James Forsyth

Can Cable turn the Lib Dems into The British Bull Moose Party?

Can Cable turn the Lib Dems into The British Bull Moose Party?
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Vince Cable’s speech to the Lib Dem spring conference today showed how fortunate it was for the two main parties that he did not become leader either in 2006 or after Ming Campbell’s departure. He is able to deliver cutting criticism of the two main parties while staking out political positions that appeal to both Labour and Tory voters.

The address was littered with Cable’s usual telling jokes. His one on Northern Rock definitely hit home:

“During the Northern Rock crisis the boat was drifting listlessly. Captain Brown was hiding in his cabin. And Midshipman Osborne was jumping excitedly in and out of a lifeboat.”

But the most powerful part of Cable’s speech was the section on tax:

“We cannot tolerate a two nation society divided between the tax payers and the tax dodgers. 

The extent of tax avoidance amongst many rich people has become a national scandal. The super rich are complaining because our spineless government decided to tinker with capital gains tax. 

But they will still pay far less than their cleaners – 18% versus 20% plus 10% NICs. They will still pay less than half the tax rate they paid under Mrs Thatcher and Nigel Lawson. But all we hear is a whine of self pity.

Let me be clear. I have no problem with people making serious money through hard work building businesses and creating jobs. There have to be realistic incentives in a market economy. 

But the idea that the super rich should be elevated above taxation is immoral and deeply insulting to those on modest incomes who pay their full whack of tax.” Now, you can try and dismiss this as populist rhetoric that would hurt London’s standing as a financial centre but there is little doubt that many middle class people are increasingly angry that they pay a radically higher proportion of their income in tax than the richest in society. The potency of Cable’s argument is that he is combining plans to clampdown on these loopholes with a plan to cut taxes on those on whom the tax burden falls hardest. As he puts it, “I would like to see a much stronger commitment to cutting the taxes of low and middle income families.”

This position on tax could enable the Lib Dems to cast themselves as a British Bull Moose party dedicated to destroying the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics.” This message would have real appeal considering the electorate’s current dissatisfaction with and distrust of the political class.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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