Liberal Democrat Newswire #16: tax cuts for millions or for millionaires?

Liberal Democrat Newswire #16 came out this week. If you’re not on the list to get it via email, you can now instead read it in full below.

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Mark Pack

Battles over tax, university applications and more

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Dear Friend

Welcome to the latest edition of my monthly newsletter about the Liberal Democrats, including the latest on tax and university applications. For some light relief at the end, you can watch a brilliant spoof political interview.

If you like this newsletter, the chances are other people you know would like it too, so please share it with them – either by forwarding it on or via social networks.

Thanks for reading,


Tax cuts for millions or for millionaires?

January saw Nick Clegg give his best received speech since the general election. The speech laid out once again the party’s desire to see the basic income tax allowance raised to £10,000 as quickly as possible. It contrasted that tax cut for millions with the Conservative Party’s instinct of tax cuts for millionaires (50p, inheritance tax, etc.).

In some ways the level of coverage for the speech was a surprise: a party leader saying same thing he has said for years is not normally headline material. However, there was an effective and well planned media operation behind the speech, which turned the traditional media disadvantage faced by a third party into an advantage. In a country used to coalitions, having the leader of one of the parties in government talk about their tax priorities a few months ahead of a budget would not be remarkable. In Britain, however, the site of the Deputy Prime Minister openly pushing a particular tax policy two months ahead of the Budget does count as news. Smart politics, smart media management.

Moreover, by pushing for income tax cuts (to be paid for by higher taxes on the richest), Clegg’s speech appealed to the Conservative supporters such as the Daily Telegraph and ConHome who like to complain about Cameron not cutting taxes on ordinary people enough.

You can read more about the speech in the simple one-pager I put together for east online sharing.

Ed Miliband suffered rather cruelly by comparison, getting ridiculed for an interview in the same week in which he attacked David Cameron for not having taken action over the sale of cut-price chocolate in train stations. (An attack that rather missed the point because, as any regular train traveller will tell you, healthy options – fruit – are now much more widely available.) As I tweeted:

This week’s politics in a nutshell: Clegg wants to cut taxes, Miliband wants to increase cost of round chocolate

Have you signed the £10,000 petition yet?

Liberal Democrat supporter Tracy Connell has put up a petition on the official Parliamentary e-petitions site calling for the £10,000 income tax threshold to be fast tracked.

You can sign her petition here.

University application figures show promising trend

Despite the headlines in the media this week, the latest university application figures actually show the proportion of English school leavers applying for university places this year is higher than it ever was under Labour, and is the second highest on record (second only to last year’s pre-fees change spike).

The headline figures about falling applications are down to two other factors. First, there is a falling number of teenagers and has been since 2009. That decline is likely to continue for a good while yet. Second, the number of applications from would-be mature students has fallen – an important issue, but different from the one usually thought about when people talk about university applications.

Moreover, what we don’t yet know is how much of the fall in would-be full time mature students is caused by them shifting to applying for part time courses instead, as they are excluded from these figures. Given that the changes in fee arrangements includes providing tuition fee loans to part time students for the first time, it would be logical to expect some people to shift from full time to part time. It is likely too that the general economic situation is encouraging more people to think about part time rather than full time study in order to help sustain overall levels of household income. We will need more data to judge that later in the year.

What we do however know at this point is the figures for applications from the most disadvantaged households are positive, as Stephen Tall highlighted in an excellent piece of analysis:

The graph that shows more disadvantaged 18 year-olds applied to university in 2012 than under the last Labour government
UCAS applications graph

Liberal Democrat achievements in government

As part of the research for a little treat I’m lining up for the next edition of this newsletter, I’ve produced a long list of Liberal Democrat policies which were in the 2010 manifesto and either have been or are being implemented. I found quite a few I either didn’t know about or had forgotten, such as the ending of animal testing for household products. (Kudos to you if you can genuinely say at this point, “But I knew all about that”!).

So starting today (Wednesday), each day one of these will be posted up on the Facebook page for this newsletter. Do go visit the page and click “Like” if you would like to have the daily item pop up in your newsfeed on Facebook.

And for the treat I am working on? All will be revealed next time…

New Liberal Democrat blog launched

The Libertine – the online blogging platform for young Liberal Democrats was launched in January. As the site puts it:

This is the place to discuss the issues that matter most to our generation. Whether it be local, national or international politics or if there’s an experience with Liberal Youth or Liberal Democrats you want to tell people about – all is welcome.

We know there’s already another place that is “our place to talk” called Lib Dem Voice, and actually we like them very much. This is just another platform especially for the younger members of the party, because we don’t always want to talk about the same things.

