In 2011 the Labour Party in Liverpool and elsewhere delivered leaflet after leaflet which repeated the same lie – Lib Dems wanted to cut bus passes for the elderly. The source of this story was a question which was posed by Nick Clegg on a television programme. “Is it right”, he asked, “In times such as these for us to pay for bus passes for pensioners earning £100,000 per year plus. There are, incidentally, 600,000 of these.
Three weeks ago Labour posed the same question but this time about the winter fuel supplements paid – in many cases to people living abroad who live where they live because they don’t get cold in winter! What should our response be? Perhaps we too should put out leaflets saying that Labour intend to threaten all winter fuel supplements. Well we won’t be doing that because we are too responsible. We will not go into the gutter of lies and distortions that Labour revel in.
My thoughts on these subjects have been brought forward by the vicious attack that was made over the weekend by the Mayor of Liverpool on his own Party. Their fault, according to him, is not to say that this so-called ‘bedroom tax’ will be repealed. I would actually join him on that and have criticised my own Party on the same issue. People are now suffering because they under occupy homes when they have absolutely no alternative. For years councils and housing associations have not built the variety of housing that is required. So people who would like to live in smaller homes have nowhere to move to. Charging them more money for circumstances not of their making and which they cannot alter is just downright unfair.
So let’s look at the wider position. For the past three years Lib Dems in Liverpool and elsewhere have had to endure vicious and sustained criticism about the austerity programme from the Labour party. Many in the Labour Party actually believe that there is a magic fairy that can wave a wand to help us spend our way out of the problems of a massive overhang of debt. However the thoughtful members know that what they have and are claiming inside the council and on their leaflets are bogus rubbish. The truth is obvious – whichever Party had come in to Government in 2010 would have done almost the same things.
We know that Labour intended to cut £7 for every £8 that this Government has cut. We know that would have included cuts in benefits although at the time the benefits bill was rising. We know that they did not allow for a Eurozone crisis any more than this Government had which would have created more problems for any government.
Labour in Liverpool has always said this. “We know that a Labour Government would have had to make cuts but Liverpool would not have been as badly hit as it has been by this Government”. We are now beginning to see just how untrue this is. Government can only do two things about its money supply: Increase taxes or reduce spending.
The top rate of income tax is now and has been for the whole of this Government’s life higher than it was for all but 31 days of the 13 years of the Labour Government. More than £10 billion per year has been saved by cutting corporation and other tax loopholes, although there is still much to do.
The only spending it can reduce is public spending. It can do this by savings or by cuts. It is doing both. Large parts of the public sector were wasteful, overstaffed and under occupied. This was not usually the staff on the front line be they doctors and nurses or bin men and street sweepers. The problem lay in the bloated bureaucracies that that delayed decisions and protected empires. Much of that is now gone – there is still more to go. But savings cannot account for the need so cuts have been made and choices have been made.
I am pleased with many of the choices. I am delighted that all workers by the start of the next financial year will pay no income tax on their first £10,000 and that income tax for those on the minimum wage will have been reduced by 90%. I am delighted that pensioners will never again fall behind wage earners and are beginning to catch up a little. It was despicable that for 25 years under both Tory and Labour governments pensions fell badly behind wage increases. I am delighted that the Government is ensuring big money for things like the Royal Hospital (£300 million), the expanded super port of Liverpool (£30,000,000) the Global Enterprise Festival (£20,000,000) and the new river crossing in Halton (£300,000,000). These things will permanently boost the Liverpool economy and mean that over time we become less dependent on public sector money, grants and handouts.
To pay for these things, however other things have had to go. Austerity will not end on the first Thursday in May 2015 whichever Party becomes the Government. The world’s economic problems alone mean that there is no fast recovery. The UK will take more time to pay off the debt overhangs of the public, private and personal sectors.
My challenge to the Labour party is simple and the same as it is to my own Party. Tell us in outline what you will do to deal with these awful World, European and UK financial problems. Tell us where you would put money and where you would save it. Tell us which of the awful things you claim the Government has done that you would change and which you would keep to make the books balance.
Which brings me back to the bedroom tax. I will continue to campaign for its repeal in my Party if you continue to campaign for its repeal in yours!