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Battles over tax, university applications and more
Wednesday 1 February 2012
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.
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Thanks for reading,
In this newsletter:
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:
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:
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:
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…
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:
What happens if someone tries to join the Liberal Democrats?
No 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?
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…
What did you make of this newsletter?