend the roof when the sun was shining” like some exceptionally mundane sybil. I’m listening out for when he starts saying “They didn’t tie the giraffe up in time and now the hamster’s mother has outgrown the chocolate undergarments” because then we’ll know he’s getting overconfident.

And of course, even if Gorgeous Georgina wasn’t the dunce of the Tory front bench, the Tories still need to maintain the illusion of complexity because they don’t want to commit themselves to any spending plans. One of the easiest ways to avoid this is to pretend that taxing and spending is a great alternative universe of Mystic Numbers Whose Wot We Cannot Possibly Know Until You Have Voted Us Back Into Power Where We Deserve To Be AHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! ahem, ahem, sorry, and that it would be totally impossible to, say, assemble the basic toolkit of a calculator and the back of an envelope and start jotting some possibilities down.

This is politically clever because everyone believes them - I’ve even heard this touted as a Tory strength. I’ve heard it seriously suggested that they can’t do anything until they’ve “got in and seen exactly what kind of mess everything is in”, as if the economy is run out of a bunch of A5 cashbooks that Gordon Brown keeps locked in his kitchen drawer rather than a national system open to constant public scrutiny. So, politically clever, but economically and democratically grossly irresponsible, and underlines their sheer unashamed power lust.

The alternative, should any total cretin enquiring mind think I’m being a bit harsh on the Tories, is that Gorgeous Georgina really is that stupid. I am indebted to Daddy Richard for the knowledge that GG receives, every week, a Treasury Briefing. This briefing would enable him, at the whirl of a spreadsheet, to build a whole new quantified tax package, and know where every pound of revenue was coming from, and in what proportion. Tomorrow.

It wouldn’t tell him about outcomes of course; all the precautionary impact studies would remain to be taken. But the groundwork is there any time he cares to pluck it out of the air. Maybe he’s been guiltily stuffing his weekly Treasury Briefing down the back of the sofa for the last few years. Come to think of it, isn’t his little patch of the Tory front bench looking a bit… bulky?

The solution

Bad news if you’ve been mollified by Darling, darling!‘s announcement, because here’s the dirty little truth: he’s pulled the same trick on you again. Essentially, Gordon Brown’s great miscalculation in his last budget as Chancellor, which may yet be the undoing of him in his first election as Prime Minister, was to think that middle earners would be so chuffed with their 2p basic rate cut that they would ignore the fact that it was stripped off the backs of the low earners.

Well, rather than spending his extra borrowing on, say, reinstating the 10p band, Darling, darling! has now spent £2.7bn on a rise in the personal allowance which still leaves earners of between £6,000 and £12,500 worse off if they’re not on tax credits and also has the rather neat effect of benefitting those middle income net gainers from the Budget still further. £120 further, as he didn’t tire of saying on R4 this morning.

I’m not saying raising the personal allowance isn’t a totally admirable goal, but his emphasis on helping middle income hardworking families facing rising fuel and food bills blah-blah-please-love-me is so strong that it’s perfectly obvious that helping NMW workers isn’t the main agenda.

As the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group unhappily puts it,

We welcome the Chancellor’s announcement that he will aim to compensate some 10% losers by raising the basic personal allowance for the under-65s. Nevertheless, we have significant reservations.

Although it is churlish to be unhappy about a strategy (raising personal allowances) that we would normally welcome, we cannot let pass the fact that it is some of the very poorest who still lose out.

Yes, this is another middle class bribe, I’m afraid. As is this:

Yes, much like the name of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I persist in finding Early Day Motions inherently amusing (by way of, possibly, mitigation I have just been watching ‘Allo ‘Allo clips on youtube.)

Douze points to Bob Russell for being the first Liberal Democrat MP to sign Greg Pope’s EDM calling for Darling, darling! (hahaha. Ehehe. Hm. Gets me every time) to review the abolition of the 10% tax band.

Either you know my views on this, or you’ve just arrived on this blog from outer space, or possibly Comment is Free. Get on ze blower to your MP immediately, and meet me back at ze cafe.

