23 April 2010

Lib Dem Facebook Attack Group Fisk

I'd like to rebut the strange claims made about the Lib Dems on this Facebook group. The original text is black; My comments are green.

Tricky Nicky and his U-turns, flip flops and budget black holes is hardly something we can afford. Before now Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats have said whatever you want to hear, and been able to get away with too little scrutiny. We want scrutinising! We want people talking about us and our policies. We've been systematically ignored for too long. In 2010, nothing's changed. Huh? Did you see the newspapers on Thursday? They were full of "scrutiny" (if that's the right word for the smears and 'Nazi' slurs Nick Clegg was attacked with). They'll still say anything to get your vote in the hope they wont ever have to deliver. Erm, we hope to get in power. That's the whole point of a political party. Just take a look for yourself:

-Flip- flopping on the Euro: Before the recession, they wanted us to join the Euro. Now it appears they don't (Or at least aren't prepared to say if they want us to join or not). Is this confirmation that where before, they were blinded by an ideological commitment to further integration with Europe, they have now realized that surrendering control of our interest rates and our own independent exchange rate most appropriate for the UK economy would have been wrong? In a recent radio interview, he admitted that joining the Euro would have weakened the UK economy even further in the recession, yet he still hasn't ruled out future membership. Can we afford this kind of indecision? We think it is in Britain's long term interests to join the Euro. But given we've just had a recession, right now isn't the time to consider joining. But when things have settled down and the time is right, we will give the public a referendum on joining.

-Vague on defence: They stand for abolishing Trident, but refuse to say whether this means removing the nuclear deterrent. Presumably, they acknowledge a world where Iran is marching towards a nuclear arsenal (as well as North Korea) is not a world which is moving towards mutual disarmament. But what is their stance? Do they want a proper deterrent, or do they want to do it on the cheap? This will all be decided as part of the Strategic Defence Review that all the parties agree is needed. Why exclude our nuclear capabilities from this scrutiny? We should opt for a pragmatic, affordable nuclear deterrent that is suitable for the threats facing us is the future, not the past.

-Indecision on tuition fees: After admitting they cannot afford to enact their original plan to let students got to University for “free” (someone, somewhere, picks up the bill) after a month of dithering, Nick Clegg and the Lib Dem's eventually said they would plan to phase them out "over 6 years". Ignoring that this vague commitment sidesteps the fact a term in Parliament is 5 years, they are yet to say where the £7.5 billion cost of this would come from. Presumably, through increases in tax. The party of fairness? Pages 102-103 of the Lib Dem manifesto show the wide range of measures that will pay for the £7.5bn cost over the Parliament. The main source of revenue is a levy on bank profits, which in itself more than pays for this proposal. Your insinuation that we haven't said where the money will come from is untrue.

-Giving criminals the vote: Nick Clegg believes that people serving time in prison deserve the right to vote in an election. Do you? The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2004 that we must give prisoners the vote. We can't just put our fingers in our ears and ignore them. If the government can ignore the law, that gives carte blanche to all of us breaking any laws we don't like.

-U-turns on the economy: This needs a few points in itself....

1) On September 19th 2009, Nick Clegg said we need bold and even "savage" cuts in government spending, which will be necessary to bring the public deficit (standing at £168 billion) under control. On April 11th, 2010, he warned of "Greek style" unrest and "serious social strife" if tax increases and cuts in spending were enacted. Indecision a fragile economy can afford? You've half-quoted him. His argument was about the need for a government with a strong mandate, not the need for a bold deficit reduction plan. He was saying that people would be outraged if a government with a small vote and a weak mandate started making fiscal decisions that affected people's lives, and that could cause unrest.

2) Clegg says the Tories are being naive taking the government’s projected savings on waste into account in their NI calculations, and then takes the same figures on for the benefit of his own deficit-reduction calculations. You haven't provided a source for these claims. My understanding is that no spending commitments have been made on the basis of vague efficiency savings.

3) Despite the fact we face a £168 billion budget deficit, Nick Clegg has only identified £10 billion in savings. And they say they're being honest with you? The £10bn identified is on top of the announcements made in the latest Budget. And we're being more honest than any other party. Do tell me how other parties will cut the deficit.

