April 2010

April ...

I loved the annual article by Olaf Priol in today's Guardian.

But it's not as funny as this story - which is true!

Where have all the Tory ladies gone?

The current Conservative group on Kingston Council consists of 2 women and 19 men.

Now you might have thought they would be trying to redress that imbalance in the future. But a Conservative leaflet that has gone out across the borough gives photos of all their candidates for the local elections on May 6th.

Out of 48 candidates, only 12 are female. And some of these are standing in unwinnable wards.

Of course, the actual outcome lies in the hands of the voters, but my prediction is that however many seats they gain overall, the next Conservative group will have, at most, four women members.


So the election campaign is already over a day old.

Still haven't decided how to vote? Try Votematch.

I was greatly relieved to find that I came out as Lib Dem!

All is forgiven, Kevin.

Kevin Maguire in The Mirror:

Millionaire Zac Goldsmith has put me on a Tory leaflet to attack his Lib Dem opponent.

What an indignity! So, to even things up, here’s my view of him for her to use as she sees fit.

“Whatever my ­political differences with Susan Kramer, I admire her integrity. She’s respected in Westminster and works incredibly hard for the people of ­Richmond Park and North Kingston. It would be monstrously unfair if playboy Zac Goldsmith bought the seat with inherited wealth.

“We’re all the poorer if democracy’s purchased by the kid with the offshore trust fund.”

£150 to get married? Can't resist that.

£150 a year tax break if you are married?

Income tax is all about balance. There are countless possible ways of setting thresholds and providing tax breaks, so certain principles must be used. For Liberal Democrats the key principle is one of redressing inequalities.

I'm not so keen on using personal taxation to try to change people's behaviour. Other types of tax, such as the green taxes we support, can be used to encourage people to change their ways. But Income tax should be about a fair distribution of wealth, leaving people themselves to decide how they want to spend their money.

The Conservative commitment to provide a tax break of £150 a year to every married couple (civil partnerships included) falls into the 'let's change people's behaviour' category.

Not only is it doomed to failure, but it will have a unpleasant side effects.

Do you really believe that a couple will decide to get married, rather than live together, simply in order to get an extra £150 per year? How many years will it take to cover the cost of even a modest wedding?

The argument the Tories give is that a couple with young children are more likely to stay together if they are married than if they are not. That may be true, but I'm not sure that the act of marriage itself is the determining factor - surely the strength of the relationship is the key? Presumably people who get married have committed themselves to a strong relationship, and that is why they are more likely to stay together. Any attempt to entice people into marriage when the relationship is not strong enough will be bound to fail.

This tax break is clearly a bribe to 'ordinary hardworking families' who always take centre stage at election time.

But it is bad.

I can remember the days when marriage was enshrined in the income tax system. There was a far more substantial marriage allowance than the one proposed by the Tories now. But it was dependent on a personal taxation system that taxed couples jointly.

To make this work, the woman was required to divulge all her income to her husband - yes, that way round only. Their incomes were added together and the marriage allowance applied to the total.

Thank goodness we have got beyond that system and now have individual taxation. Women and men can arrange their finances, shared or individually, as they see fit. Either person in a marriage can have their own private savings without being forced to tell the other. Not only is this right for all individuals, but it is particularly important for people who are trying to escape a violent partner.

And yet something like this will be required to make the Tory marriage tax break work. The couple will be forced to tell each other what their income is, so that they can decide which one of them should transfer £750 of their personal allowance to the other.

Then there are the anomalies that make this such an unfair idea. Someone who has just been widowed, or whose partner leaves them, will lose their tax break, even though they may be left as a single parent with higher expenses.

Liberal Democrats are proposing a much simpler approach to taxation. Raise the personal tax threshold so that no-one earning less than £10,000 a year will pay any income tax at all. That's a fair tax break, and one that truly benefits the people on the lowest incomes.

Maternity services for the elderly?

Curious leaflet from the Conservatives delivered today. Under 'Improving the life of Older People' it talks about stopping 'any move to take away Accident & Emergency or Maternity provision'.

My plug for the manifesto, Nick Clegg, fairness etc

Slightly busy with the election at the moment!

But I did find time to watch Paxman's interview of Nick Clegg on Tuesday. Interestingly Brown and Cameron had both refused to be interviewed by the terrifying Paxo, but having seen Nick's robust performance they have now realised that they have to submit as well or look like cowards.

During Clegg's interview Paxo produced one of our local leaflets about the Save Kingston Hospital campaign. He tried to suggest that, by supporting our campaign, Nick was wrong-footing similar campaigns in other areas. The response was straightforward - he supported all campaigns against reductions in vital services to patients. The Kingston campaign was rather special to him because his own child was born at Kingston Hospital.