After a year’s light snoozing, the Labour party has belatedly realised that the last budget delivered by their Iron Chancellor-as-was will have the incidental effect of making poor people worse off in 2008/09. The scrapping of the 10p band, as reported heretofore, will make everyone on an income of below about £18,000 worse off before inflation from 6th April next week.

I must hand it to them, for they are charmingly worried and concerned. Oh dear! Making poor people worse off? That’s not right, is it! Why only the other day, Eric Martlew, MP for Carlisle, received a complaint in his surgery from a disgruntled poor person who was about to get even poorer!

Here’s Nia Griffith, a parliamentary private secretary at Environment:

We have always wanted to support those on lower incomes, we have done an enormous amount with things like the minimum wage to raise people out of poverty. I think therefore anything that hits people on lower incomes is perhaps something we are particularly sensitive to in the Labour party.

“Perhaps”? “Sensitive to”? Bravo, Nia! Have you ever considered becoming a candidate?

Of course, Gordon’s answer was that tax credits made up the slack, and to be absolutely fair to him, in Gordon’s head they probably do. Only we don’t live in Gordon’s head, praise the lord. Onlookers report that the MPs muttered discontentedly at this, doubtless because they are perfectly well aware from dealing with gruelling queries in their constituencies that not everyone on a low income is eligible for child tax credits, which do exactly what they say on the tin (only not necessarily, and we might take the tin away again). Something must be done! Say, can we talk this policy over, Gordon?

It is, of course, far far far too late. You useless numpties.

UPDATE: the FT  is now carrying this story as well, with extra added numpty quotes.

It had to happen sooner or later. I have, I think, managed to write an avowedly Liberal Democrat blog for some six months now without once mentioning Land Value Tax, but the day has finally dawned. 

Naturally, I don’t intend to discuss LVT in any detail. I certainly approve the principle of taxing wealth rather than income, plus lots of awfully jolly clever people I know are in favour of LVT, so we in the People’s Republic of Mortimer are content to give holding support to LVT until such time as we understand what it is. No, my interest today lies in the psychology surrounding it.

It’s a running joke in the Lib Dem blogosphere (O! how we laughed!), that race to be the first one to say “Of course, if we had LVT it wouldn’t be a problem…” in response to any sort of tax-based discussion or comment whatsoever. Only the other day Our Vince guested on Lib Dem Voice for a well-deserved blast at Darling, darling!, who has belatedly been informed by his gap year intern that the Labour policy of slapping a flat levy of thirty grand on non-domiciles for keeping their privileged tax status is in fact a “bloody stupid idea”, as the People’s Republic amongst many, many others could have told him at the time.

The first – and for some time, only – response to Vince’s piece was from the LVT eggs, and was in much the usual vein. It’s like watching someone trying to smell through their ears when LVT eggs get onto tax threads. The mismatch between subject matter and chosen instrument of perception is so total that the discussion is over before it has begun. Essentially, if you believe as passionately as some do that LVT is the only viable liberal tax system and refuse to discuss all lesser proposals on their own terms, what you have is a non-debate. I have mixed feelings on this. On the one hand if you are one of the passionate LVT eggs, nursing continual frustration in your hopelessly well-read bosom that the party doesn’t wuv it just as much as you do, I can see how you want to take any opportunity to hammer home your point. You may end up coming on like Cato the Elder on the subject of Carthage* but hey, you’re a political activist, you bought into being boring a loooong time ago - at least an idealist’s issue is kept alive, and the blogs are one of the few places in the party where that is continuously true. Top banana to you.

On the other hand, this is tax policy. Tax policy tends, by its nature, to be highly practical and potent stuff. Elections are won and lost on the fine detail of it in a way that isn’t true for other areas of policy. So when a particular aspect of the government and opposition’s tax policy is so obviously flawed, and ours so obviously superior, don’t the actual circumstances of the case merit a mention? Doesn’t Our Vince merit a(nother) pat on the back for keeping it real? Doesn’t Martin Land on the LDV thread have a point, albeit an unwelcome one, when he says, “If only we could find a way of combining LVT, PR and opposition to Trident into one single policy we could truly bore the electorate to death”?

