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Thursday, April 14, 2005


2 + 2 = ?

I had to crawl behind the sofa while watching the TV earlier today, but it wasn't because of Dr Who.

Charles Kennedy made an appalling gaffe at this morning's press conference to launch the Liberal Democrat manifesto. The
manifesto itself is fine - but it helps if you can remember what it says.

Kennedy was wrong-footed while being questioned by the BBC's Andrew Marr on the subject of local income tax.
The Scotsman reports,

When Mr Kennedy was challenged to name the exact figure at which people would pay more, he appeared confused and had to confer with colleagues before replying: "A double income couple of £20,000 each, that’s what you are talking about. £40,000."

However, the party later issued figures showing that a couple on a double income of £40,000 in a Band D property would actually pay £21 less under local income tax.
The main point that Kennedy should have made is that, for many people, the party's policy would represent a tax cut. That opportunity was lost in the confusion.

On BBC2's
Daily Politics this lunchtime, film of Kennedy's press conference blunder was repeated, then Vincent Cable was subjected to some tough questioning from Andrew Neil (you can see today's programme online here until tomorrow lunchtime - the relevant bit is near the beginning of the show).

Cable performed well under fire, remaining calm, articulate and authoritative, and only once looked slightly flustered when Neil confronted him with a list of income tax rates in the USA to contradict an earlier claim. Worried Liberal Democrat candidates could do a lot worse than watch this interview and learn.

However, I fear that it will be the cringe-making footage of Kennedy mumbling and looking lost that is repeated on tonight's TV news programmes, rather than Cable's more assured performance. The Liberal Democrats can expect a lot of jokes made at their expense over the next 24 hours.

The party is in the big league now, and can't afford to make simple errors like this - baby or no baby. Local income tax is neither a new policy nor particularly complicated. No Liberal Democrat candidate, least of all the party leader, should be ignorant of it.

Just as well I briefed Lembit then!
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