The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Who are the Liberal Democrats?
by Peter

The Guardianhas a piece about us, this morning.

They have a higher average age for the membership than I would have guessed (59) and say we are unusually highly educated (42% with degrees - which sounds more likely).

They find us relatively coherent

the members share a coherent set of Liberal principles which go beyond local concerns. As the party's name suggests, contemporary liberal democracy encompasses both liberalism and social democracy. The former emphasises individual freedom and market solutions, while the latter emphasises equality and redistribution. In relation to the former, our survey found that 58% of members thought that "individuals should take responsibility for providing for themselves" and only 28% thought that "it is the government's responsibility to provide a job for everyone who wants one". However, they do recognise the limits of the market, since only 19% agreed that it "would be a good thing for schools to be made to compete with each other for students",

Members tend to have the same sort of views as voters. But the one great exception to this environmental taxation:

One difference between members and voters concerns the environment. Fifty-three per cent of members supported an increase in taxation on motorists in order to curb pollution. Lib Dem voters, by contrast, are distinctly cool on the idea that car owners should pay higher taxes.

I don't think this means that we should not advocate higher fuel taxes. But it does imply that we should beware of getting too far ahead of them. The short, sharp shock approach advocated by Chris Huhne is doubtless attractive to many activists. I prefer the Campbell line.

We must be far more imaginative in explaining how changes in individual behaviour can produce a win-win outcome for both the environment and consumers. Energy efficiency measures, which cut carbon emissions, also provide enormous financial savings for families. As leader, I will be unveiling an action plan for a significant boost to energy saving technologies and the provision of incentives to households to encourage the necessary changes at home. What is true for households, also applies to businesses. The Carbon Trust recently set out a detailed analysis of the way in which the costs of energy efficiency measures implemented by manufacturers can be recouped through lower running costs in a surprisingly short space of time.

The tax system and user charges must be used to create incentives to change behaviour. Environmental concerns must be centred in the Treasury, not regarded as some sort of departmental add-on. We’ll create an Environmental Incentive Programme in the Treasury to see how within the same overall tax envelope, incentives for good environmental behaviour can be built into the tax system. Individual behaviour is more likely to change in the right direction if there is a clear material incentive to do so, as well as a positive effect on the environment. There is a case to consider the expansion of road charging systems, as long as the revenues are clearly dedicated to improving public transport alternatives.

Incentives must exist to discourage unnecessary car use rather than an overnight attempt to price travellers out of their vehicles by pushing the price of fuel beyond their reach. I will want to ensure that our party’s position on this is both workable and credible.

My personal preference would be to establish a framework in which users know that taxation is going to rise over the medium term by more than inflation (giving them an incentive to make appropriate investment decisions). At the same time we should promote alternatives to carbon-burning energies.

Our argument should not simply be the impact on the environment. This means a lot to us, but not so much for the wider electorate, and is vulnerable to the irrefutable argument that our impact on atmospheric CO2 is outweighed by that of the rest of the world. Instead we should be arguing that this is necessary to ensure continuity of supply.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 9:04 am  
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"What is Liberalism?: I should say it means the acknowledgment in practical life of the truth that men are best governed who govern themselves; that the general sense of mankind, if left alone, will make for righteousness; that artificial privileges and restraints upon freedom, so far as they are not required in the interests of the community, are hurtful; and that the laws, while, of course, they cannot equalise conditions, can at least avoid aggravating inequalities, and ought to have for their object the securing to every man the best chance he can have of a good and useful life." C-B.


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