I’m not convinced that non-domiciles are a particularly good advert for LVT anyway.

“What about non-doms who don’t own property in the UK?” says I, “LVT will only trouble non-doms who have decided to settle and live in the UK to the exclusion of everywhere else. This by definition is likely to be non-doms of modest means. Rich non-doms will simply redistribute their landed assets in the most tax-efficient way. Anecdotally, plenty of internationalist non-dom bankers live in luxury rentals in Kensington and Chelsea and earn vast tax-free salaries in the city.” Yes, I said all that.

“Pah!” says they, “LVT will be passed on to the tenant in the form of higher rents.”

This is true as far as it goes, but it passes over my central point (which wasn’t that well expressed): LVT is based on ownership and stakeholding in the UK. Non-doms occupy a very peculiar position – they come here to make money from employment, not investment. They choose London (generally) as their place of employment for a reason – it is the financial capital of Europe, it is the commercial setting their career cannot thrive without. The UK’s financial industry is a resource used by many wealthy non-doms to make money - a resource that essentially belongs to the host country and its taxpayers. It is impossible, under LVT, to tax wealthy non-doms specifically on the use of that resource. Looked at that way, non-doms are possibly one of the few groups for which it is possible to make an argument for taxing income and not wealth.

After the LVT eggs and I had partied on for a bit, Diversity made a far more effective comment which I shall, if I may (ha, like you have a choice) quote in full:

In practice no tax is perfect; not even green taxes and LVT. Vince Cable’s point is that the Government’s and the Tories proposals for taxing nondoms are downright bad. Seven years and then normal tax is, as always, not perfect. However it is far less damaging than the other parties’ proposals. Once again, Vince is the competent economic manager in the House. 

* Oh, look it up. The world needs more classics nerds.

The answer, from the Grauniad to the Daily Mail, is no. Peter Welch has been nobly reading the Mail so that we don’t have to, and reports on the spat currently taking place between Our Vince and Sir Richard Branson. To have a Liberal Democrat present the case for the opposition here is, as Peter says, something of a coup, but after all if there’s one thing Daily Mail readers hate more than benefit scroungers, it’s fat cats and tax havens.

It’s been clear for some time that what started out as a lone call for nationalisation from Vince Cable has increased steadily in tempo and volume to the point where it’s an acceptable mainstream position (imagine!) What is interesting to me is the range of people now asking the questions about Branson’s personal and corporate probity. The Mail, in common with many other major papers, has been doing some fairly sustained campaigning against the Virgin bid from the beginning, as a search on “Richard Branson” on the site reveals. But it’s the specialists too - Prem Sikka had this piece in CiF back in early December that totally passed me by, and more recently Richard Murphy, the tax research guru I read when I am feeling big and clever, echoes the concerns.

What exactly constitutes tax abuse is a question that exercises some of financial services’ most agile and morally adaptive minds. Eighteen months in that dark industry has left me with a distrust of complaints about “loopholes”, and the supposed moral degeneracy of those “exploiting” them. It is inappropriately emotive language, and I say this as one who regularly rants about people who have wot I reckon to be too much money for social comfort. Either a particular practice or treatment is against the law or it isn’t, and if the latter then we must agree to it, even if we mightn’t like the results (if we really don’t like the results, then the law itself is defective).

Balance is maintained by a communal understanding that there is a point at which avoidance (legal) becomes evasion (illegal), and that it’s in everyone’s interests not to push it by contravening too many of those unwritten tax laws which collectively say, in effect, “It shall be illegal for persons to be greedy bastards and wilfully twist the wording of inoffensive provisions for their own nefarious purposes”.

So when the condemnation of an individual’s tax arrangements are as universal as this, it’s time to be very afraid – because the law which says a tax haven abuser should not be allowed to own a bank is just such a one of those unwritten laws.

About this time last year it was SNOW DAY! in London. This will cause scoffing amongst those of you currently wrapped in a yakskin sitting on a crate of tinned food and reading your monitor by the light of a burning heap of cattle. Or whatever it is people do Outside London. But for us SNOW DAY! was pretty special.

