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Reformer of the Week…

By Sara Scarlett
May 22nd, 2011 at 9:33 am | 3 Comments | Posted in health, UK Politics

is Liberal Vision’s own ANDY MAYER!

Is it just me or has Liberal Vision suddenly gone more than a little mainstream? Feels weird. Weird and dirty.


AV: Liberal Democrats should not panic

By Simon Goldie
April 19th, 2011 at 9:02 pm | 6 Comments | Posted in Election, UK Politics

Members of the Liberal Democrat party have electoral reform in their DNA. No doubt, for some their first words were not mummy or daddy but single transferable vote (STV) in multi-member constituencies. So winning the AV referendum matters. Fellow Liberal Vision blogger, Andy Mayer set out clearly why he thinks people should vote yes. I have speculated in another place about the alternative vote and whether it will lead to a more liberal society.

Right now the polls don’t look that encouraging for the supporters of change. Polls can be wrong and there is still time to make the case but what if AV is rejected by the voters?

My fingers are hovering over the keyboard as I feel that what I am about to suggest is heretical. I should state clearly I am not arguing for a no vote by writing that members of the Liberal Democrats should not panic if the voters reject AV. In fact, it could turn out to deliver proportional representation in the future.

On Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday, Norman Lamb argued that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the voting system. Some though believe that by adopting AV now Britain will eventually get STV. If Norman is right and the vote goes the Lib Dems way, our electoral system is likely to be set for a very long time.

Liberal Democrats believe our current system of first past the post (FPTP) is discredited. As far as they are concerned it won’t stop being discredited if AV is rejected. There is a belief that the Prime Minister will have to make concessions to Nick Clegg if the vote goes Cameron’s way. One concession might be reform of the House of Lords elected under STV. This will give voters a chance to become comfortable with a different system. If they like it they will be able to compare it to FPTP and make up their own minds about which system better reflects the wishes of voters.  In that situation, could we be looking at another referendum in 10 years or so on STV?

This time period gives the party a chance to prove itself in government, develop policies for future government and perhaps move from the third party to one of the main parties. Right now that may seem fanciful but this sort of thing has happened before.



Budget Reaction: Is ending NI a good idea?

By Andy Mayer
March 23rd, 2011 at 2:50 pm | 3 Comments | Posted in Economics, UK Politics

A few cheers and jeers in today’s budget. The airwaves are full of detail so we will focus briefly on a selection of issues. This is not a comprehensive analysis.


Raising tax allowances is essential to increase the incentives between work and benefits. It is not a redistributive anti-poverty measure, it is one that makes exiting poverty far easier for those who are prepared to work.

Reviewing the 50% tax rate is probably the only way, politically, it can be ditched, and likely then only when the economy is better recovered.

Cutting fuel duty and suspending the escalator is sensible. The Exchequer loses little from this, whilst the political message is powerful


Although the Budget predicts reduced deficits by 2015, any deficit at all means more debt. Public spending is clearly not being cut fast or hard enough to protect future generations from our waste today.

The flip-side of the fuel duty announcements was the introduction of a Fair Fuel Stabiliser paid for by a levy on production. There is already a 20% special tax on UK oil and gas exploration. That has reduced the attractiveness of the North Sea for investment, in turn reducing returns. The costs of another 12% levy will also be passed on to pension funds and in reduced investment which could undermine any relief for consumers. The Chancellor should just cut duty when global oil prices are high.

Smokers get another beating with 2% rise above inflation. It is already the case that 21% of the tobacco consumed in the UK comes from illicit trade, i.e. organised crime. This is driven principally by relative national tax rates. It is highly profitable to smuggle and counterfeit, enforcement and punishment are weak. Counterfeit products tend to be more unhealthy, criminal profits fund more crime. A technical reform to mitigate against differential impacts on low and high cost brands misses this point. In the long-run British duty rates need to be sensitive to the pace of change in other countries. That reform is overdue. Providing another case-study in why prohibition doesn’t work is unwise.