And yesterday our national manifesto was launched. No great secrets there since the policies of the Liberal Democrats, unlike the other parties, are decided by its members in open debate at conference. The pressing need to sort out the economy does mean that some long-held aspirations have been put on hold, but they have not been dropped.

We are focussing on four main themes, all designed to 'build a fairer Britain':

  • We will cut tax on low and middle earners - so no-one pays income tax on the first £10,000 - worth an average of £700 a year.
  • We will give every child the fair start they deserve, by reducing class sizes and increasing one to one tuition in our schools.
  • We will rebalance the economy, to create 'green' taxes for a fairer, more sustainable future.
  • We will build a cleaner, fairer politics, where every vote counts and where voters can sack corrupt MPs.

We are the only party whose policies are fully costed. You can read the full manifesto, with the costings, on the Liberal Democrat website.

Roll on the live debate this evening!

Have you registered to vote? It's not too late...

... but you have to do it by 5pm this Tuesday.

You can download the form from the bottom of this page on the Council website.

Fill it in and sign it. Then you can post it to the Guildhall (if you can trust the post at this late stage), return it in person, or fax it to 020 8547 5099. Alternatively, you can scan in the completed form and email it as an attachment to [email protected].

If you have already registered then you should have received a polling card. If that hasn't arrived then phone Electoral Services at the Guildhall on 020 8547 5026, and ask them to check.

Sometimes polling cards are misdelivered, and you don't need to have one in order to vote, provided you are registered. But you don't want to turn up at the polling station and find that your name is not on the list, so you would be wise to check.

I believe in fairness

So, the Conservatives and Labour parties have been surprised to discover that the Lib Dems are - wait for it - popular. But they don't know how to deal with it.

One thing for sure, both parties are now scouring through our manifesto to find policies that they can disagree with.

So if you're wondering what our policies really are, here is something to watch.

Woodgate Avenue and Stormont Way

The freezing conditions this winter produced potholes everywhere around the country, including round here. The roads that suffered most were the ones that were already taking the strain of buses. So the Council is steadily resurfacing the most severely damaged roads and filling in potholes around the Borough.

Next in line are Stormont Way and the remaining stretch of Woodgate Avenue. They will both be done between Tuesday and Thursday next week, during the daytime.

Hustings at the King's Centre, Chessington

There will be a chance to hear all the Parliamentary candidates for Kingston & Surbiton on Thursday. A hustings meeting will be held at the Kings Centre, in Coppard Gardens from 7.30pm to 9.30pm.

Each candidate will be allowed to make a statement about their policies, then members of the audience will be able to ask them questions.

Do go along if you'd like to hear what they want to achieve in the constituency.

Fair votes?

The first-past-the-post voting system that we use for Parliamentary elections works very well if there are only two main parties. Most voters select one or other, and a handful exercise their right to support tiny minority parties. The party with the most seats will almost certainly, in this case, represent the majority of voters in the country.

But the UK has not been a two party state for some time now. Over the last 30 years or so, Liberal Democrats have been gradually increasing their share of the vote, up to around 20%-24%. In Scotland and Wales, the SNP and Plaid Cymru are serious contenders as well.

The voting system is no longer fit for purpose. The recent growth of support for the Liberal Democrats has shown this only too well.

The Observer yesterday looked at some possible outcomes of the election, starting with the case where Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats all gain 30% of the popular vote, with the remaining 10% given to others.

Although each party would be equally popular, Conservative would gain 206 seats, Labour 315 seats (almost an outright majority) and Liberal Democrats 100 seats.

This bizarre outcome is because Labour and Conservative have each consolidated their position in a large number of safe seats in geographically distinct areas. In contrast, support for the Liberal Democrats is spread widely across all parts of the country.

How about this outcome, which is roughly in line with some of the opinion polls: Conservative 33%, Lib Dem 30% and Labour 27%. What then?

Unbelievably, although lowest in popularity, Labour would gain the most seats with 262. The Conservatives would come second with 257. Faced with that result I can't imagine that the Tories would still uphold their opposition to electoral reform.

And where would the Lib Dems be? They would get exactly 102 seats.

So, although the Tories would beat Lib Dems by 3% they would get 155 more seats.

As The Observer comments: "Beyond parody"

Electoral reform - or fair votes - is essential if democracy is to survive in a three sided contest. That is why electoral reform is the unwavering requirement that Liberal Democrats would take into any post-election negotiations.

David Cameron was still saying today that first-past-the-post serves the country well.

No, it doesn't. But this time the voters are far more aware of the unfairness than ever before. If, after the election, the outcome is similar to either of those that I have quoted, then the voters will simply not accept the unrepresentative result in Westminster.

The truth behind the UK general election (The Independent)

From The Independent ...

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