For a start, common unspoken consent dictated that tax advisers could wear wellie boots, their oldest, warmest jeans and a very fluffy cardigan with egg on it to work because, well, it’s SNOWING! After a fruitless hour on the bus creeping a total distance of five hundred yards, I got out and walked, like, TWO MILES! in, like, SIX INCHES OF SNOW! to work. It took about an hour and a half. I walked on grass verges suddenly strange and invisible, along deserted white roads that might have morphed back into the original cattle-drover’s dirt tracks and village lanes connecting Muswell Hill to Friern Barnet and Friern Barnet to Whetstone. I walked past sparkling, crispy, coated parks that had taken on the silent endless quality of a sweep of heath. It was wonderful. And once I had got to work, a few desultory hours of sharing snow-stories later, there was early release in case of another late afternoon fall, upon which SNOW DAY! became PUB DAY! and was even better for it.

Part of the reason all this was tremendous fun as opposed to a gigantic arse-pain was that the tax return deadline had just passed, and aside from chasing up the laggards (“Oh, yes, and I sold my rental property in August - should I have told you that before the afternoon of the 30th January?”) working in tax for the first week of February mostly involves lying weakly across one’s chair seeing how many Mini Eggs one can fit into one’s mouth – and it’s an earned rest, believe me. All this comes to mind again now because the next big oncoming date in the tax year is 5th April – New Year’s Eve in tax land, and generally an excuse for a departmental dinner.

I will not be celebrating. In last year’s budget, Labour pulled off, baldly and blandly, a trick only equalled in balls-out illiberal people-bashing by Caroline “veins of” Flint’s announcement that she’ll put council tenants out on the streets if they aren’t seeking work. They have, of course, reduced the 22% band to 20% and, critically, scrapped the 10% band, as any fule kno. For anyone who has inexplicably neglected their personal tax studies of late , here is the computation for someone earning £15,000 Before and After the changes. Pay attention, class.

2007-08

Salary:                                                    15,000

Less personal tax free allowance        (5,225)

9,775

15,000 less:

Less tax @ 10% on 2,230                       (223)

Less tax @22% on7,545                       (1,659.90)

13,117.10

Divide by 12 for PCM pay after tax        1,093.09

2008-09

Salary:                                                        15,000

Less personal tax free allowance:           (5,435)

9,565

15,000 less:

Tax off the lot at 20%                               (1,913)

13,087

Divide by 12 for PCM pay after tax            1,090.58

Tax fans will have spotted that I haven’t taken the National Insurance off. That’s because I can’t be arsed, but it’s also because the rates for NICs are only going up by the normal amount. I’ve done the fiddly tedious sums and it doesn’t make much difference – brings the monthly pre-inflationary difference from 20 quid down to 17. Gee, thanks. (See comments)

I mean, I’m sorry, let’s just say this again – Labour have raised taxes on the lowest earners and they have got away with it. Once more, with feeling…

So why at the end of January was the FT carrying the story that a study of April’s changes by the Institute for Fiscal Reform will advantage the richest and the poorest? Ah, of course! Tax credits! The removal of the 10% band is not a swingeing and senseless assault on low incomes after all! It’s done so that the government can spend money collecting the extra money, then spend money administering the extra money and messing it around a bit, then spend more money giving it out to (some of) the people they took it off, then spend yet more money checking they’ve done it right and taking it back off some people chosen apparently out of a really short-tempered and unreasonable hat (a sort of antithesis of the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, perhaps). But it’s really worth the extra trouble and expense, because you see, this way the government will have seen the money, and held it for a minute, and they now know it’s there, and know where it has gone.

A tremendous pity therefore that a few days later in the FT there was a gleeful piece on a recent report which says (and this is an executive summary) that tax credits are still rubbish. So by the lights of the original IFS report, Labour’s plans for the 2008-09 tax year are currently advantaging the rich only. But hey, never mind. I’m sure it’s just a question of a better management hierarchy, more targets and some motivational speaking.

Once upon a moon I wrote scathingly of the twat-in-blue-shirt voter we have lost to flimsy Tory tax “policy”, and was quite rightly corrected by Rob Knight to the tune that it might actually be (whisper it) not entirely twat-in-blue-shirt’s fault that he doesn’t know what our tax policy is. It’s the old story: we’ve got the policy, we just don’t got da message.

