Friday, February 10, 2006

Question Time - What did it change?

To be honest, not much. All three candidates did a fairly good job of staying on message.

Chris Huhne coming across as particularly consistent with his performance on the regular programme last week, again repeating the phrase "part of the problem, not the solution" and putting his alternatives to taxation message across.

Hughes did look nervous, but made most of his points fairly well, and came across strongly as a man with a sense of pride in his values. I felt it was slightly unfair of Dimbleby to cut him off just before he got to what Dimbleby must have known would be the "price on his head" story. It was a relevant answer to the question asked, and exactly the reason people like me have no problem seeing him as a trustworthy man of integrity.

Ming Campbell was much the same, although what came across to me for the first time was his very firm distancing of himself from the withdrawal of troops option. It helped him, I think, defining him as the more pragmatic, perhaps, of them all. People who are thinking primarily about credibility, I guess, would have liked this.

So has it changed my views? No, I still like Hughes, I think his heart is most clearly in the right place. Ming Campbell as foreign affairs and Huhne as shadow chancellor or something would be cracking, I think. Huhne and Campbell are both good on their own turf, but stray much from those areas and they fall into simply spouting the party lines. Hughes, as his page in the manifesto booklet points out, has wide experience of all sorts of departments.

For all Huhne's "there are other ways to tax" stuff, Hughes's statement that the income tax is the "fairest tax there is" holds true. Yes, eco-taxes need to be used, but a Liberal Democrat party that tried to tax anything it disapproved of would, to my mind, cease to be a liberal party. Eco-tax is different. Eco-taxes are needed because we must preserve our world from our consumerist and distorted current system of economics. But to use taxes like a press release in the same way Labour does legislation would be a move in the wrong direction.

One of the things that originally attracted me to the Lib Dems in 1997 was their position of honesty on how they could provide the services people want. The straightforwardness of saying to people: "You want these services? 1p in the pound, bang, there you go!" seemed so refreshing against the backdrop of the other two parties trying to pretend it's all about management, that you can have improvements to services on the same spending as the Tories.

Of course, since then, taxes all over the place from Gordon Brown have kept an appearance of this, whilst anyone who looks at the figures can see instantly that Labour have presided over a big increase in public spending. But this system is unfair. In taxing by stealth, you lose the accuracy with which you can target the people who, fairly, should be paying.

And Ming? I think, following his practical approach to Iraq, that some of Hughes's characterisation of him as overly cautious will stick. And he's right. We as a party need to be strident and uncompromising on our principles. That's not mutually exclusive from being a credible government; one of the most ideological and uncompromising governments in living memory was the Thatcher government - one that didn't seem to have much trouble getting elected (albeit with some help from Labour being a bit shabby).

So my real dilemma, with my voting form in front of me, is what order to place Huhne and Campbell in after Hughes on my ballot. Comments are welcome. Frankly, all three are pretty good candidates, and much more the type of politician I can vote for than the Labour/Tory "grand coalition" (as Huhne might have it). I could quite happily campaign for any of them over the other parties, though perhaps not as happily as I could for Hughes!

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