It was worth listening to Today this morning if only to hear Lord Ashdown under siege over the issue of Sir Philip Green and his tax status. The Lib Dem peer was asked about how the government could seriously talk about battling tax avoidance given the recent hiring of the retail tycoon as an efficiency czar: As the interviewer asked:
“If this government was really serious about tax avoidance it would not have employed, would it, Sir Philip Green, who is also accused of avoiding taxes, perfectly legally…but there he is, advising the government on waste. If the Lib Dems really had power in this government he wouldn’t be there would he?”
Ashdown said he would not criticise the appointment. He then rattled off a list of the many changes achieved by the coalition (pupil premium, tax breaks for low-income families, etc). It was as if he didn’t want to discuss the tycoon at all.
But the Lib Dems do seem to be facing both ways on the issue of tax at the moment. Yesterday Danny Alexander announced a new £900m to spend on tackling the issue. But how does this square with hiring Sir Philip? Read more
Regional development agencies were Marmite quangos, either loved or loathed depending on your point of view. (They have also been more popular in the north than in the south). So there have been mixed feelings about coalition plans to scrap these bodies.
But the plans to replace them with something else called local enterprise partnerships is even more controversial, with Richard Lambert of the CBI telling me recently that business is hugely concerned about them. (They could be “council-dominated talking shops” in his words).
Not only will the new bodies be seemingly random hybrids of council members and business people but they will also have ad hoc structures with different sizes and shapes across the country.
And now there are concerns about who will pay for them. Will it be their members or will they still get state funding in some form? Read more
Green groups are worried that one casualty of the autumn spending review will be the “feed-in tariff” that allows anyone generating alternative energy to sell it back to the grid. It’s not that they believe the coalition would scrap it, given their various commitments to the agenda.
But they fear it could be delayed or watered down by Chris Huhne, Lib Dem energy secretary, under pressure from the Treasury. Ditto the Renewable Heat Incentive (a similar payment for producing alternative heat).
One figure from Friends of the Earth tells me that is is “absurd” for the Treasury to be reviewing the scheme given that it’s financed by public consumers rather than the government.
The counterargument is of course that bills are going up as a result of this – and similar – policies; DECC itself estimates a rise in 33 per cent by 2020 for domestic electricity bills. Read more
1. Conference resolves to ban goldfish prizes at fairs
The purest expression of Lib Dem eccentricity. The 1992 conference had a serious downer on fairground animals. Some still claim it is a myth stemming from a mischievous reading of an animal rights resolution. But the story is too good to question.
2. Surprise Jeremy Thorpe appearance while facing conspiracy to murder charges
Imagine the look on David Steel’s face when Thorpe ignored an imposed ban and turned-up to the 1978 Southport conference. The legend goes that the conspiracy to murder charges were so serious that Thorpe only received a three-quarter standing ovation. A dramatic closed-door debate also considered a motion “regretting the actions of party officers” in asking him not to come.
3. Steel tells activists to “go home and prepare for government”
Pure conference gold. A classic of British politics. Even better than Jo Grimond saying “we’ve got our teeth into the red meat of government”. Unlikely to be bettered in any leader’s speech. Surely a perfect gag line for Clegg this year? Read more
Earlier this summer I placed a couple of bets of my own on the Labour leadership campaign, two of which were a foolish waste of money (a fiver each on Ed Balls and Andy Burnham at about 25:1 at the start of the campaign). The one I got right, however, was putting £10 on Ed Miliband in May (May 12, William Hill) when the commentariat thought that a] he probably wouldn’t stand and b] if he did he would lose to his brother. The odds were 7:1, giving me the chance of a fine potential profit.
I never bet on David M simply because the odds have always been far too slim – even as his lead eroded during the long summer months. Read more