The Big Change

Merging National Insurance and Income Tax does sound sensible. NI is effectively a stealth income tax and is masks just how extreme and high British taxes are by international standards. Such a change will make the sort of tinkering enjoyed by Gordon Brown much more difficult.

The problem, other than the possibility of a stealth rise on upper-rate payers in the process of change, is that national insurance is in itself a better idea than general taxation as a way of funding welfare.

When introduced by a Liberal government it was a proper insurance scheme for worklessness and old age. As recently as the 1990s the Liberal Democrats believed it should be used to fund the NHS.

Proper insurance is hypothecated, i.e. spent on a specific thing, not on anything the government fancies. The more hypothecation there is, the less the state can do as it pleases. For that reason tax hypothecation is vigorously opposed by the Treasury.

But that constraint protects taxpayers. It acts as a break on the kind of welfare ramping that has led to the current trillion pound debt, and even larger unfunded state pension liabilities.

Hypothecation is also more personal, people can see how much welfare costs them. Transparency engenders responsibility.

Another benefit of insurance is there is no need for the state to be the monopoly supplier. Similar to David Laws point in the Orange Book about health insurance. Offering people choice in providers of welfare insurance would be another check and balance on state waste.

The proposal is now subject to a long review, so we cannot say whether these issues will be taken into consideration, but it would be a historic quirk if this liberal coalition ended one of the main achievements of the last Liberal government, 100 years on.

Freedom Forum: 1st – 3rd April 2011

By Sara Scarlett
March 16th, 2011 at 12:58 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Liberty League, UK Politics

Last month Students for Liberty, an organisation that seeks to support student groups that hold a wide-range of philosophical beliefs that all share an underlying dedication to liberty, hosted the 4th Annual International Students For Liberty Conference at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Founded in 2008, it’s not hard to see why this organisation has grown. The excellent attendance (500+ delegates increased from around 300 in 2009) shows that the liberty movement in the United States is thriving in the face of widespread dissatisfaction with the jaded left-right dichotomy. But it’s not just that. This organisation is incredibly high quality, run for student, by students. It began with pure energy and has gathered momentum ever since. I had the pleasure of attending ISFLC and it was the most invigorating experience in my time as an activist. The quality of the sessions and debate was excellent. The atmosphere was electric. Aside from hosting Conferences, SFL distributes literature and support for pro-liberty groups across the United States and international partner organisations through its network of some of the most competent and dedicated student organisers I have ever had the pleasure to work with.

One of those organisers is Anton Howes, a student at King’s College, University of London and a member of the incoming SFL Executive Board. Along with Will Hamilton and James Lawson he has founded the UK Liberty League, a non-partisan organisation that seeks to further the pro-liberty network in the UK.

On the 1st to the 3rd of April, the Liberty League have organised the first annual Freedom Forum. If you are a likeminded student, professional or academic, this is an event you can’t afford to miss. Book your ticket now, spread the word and be part of enriching the liberty movment here in the UK.

A voluntary support system vs the Welfare State

By Simon Goldie
January 30th, 2011 at 10:37 pm | 5 Comments | Posted in UK Politics, Welfare State

Over at Lib Dem Voice, Mark Pack poses the question: Was Beveridge right to oppose the Welfare State?

This may seem an odd debating point as everyone credits William Beveridge with laying the foundation of the welfare system we currently have.

In fact, Beveridge laid out a liberal blueprint to tackle want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness.

The Labour Government under Clement Attlee took the report and responded by creating a centralised structure that became known as the Welfare State. The NHS, education system and social security system that many now see as representing all that is good about Britain was inspired by liberalism but built by Fabian social democracy.

It is impossible to know what would have happened if a Liberal Government had come to power in 1945 but it is likely that a support system would have been established that emphasised voluntary engagement and the decentralisation of decision-making.