We also think that the meeting of young minds is quite an exciting thing. Innovation. Creativity. Ambition. This is where big ideas come from. We hope that by providing this platform we are in a small way helping those ideas come to fruition.

Lords reform: government sticks to firm line

Two recent straws in the win suggest the government is determined to see through House of Lords reform even in the face of strong opposition from peers facing abolition.

First, Conservative minister Mark Harper repeated the talk from Liberal Democrat ranks that if necessary the Parliament Act will be used to ensure the legislation gets through.

Second, one of the reasons given for dropping the planned bill to introduce private universities from the Queen’s Speech is that the government is trying to keep other controversial legislation to a minimum in order to maximise the legislative time available for Lords reform.

Meanwhile, a new poll has found just under three-quarters of the public support elections for the House of Lords.

A psephological feast

I have made my database of British national voting intention polls since 1943 available for public use.

As you go back in time towards 1943, the gaps are increasingly large in the dataset, but even so it is the most comprehensive and accurate such public dataset around.

By all means do take a look and use it yourself.

Elsewhere from me…

  • Political news in one place: Have you tried out yet my political news and blogs aggregator, which brings together the best news headlines and political blog posts from across the ideological spectrum, all on one convenient page?
  • My other email lists: aside from this monthly newsletter, you can also sign up to other lists such as more frequent blog post digests.


This month’s local liberal hero: Alexi Sugden

In my experience, the Liberal Democrats are little different from most other organisations in one respect: we don’t say thank you often enough. So I have been writing a series of profiles of local liberal heroes, both to thank and praise them and also, I hope, to encourage others to follow in their footsteps.

Alexi Sugden is the latest:

Autumn 1990. Alexi Sugden is sitting at home watching TV. Recently returned after several years working in America, from an apolitical family and uninterested in politics, on hearing the dreaded words “There now follows a party political broadcast…” she gets up to switch off the TV.

Paddy Ashdown starts speaking and she slows her progress across the floor. It becomes a race between Paddy’s words grabbing her attention and her hand reaching for the off switch which Paddy, just, wins. Having reached out for the off switch, her hand falls back, leaving the TV on and Paddy talking. The next day, Alexi joined the Liberal Democrats.

You can read the full piece about Alexi Sugden here and you can read all the local liberal hero profiles here.

What happens if someone tries to join the Liberal Democrats?

ALDC handbookNo reply. That’s what happens a third of the time if a member of the public contacts a Liberal Democrat local party via the internet according to a ‘mystery shopper’ exercise I carried out.

Taking the publicly advertised email addresses for 25 local parties, I tried sending them all a test email from someone asking about joining the party. Just under two-thirds responded within 48 hours, which is a good response time. However, beyond that there were only a couple of further replies and the others did not reply at all.

Amongst those who did rely, the quality of the replies varied greatly (as you can read about here).

There is a new membership development pack coming soon which places particular emphasis on thinking about what someone trying to contact a local party will encounter, such as whether contact details are up to date. That should help to tackle some of the issues this survey has highlighted. A good sign also is the number of people who have responded to the survey with thoughts about how to ensure their own local party can improve.

However, overall the party is being far less welcoming to would-be new members than it should be – but at least nobody gave the reply which featured in a similar Conservative survey a couple of years ago: “Sorry, we are full and not accepting new members”.

Campaign Corner: What makes for a good action photo?

From my weekly Campaign Corner series, in which three tips are providing to answer common campaign questions: What makes for a good action photo?

  1. Nick Clegg with parentsIt should tell a story: A quick glance at the photographs is often all the attention a leaflet (or online story) will get, so the photograph(s) should convey the main message of the story. If you can’t guess what the story is about from the photo, then the chances are it is a bad photo.
  2. It shouldn’t make you look like a sad, lonely, strange person: The classic “action” photo used in far too many political leaflets shows a campaigner on their own staring at a problem. If you want to look like a lonely person, bereft of supporters and the sort that ordinary people steer clear of, go ahead. But a good photo shows either a successful team or a campaigner with residents. It also should show you taking action, and no – staring doesn’t count. Pointing is marginally better, but much better is action – measuring, fixing, cleaning or moving.
  3. Obey the law of the left nostril: I have never yet seen a campaigning photo taken from too close in, making me think, “Yuk, I can see too far up that person’s left nostril”. Yet photos from too far away are legion. You don’t want the people to be distant smudges. Get closer, then get closer and then get a bit closer still. Only when you are worrying about showing too much left nostril are you close enough.

You can read the other Campaign Corners here – and let me know if there are any particular questions you would like to see answered in future weeks.

And in other news…

The best spoof interview. Ever.


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Best wishes,


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