I recall blogging sunnily on the subject of message back in the primaeval early history of the People’s Republic, and then I stuck the whole subject of communications in the huge box room in my head with the sign on the door saying “More reading required”. More reading is generally the answer to everything in the People’s Republic (except the easy, obvious, boring stuff like earning a living, forming functional relationships with other human beings and all that other window-dressing jazz). Well, I haven’t done any more reading, but I have done some more talking. Specifically, on the comments thread following Nick Clegg’s Guardian piece yesterday. The exchange, shorn of interspersing madness, was as follows. I appear in the guise of a blue porcupine:

blueporcupine November 22, 2007 8:36 PM

Ryan – that tax outline is party policy, as approved by the membership at conference in September. The policy documents (if you’ve got the stomach for it!) are on the party website. It’s moved as far forward as it’s ever going to move without y’all vote for us

;-)

I don’t know of any Liberal Democrat not implacably and vocally opposed to ID cards. Nick Clegg has said that if it comes to it he’ll personally refuse to register and go to court if necessary.

I didn’t get the final ringing endorsement I was after. I’d like to think that RyanBerks has withdrawn to some mountain retreat with a year’s supply of rice and a copy of Fairer, Simpler, Greener to reflect on his political allegiance, but actually I’m sure he has just been distracted by a thing. Howsobeit, a tiny, shuffling millimetre of progress was clearly made. Winning hearts and minds, one blood vessel and nerve cell at a time, style of thing (hey, it’s as good as any other slogan). 

And all this gives me pause for thought, because there are always a goodly proportion of comments attached to these broad spectrum appeal pieces that make a similar plea to RyanBerks’ “stop being so bland”. Rather than trying to evolve one single, simple message for allcomers (which a prospective party leader writing on Comment is Free must perforce do), we should be true to our localist nature and evolve different versions of the same message to answer the questions posed by difference audiences. My uber-rational, dry exposition clearly had some impact in this case, but wouldn’t in all.

Of course, you can’t manufacture a range of these messages easily without an agreed central repository of message-fodder, and therefore I commend you with renewed enthusiasm to the Lib Dem Voice Wiki project, and shall even be commending myself to it just as soon as I understand what it is.

This post has been hypoallergenically tested for leadership contest irritants and approved by the Soiling Association.  

The pre-spat blurb from Mark Littlewood on Sunday’s Politics Show has understandably faded from view somewhat. Among its several exasperating features (Vox pop: “Have you heard of Nick Clegg? Have you? Go on, have you? No? Not at all? Not even if I prod you with this big stick?”) was a brief interview with a youngish twat-in-a-blue-shirt-in-the-street type who has voted Lib Dem at the last two elections and plans to vote Tory next time.

Why this defection by twat-in-blue-shirt? Well, apparently the Lib Dems need to really Sort Out Their Tax Policy. They need to realise that higher taxes isn’t going to appeal to young people on lower salaries who are finding it hard to make ends meet, even though it might mean more funding for public services. That’s why Cameron has won over so many younger people, says twat-in-blue-shirt portentously as he caresses his latte, with his stamp duty threshold raise and his inheritance tax policy.

I had to stop the Politics Show for a minute at this point and weep gently for a bit. All of what follows has been said before (and way better, like with figures and everything), but it’s always worth saying again, if only so that I can post it to my Facebook page in the hope that it knocks some sense into my idiotic Tory friends (love y’all).

I mean, maybe there really is no hope, if the electorate is this stupid (I said this post had been tested for leadership contest irritants – I never said I wouldn’t abuse the general public, especially when they wear shirts like that). It’s not the fact that twat-in-blue-shirt doesn’t know that the current Liberal Democrat tax policy would exceed his wildest dreams - it’s recently off the production line after all, and it’s the party’s job to bring it to the public’s attention, not the other way round. It’s that his reasons for favouring Tory tax policy are so tragically empty, senseless and overspun that it breaks my heart.

