Lib-Dem socialism is poisoning the coalition’s agenda

Those of us who hope the Liberal Democrats will reject socialism and embrace true liberalism have many reasons to be disappointed by this year’s party conference. Nick Clegg, for example, returned to his soak-the-rich “fairness” agenda with an attack on “tax avoidance”. He claimed avoidance costs the economy £42 billion a year and is “ethically wrong”. Indeed, it was implied that it was morally equivalent to benefit fraud. In a similar vein, Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, talked of giving HM Revenue and Customs even more draconian powers – hardly a liberal approach to taxation.

It would appear that the Lib Dems’ moral compass is skewed by strong egalitarian beliefs, which are incompatible with both traditional conservatism and free markets. This would explain the notion that trying to protect private property from appropriation by the government in an entirely legal manner (i.e. tax avoidance) is equivalent to stealing from other people (i.e. benefit fraud). It would also explain the Lib Dems’ strong advocacy of redistribution, environmentalism and supranationalism  – key tenets of modern socialism.  

The egalitarian element within the coalition (which includes some Conservatives) is likely to hamper attempts at radical economic reform. The big reductions in benefit rates necessary to tackle welfare dependency are likely to be off limits; wealth-generating tax cuts for high earners will be out of the question; and businesses will be severely damaged by yet more environmental taxes and controls.

At least the scale of the budget deficit effectively prevents the egalitarians from pursuing more activist policies in pursuit of “fairness”. Nevertheless, the Lib Dems and their ideological allies from the left of the Conservative Party are likely to ensure that the details of the deficit reduction programme are determined primarily by misguided notions of equality rather than long-term considerations of economic efficiency.  

A further depressing aspect of the conference was the party’s rejection of free schools, perhaps one of the few truly liberal elements of the current government’s policy programme. The education issue raises troubling questions for the Liberal Democrats: are they a socialist party that believes in a centralised system tightly controlled by the state, are they a conservative party wishing to maintain the status quo, or are they a party of vested interests reflecting the views of local authorities and teachers?

7 thoughts on “Lib-Dem socialism is poisoning the coalition’s agenda”

  1. Posted 21/09/2010 at 14:33 | Permalink

    The answer to Richard’s question at the end is: all three of the above.

    The Liberal Democrats are a socialist party (there’s not been much of a secret about that ever since Sir William Harcourt said ‘We’re all socialists now’ in 1894 when he introduced graduated rates into the death duties); they are a conservative party, wishing to maintain the socialist status quo; and they are a party of vested interests.

    It is those who support free markets who are now the true radicals.

    But I think you have to cut a bit of slack to politicians addressing their party conferences. Let’s see what they actually do in (coalition) government, rather than worrying too much about what they say.

  2. Posted 21/09/2010 at 14:51 | Permalink

    Agree with DR Myddleton although I think Harcourt was doing a similar thing to Clegg ie. trying to keep the socialists in the Liberal party without being in the least bit socialist. It’s a shame, however, that such a large portion of the electorate thinks in this way and that politicians have to play this double game of dressing things in a coat of egalitarianism in order to ’sell’ them to a socialist-minded electorate who call themselves Liberals!

  3. Posted 21/09/2010 at 16:09 | Permalink

    I agree with both DRM and Whig that there is an element of “crowd pleasing” at work in the conference speeches, with Clegg, Alexander et al. trying to reassure the party faithful. However, if one looks at coalition policies there is concrete evidence that egalitarian concerns are significantly affecting policy. For example, in the Emergency Budget, child tax credits were increased above indexation for workless households, while capital gains tax was hiked to 28%.

  4. Posted 21/09/2010 at 17:35 | Permalink

    I wouldn’t dispute that either. There is a slight question over whether this is genuinely egalitarian or whether it’s crowd-pleasing policy? In the latter case, a genuinely liberal government is having to make concessions to the egalitarians which is preferable to a goverment which actually preaches a doctrine of egalitarianism.
    Either way, yes, the result is the same and it’s unfortunate, but it’s probably inevitable given the nature of the coalition – and although we should fight such policies, the real alternative is probably named Miliband!

  5. Posted 21/09/2010 at 20:06 | Permalink

    Politics is about managing expectations and the problems is that a new government has not had time to change these expectations. They are therefore dealing with the conditions created by the past government. It will take time for the new government to create its own narrative and shift expectations from those of New Labour. In the meantime they will have to use the jargon of their predecessors, and this is made only more complicated by the fact it is a coalition. I would expect a dropping off of concepts like ‘progressive’ and a fusing of ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ over the next few years, and this will be defined by what the government actually does.

  6. Posted 22/09/2010 at 21:56 | Permalink

    One presumes that Clegg and Cable would be very harsh on people who change the designation of their main residence to avoid capital gains tax like …..erm…… Danny Alexander?

    “The new Treasury chief secretary, Danny Alexander, avoided paying capital gains tax on the profit he made from his taxpayer-funded second home in London, it was claimed last night.”

    “Under House of Commons rules, Alexander was permitted to designate it as a second home, but he told Revenue and Customs it was his main residence.”

  7. Posted 23/09/2010 at 21:44 | Permalink

    The trouble with the “welfare dependency” argument is that it is at odds with the Big Society. Soon, large areas of the public sector will be cut away and employees laid off.

    Wait a couple of years, and they’ll be re-engaged as volunteers or workfarers earning no salary but drawing benefits.

    How, if there are no benefits – or lower benefits – for them to work for?

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