Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Liberal Democrats

On the Liberal Leadership Race and Political Redefinition

It is absurd - nay, dangerous - for the Party to be gravitate towards the fashionable centre-right in the hope of stealing crumbs dropped from Tovid Blameron's table. We stand a better chance of electoral success, or at the very least increased exposure, by standing firmly south-west of the two other main parties, and yelling "LOOK AT US! WE'RE DIFFERENT!"

Even if electoral success fails to ensue, we will be participating in the equally important duty (in a democracy) of providing an opposition. Without a firmly sociolibertarian opposition, not only will the UK gradually slip further towards the authoritarian right, but those of us who value people above pounds and liberty above law will no longer be represented.

To those of you who are Members of the Party: ensure you cast your vote wisely.

To those of you sympathetic to the Party, but not Members: join.

As I see it, the only realistic choice is between Hughes and Huhne; Sir Menzies has all the charisma and competitive political acumen of a partially eaten, musty old leather armchair. Simon Hughes and Chris Huhne (another leadership race that the public will undoubtedly find confusing, having only just gotten over the Tory Two-Davids nightmare) are more clearly in opposition to the centre-right tail-chasing going on with New Labour and the Conservatives, and, yes, are YOUNGER. Sexuality might be an issue with some voters, but it does serve to underscore the fact that the Liberal Democrats are The Alternative; besides, how many queer-bashers vote left anyway?

In Ming's favour he has been called the "safe pair of hands". To his detriment, he has been called the "safe pair of hands".

Chris Huhne, on the surface, seems an unlikely choice: a parliamentary newcomer, with only a limited experience in the European Parliament on his résumé. However, he does have good experience in journalism, and can mop the floor with your face in any debate on any subject.

Simon Hughes, on the other hand, is notoriously disorganised, has a tendency to talk without self-editing, is late, and recently "lied" about his sexuality. (Encouragingly, I heard a report the other day that a Caribbean community website was backing him despite this "shocking" revelation; at the risk of making repugnant assumptions based on stereotypes, it is common knowledge that many Caribbean communities are rife with homophobia.) I have no doubt that swathes of the electorate will stop viewing us as "the nice party" and start viewing us as "the queer party". This, I agree, is unfortunate - but unavoidable, and, as I have already made clear, electoral success should not be the sole goal of any responsible political party.

We have to weigh Hughes' lack of professionalism against his surfeit of passion. Huhne is more polished, but less pyrotechnic.

As far as direction of the party is concerned, Simon Hughes falls closest to the socialist-libertarian sympathies of myself and most of those involved with The Rhexis.

A particular bone of contention recently has been Hughes' backing of the proposed new upper bracket of income tax. Discussion has been heated, with ill-defined politico-economic terminologies and loyalties squealing past at head-level like so many blindly-fired tracer bullets. The original tensions caused by the amalgamation of the Social Democrats' socialist-libertarianism and the Liberals' centrist neoliberalism have been re-strung.

Let me make this very clear. I come from a well-off family. We fall comfortably on the lower cusp of socioeconomic class B. However, I believe that 50% is a fair tax. It is the very highest level of fair tax in my humble etcetera, but still acceptable for those earning that much.

Anyone earning a salary of £100K+ can easily afford to pay another 10% tax on the last portion of their income.

There is an argument, of course, that it is unfair to pay for services you don't use; anyone residing in the proposed top tax bracket almost certainly snubs public transport and has private health insurance - arguably the two most prevalent public services provided by the state. However, those who genuinely need buses and the NHS are those who can, quite simply, not afford to pay for it. It is the duty of the most fortunate (even if they got to where they are by their own hard work) to subisidise the least fortunate. This is altruism at its basic and most requisite level.

Economic libertarianism is an interesting concept, but I believe it concentrates a dangerous quantity of power in the hands of unelected CEOs, as opposed to dispersing a dangerous amount of power among elected public officials. Politicians are directly accountable to the electorate; businessmen are not. See South America for examples of deeply concerning neoliberalism and state privatisation.

It is for these reasons that I propose to back Simon Hughes.

How to Vote

1. Simon Hughes

2. Chris Huhne

Edit: Top Tax Bracket and Stifling Economic Growth

Adam, New York City, explains:

"It's not a matter of whether they can pay [50% tax on earnings over £100k]... It's a matter of whether making them pay that will stifle economic activity... History, experience, and economics says it would.

"When an independent business owner has to decide whether to make an investment of $100,000 and he has a 50% chance of it working and earning $300,000, and a 50% chance of it not working and him getting back $0, he will make the investment, because he has an equal chance of earning $200,000 or losing just $100,000. Now if you impose a 50% tax on him, he only makes $100,000 if it works, and loses $100,000 if it doesn't... The investment is nothing more than a gamble, and the businessman will not take the risk. This is just an extremely simplified hypothetical example of the economic decisions that are made all over the world every day.

"Any significant increase in tax rates (especially at the higher level) WILL stifle/discourage a certain amount of economic activity. The rest is just a matter of whether it's still worthwhile to do it (if the money is so vital in other areas that you're willing to sacrifice economic growth)."

This suggests that backing Chris Huhne would be the more economically sound choice; in a country whose primary natural resource is a finite Oil reserve, and primary manufactured good is Management, can we afford to risk decreased economic activity?

A better compromise would be increasing indirect taxes, e.g. Corporation and Capital Gains, and also VAT, a choice tax, in order to provide relief for lower income bands, without risking economic decay.

The jury's out.

Edit: Whoa there, chicken-lips

(He snaps out of it.) Nearly turned into Margaret Thatcher there. (He shudders.) A less flagrantly illiberal disequalising economic incentive needs to be found.

We already have a 40% tax. The risk is already high. It will stifle the market a little more, but surely not cripple it? The most potentially damaging phenomenon resultant of Hughes' 50% bracket would be a "brain drain" - top business minds fucking off to freer markets and tax exile. Might I suggest the United States?

What price social justice?


Note: this article magpied from some of my comments in debates on the Liberal Democrats' MySpace group.


At 11:31 pm, Blogger Oscillating Hazelnut said...

What about those of us who are libertarian rightists?

At 12:49 am, Blogger Sable X. Veins said...

Libertarian rightists are well nigh unrepresented. Chris Huhne's policies imply a move further towards neoliberalism ("Equity and equality go hand in hand").

A recent political compass analysis gives the Lib Dems as libertarian centrorightists. That's a somewhat simplified view of Lib Dem ideals, but not inaccurate. Simon Hughes will pull the party across to libertarian socialism, Chris Huhne shunt it a little further into capitalist libertarian territory.

At 12:56 am, Blogger Sable X. Veins said...

Ideally, we'd most of us be members of the Labour Party of the '70s and '80s. Alas, true socialist libertarian representation in British politics died as New Labour was born, and with the absorption of the Social Democrats into the Liberal Party.


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