IHT is of course a tax specifically invented to annoy the People’s Republic of Mortimer, whether the Head of State is being forced hatefully to draw up calculations for people to avoid it or voluntarily reading  silly articles about what an unearthly evil it is. It’s a tax on accumulated wealth which affects anything up to forty-eight people, of whom forty live inside the M25 and one is the Duke of Westminster*, so for twat-in-a-blue-shirt to be allowed to perpetuate the myth that it’s some sort of lodestone for the economic liberty of The People is risibly London-focused, and such an unselfconsciously Thatcherite piece of upper-middle-class bleating as to be little short of sick. (Incidentally, why would you give a toss about IHT as a supposedly selfish apolitical young person unless you are actually planning to murder your parents? Damned suspicious, in my opinion.)

But it’s not altogether twat-in-a-blue-shirt’s fault. The two main parties have successfully made IHT into a buzz issue, the kind of thing the editors of the Money section have on four-weekly turnover. This works marvellously if you’re in government or fancy your chances because the tax is dead easy to tinker with – there’s only one Act (IHTA 1984) and you can sign off regulations changing the thresholds around until the printer cartridge runs out if you like. Mark Littlewood, I assume, knows all this perfectly well as the party ex-Head of Press, but as liberals we have a certain moral and political obligation to nod and say “Hm, well it’s interesting to know that this is what you think, clearly we need to work on our message” rather than just beating people over the head for talking utter horse piss. No, criminally insane it may be, but we are stuck with IHT as a dealbreaker because it suits the media-stroke-major-party agenda. Fortunately, our policy on IHT is - lamentably, in my opinion – similar to Tory policy, so we still lose, but at least it’s only because no-one listens to us, rather than because no-one agrees (imagine my surprise).

Stamp duty is an altogether more interesting case. We don’t have an answer to the Tories here. A thorough read (okay, a CTRL+F) of the party housing policy will reveal absolutely no mention of stamp duty. Not one.

There’s a really, really good reason for this.

It doesn’t matter.

In a market where the average house costs ten times the average salary, it really doesn’t matter a flying bat’s fart** whether the 0% stamp duty threshold is set at £120K, £250K or £793,162 and fifty seven pence. It doesn’t matter whether it’s payable in pounds, yen, rupees, pomegranates or bits of fluff. It doesn’t make even the inciest, tiniest, weeniest scrap of a hairsbreadth of a difference to someone earning about £25k in London, or £17k in Devon (let’s say) who is trying to buy a rathole for respectively £140,000 or £90,000, whether they have to stump up a few extra grand for a bit of paper or not. Really. Truly. It doesn’t. Anyone putting themselves through the insanity of property purchase (I would like to know the thoughts of the Posh-Sounding Northumbrian on this, by-the-by) is officially the Person Most Likely to utter a manic giggle and slap it on the credit card along with the removal costs, half the deposit and the therapy fees.

Of course it makes it a fraction easier if you can already afford to buy. So would carrying all your furniture yourself. Or getting your dad to do it. But the main parties tout the precise whereabouts of the stamp duty threshold vis-a-vis their own arse as a property panacea on an equal level with home ownership schemes (which are problematic enough in themselves because at the time of writing they are only available to public sector workers called Colin who have lived and worked in the London Borough of Haringey for twenty-five years and have to travel more than fifty-nine football pitches’ lengths on public transport to get to work and always been very good and never taken a library book back late. That’s me out. I can change my sex and my name, but there’s chuff-all I can do about my library record).

To pretend that stamp duty, as IHT, is some sort of major personal freedom issue of our times and that tinkering with it will somehow promote a brighter future is a cynical, ghastly trick to pull on a taxpayer, an indicator of shockingly unimaginative policy-making and a sign that any prospect of our having “rights” on things that actually matter is in the toilet and we all ought to be constantly outraged. Oh, we are.

Howsobeit, it is by just these means that we have lost twat-in-a-blue-shirt. The second half of this post was going to be about how to win him back, but actually I’m now so depressed I don’t really care.

* It is just possible that I exaggerate somewhat. 

** Hat tip the Cleggster via Paul Walter

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