Thursday, May 26, 2005
Only a policy
It has been obvious for almost a year that the nascent ideological dispute within the Liberal Democrats would finally burst out as soon as the general election campaign was over.
What is odd is that this dispute should manifest itself in an argument about local income tax (see my earlier postings on 23 May, 24 May and 26 May).
The election was scarcely over before the right-wing ginger group Liberal Future began spinning to the media that the election result was "disappointing" because the Liberal Democrats were "too left wing". The policy cited in evidence of this claim was local income tax, but it turned out to be a poor choice of battlefield.
Judging by the media coverage this week, it would appear that the party's right-wing has lost this particular argument. Instead, it has provoked the party's leadership (following a period of wobbling) into rallying around this policy, so much so that local income tax cannot now be abandoned without a serious loss of face.
The Lib Dem MPs who openly criticised local income tax were foolish to make this policy the target of their attacks. However, the party's left would be equally foolish to turn local income tax into some sort of totem.
It is values, not policies, that are of enduring importance, otherwise we would still be arguing about the party line on the Corn Laws and the Relief of Mafeking. Local income tax is only a policy - let's keep it in perspective.