Why the budget shows good politics for the Lib Dems: breaking Westminster rules and sticking to the political golden rules worked

The Lib Dems tried to call the budget a ‘robin hood’ budget. If you said that to a member of the public today they would probably laugh in your face for the public perception is the exact opposite, whether this is true or not. But what has happened following the budget shows why the rules of Westminster do not work for the Lib Dems while sticking to the golden rule of politics does.

For all the complaints about New Labour and the spin machine, modern politics is still very much about spin. The Lib Dems attempt at calling the budget a ‘robin hood’ budget was the party trying to use the tried and tested methods of the larger political parties to gain air time in the press and gain credit within it. The fact that the public see this budget as a millionaires budget shows how our political spin machine just doesn’t work.

However, we should also ask why it is that the Lib Dems have not only stayed out of the firing line in the fall out from this budget but gained some praise. The Guardian reported the budget was a ‘victory for the Lib Dems’ and that they were ‘wiser than they were in the early days‘ while the Daily Mail reported that this ‘Conservative Prime Minister and his Conservative Chancellor produced a Lib Dem Budget’.

Some of the more contentious issues such as the so called granny tax, pasty tax and charity tax have resulted in the support of the Independent and not only the Guardian but also Polly Toynbee of all people. In other budgets it could well have been the Lib Dems who were in the firing line, so perhaps we should ask why this is not the case.

There have been many complaints that there were too many leaks and that this was the fault of the Lib Dems. It has annoyed Tory ministers and MPs. This is not how to run a government they complain. But these Westminster rules on how to run a government have not done us many favours and by doing something different this time, it did. The Lib Dems set out their stall early: further and faster on raising the income tax threshold, a tycoon tax, a mansion tax. This message was repeated and repeated and the necessary arguments within the party were had before budget day e.g. lowering the 50p tax rate. When budget day came everyone knew what was a Lib Dem measure and what wasn’t.

The so called charity tax pretty much stemmed from the Lib Dem proposal for a tycoon tax (a minimum amount of tax) and so as we had argued for this it was not a shock to potential Lib Dem voters. However, it was a shock to Tory supporters who didn’t see it coming. People knew the raise in tax threshold needed to be paid for and the hard choices were easier to understand for Lib Dem supporters than Tory ones. By leaking information, making our case known, and repeating this might not be seen as normal procedure for a government, but it delivered more of what the party wanted and there was less bad press towards the party as a result.

There is a golden rule in politics: no shocks and no surprises. By doing this, the party made sure there were no shocks and no surprises for Lib Dem voters. The Tories didn’t stick by this rule though and look how much trouble they are in. We have broken this rule too many times in this parliament and so we should understand it better than they do. If we want to survive this Coalition, we need to show people that we are true to what we say we are and make sure there are as few shocks and surprises as possible. It may not have been a good budget but it was good politics from the Lib Dems.

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