Sunday 7 December 2008

LibDem donor quits over tax policy tiff

Not many people in politics, outside the House of Lords or the Liberal Democrat party, will have heard of Lord Jacobs of Belgravia, though both learner drivers and fans of baked potatoes may owe him a greater debt than they realise.

But the news that the LibDems largest (legal) donor is quitting the party will be a blow to Nick Clegg, in the week of his first anniversary as party leader.

Sam Coates of The Times, who has broken the story, also comments on the Red Box blog that "he is quitting over policy rather than personality - and in particular Team Clegg's failure to implement his detailed plans".

If that is the cause, this may simply exemplify that the wealth of large donors does not necessarily give them the level of strategic and policy genius that Jacobs clearly believes he possesses.

The Times report his view that:

Mr Clegg and Vince Cable “feel society wants the rich to pay more, whereas I’m arguing the rich could pay less provided the poorest pay nothing or very little indeed.”

Brilliant! Lower taxes all round. Why hasn't anybody else thought of that before? Jacobs is also keen to stress his progressive, rather than "regressive" principles, but this must be a blast from the "slash spending massively" school of progressive politics (without telling us where the reductions will fall). Cutting out "waste" perhaps?

Ironically, Nick Clegg is much more sympathetic to that argument than any of his recent predecessors. So it does seem rather erratic for Jacobs, reported to have been an active Liberal since 1972, to argue that Paddy Ashdown was "great" and to apparently be an enthusiastic supporter of the party when they were an explicitly higher spending and higher tax party, playing a valuable role in keeping the argument about a higher top rate open.

A major donor quitting because he has failed to get his way on tax policy would not go down well in any party. Given that Jacobs' is very much a minority view of tax policy in his party, the content and style of this departure may strike many LibDem members as particularly egregious.

There is also a suggestion that Jacobs could yet join one of the other major parties. The Tory modernisers have put a great deal of effort, and made quite a lot of noise, about the possibility of parliamentary defections, but have come up pretty empty. Perhaps they might have a shot here - except that Jacobs' views sound rather more like those of the Tory grassroots than the leadership.

UPDATE: The Times also has a resignation letter. I rather approve of the sharply worded riposte from the leadership.

1 comment:

GoodLiberal said...

Well done, Nick Clegg. It is about time that we started thinking of taxpayer-funded parties. If we value democracy, we should be prepared to pay for it. Funding based on votes at the last election with a small cap for matched donations (£10,000?). No to continued vested interests of trades union, big business and wealth donors.