4) Promises to raise the income tax threshold are based on hypothetical calculations of revenue from tax increases elsewhere. According to the Institute for Fiscal studies, “Whether the revenue raising measures would yield what they expect is... uncertain” and that it is feasible they “Could raise less” than expected. More half-quotes. They also said they "could raise more". Society is constantly changing, and the amounts that various policies will raise fluctuates. All the numbers are estimates, some are optimistic, some are pessimistic. As the IFS said, "The only way to find out for sure would be to suck it and see." I'm tempted to spin this into the IFS suggesting people should give the Lib Dems a chance!

-Flip -flops on property tax: Before, the Liberal Democrats wanted to abolish property tax in favour of a "local income tax". We still want local income tax to replace council tax. See p90 of the manifesto. In 2009, they made a calculation that meant they now supported tax on property in the form of their "mansion tax". Within a month, they had already fallen into disarray on the policy, and doubled the threshold for property to be affected by the tax. The idea may not be wrong, but such indecision is hardly a ringing endorsement for a party to wield significant power in Westminster. To be fair, this is your strongest critique. We didn't handle the way we announced the policy to the media very well. After some internal discussion, the party fine-tuned the policy so that only the most expensive mansions would be taxed, and also changed the rate so that enough revenue could be raised to properly pay for the £700 income tax cut.

-Dodgy donors: They like to pretend they're whiter than white on this. Their 2005 campaign was supported with a £2.4 million donation (at a time they said no party should take donations of more than £50,000 ...What, we're meant to deliberately cripple ourselves with an unfair disadvantage to the other parties by refusing large donations? Totally unreasonable) from a man later convicted of fraud. Emphasis on *later*. We didn't know he was a fraudster, and obviously would never have taken the money if we did. The Electoral Commission have said we did all the reasonable steps to check if the donation was permissible. One of their other major donors, Sudhir Choudhrie, has been accused of taking kickbacks from foreign governments for arms deals. So it's guilt by association is it? Again, we were given the money before any allegations were made. We apologise for not being psychic. When they criticize the other parties, you should ask: Is this just a case of hypocrisy, or just a naive belief that they are free from scrutiny? We criticise the other parties not because we are angels ourselves, but because whenever we tried to clean up politics over the last Parliament, the two old parties blocked reform. We want to change politics; they are happy with how things are.

-Dubious expenses: In one four month period, Nick Clegg claimed a staggering £1,657.32 on groceries. When he was an MEP, he travelled economy class, but claimed for Business class, claiming the difference for "office expenses”. He was automatically paid business-class fares under the rules, just like every other MEP, but rather than pocket the difference, he chose to use the money on his office. Not to mention the four Lib Dem MPs that were ordered to repay £16,500 for over claiming on expensive rent for Dolphin Square apartments near Parliament. When those Lib Dem MPs realised there may have been an issue with their Dolphin Square rent agreements, they referred themselves to the Standards Commissioner. Dolphin Square is popular with lots of MPs, and Labour and Conservative MPs have also benefited from similar rent deals, but they've kept quiet and not referred themselves for scrutiny. We're trying to be open and honest, they're still obfuscating. Again, we aren't angels, but we have been better than the other parties. There are no Lib Dems MPs accused of flipping their second homes. There are no Lib Dems MPs accused of charging for phantom mortgages. There are no Lib Dems MPs accused of dodging capital gains tax. And there are no Lib Dems in the dock because of their expenses. The Labour and Conservative parties can't say that.

-No commitment on the NHS: They are the only major party with no commitment to protect spending on the NHS. Their commitment to protect "key services" is based on "efficiency savings". All well and good, but why can't they say they'll keep the current levels of investment for the NHS? What's more, they refuse to commit to protecting A&E and Maternity services, saying it would be left to a "local health board". A convenient way of avoiding any accountability for cuts?

-An immigration policy for you?: They sure are different from the main parties on this one. As well as wanting to reward around 600,000 illegal immigrants with citizenship, they don't want any limit on inward migration. Instead, they simply want to move them around to different regions.

(These last two aren't criticisms. You either agree or you don't.)

Everything the Liberal Democrats say is shrouded by uncertainty, vague "commitments" and U-turns. Is this a party which can be trusted in times of uncertainty? Do you think a time of crisis and uncertainty needs serious leadership, or Nick Clegg with his flip- flops? I hope my comments have shown how these criticisms have little substance. We welcome scrutiny, and it's nice to know that people are paying attention to what we are saying.


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