With the Tories becoming a more shrill version of UKIP with less professionalism and a worse leader, and the Labour Party becoming the Socialist Workers Party with greater factionalism, the political opportunity for the Liberal Democrats is vast. Everyone who even casually watches politics knows this. However, this is easy to say and harder for the Lib Dems to take advantage of in practice. For instance, what should the Lib Dems’ fiscal policy be?
With the Tories and Labour both promising to bankrupt the country by spending vast amounts of public money we don’t have, it might be tempting to simply join them in the spend-a-thon. Yet the Lib Dems could take advantage of the Tories throwing away their advantage as the party of thrift and sense by trying to take it for themselves, upping their electability in Lib-Con seats. However, go too far with this and the party looks like a bunch of misers at a free for all. The Lib Dems have to offer some goodies at the same time.
Here are my basic thoughts on what Lib Dem Treasury policy should look like:
- Make a real thing of the “Revoke Dividend”. Every economist worthy of the name knows that the spectre of Brexit is dragging the economy down. You can say it’s because of uncertainty, you can say it’s because business knows that Brexit, whenever it comes, would be bad, the fact that the current Brexit situation is financially harmful is hardly in doubt. The Lib Dems have to make a big deal out of how revoking Article 50 will end the uncertainty and result in a large amount of public money currently being tied up in Brexit related pots being made available to spend on the NHS and other public services.
- Have some actually business friendly policies. Most fiscal policy post-coalition has been too far left in terms of its language and its orientation. I’m not saying the Lib Dems need to ape the Tories, even the Cameroon Tories in this regard, but some policies that help business would be nice. No need to re-invent the wheel here: lower employer’s NI on new employees, a tax break on R&D, playing up how stopping the Brexit process will encourage foreign investment to increase.
- Speak of being a party of government in a positive as opposed to an apologetic way. Particularly in Lib-Con seats, the fact that the Lib Dems were in government in the coalition is an advantage, not a minus. The Lib Dems need to stop apologising for mistakes made during the 2010-2015 and focus on their achievements, as well as the fact that having been in power means that they would know how to handle it if it were to happen again.
I worry a little about how much the party is really thinking about this, particularly given both the Tories and Labour will want to attack the party on this front. It requires nuance and a fully worked out strategy for how to fend off the most likely attacks from the Big Two. Having the better spreadsheets will be far from enough. This needs to be done quickly, given how soon we could be facing a general election.
With the two main Parties vowing to outspend each other, there will be little scrutiny of Liberal Democrat spending plans. They might as well create a wish list and you have one or two fair suggestions.
Two areas that could resonate are local government, which has been over squeezed and help for young people entering or newly entered into work (though you do have a suggestion there). Local government could be more generously treated for developing its infrastructure particularly, including for housing.
On the coalition, it is a benefit that Liberal Democrats can proclaim that they have shown themselves to be responsible in fiscal management. They can attack the Conservatives for how much worse their deficit will be due to Brexit and Labour similarly but emphasising that ‘revoke’ is a necessity for their plans to have any chance.
Unfortunately, I think we are heading for a recession which is likely to blow all plans off course anyway.