When Nick Clegg was first elected as leader, he announced a new tax policy – to reduce the % paid from 20% to 16%. The policy was duly passed at the 2008 Conference. Another delegate mentioned to me that he would prefer to see the Income Tax threshold raised taking the lowest paid out of tax ‘Too late now’ he said. I took it as a challenge and looked for a way of changing tax policy. I didn’t have to wait long. Jo Swinson MP sent an email to WLD asking for policy ideas for the Manifesto Day at the LSE in January. Soon after, I attended my local Regional Conference and met Vince Cable. I asked him if there was any reason the income tax threshold couldn’t be raised to the level of the minimum wage. ‘Ah’ he said ‘That’s my ultimate dream’. I suggested to WLD that I look at this and they agreed. As an MP, Jo had access to the costings figures and she agreed to ask the Treasury questions on my behalf. I prepared a set of proposals looking at how far we could raise the threshold. Raising it to the level of the then minimum wage – £11,552, would cost £29bn.
On the Manifesto Day, we were surprised by the number of MPs who came along to our discussion group as they wanted to support us. We had a several discussion groups, but they all reported back with the same decision – we should raise the income tax threshold to the level of the minimum wage. I had a photo op with Nick Clegg and introduced myself, admitting that my tax policy was in opposition to his. I was taken aback when Nick said he was supporting my proposal as it would help much more people than his. Suddenly I realised we were onto winner.
I wrote a policy motion, calling for the income tax threshold to be raised to the level of the National Minimum Wage and in May, WLD, along with several local parties submitted it for discussion at the 2009 Autumn Conference. In July, I was astonished to see Nick Clegg on the news, announcing the Lib Dems new tax policy – the first £10k earned would be tax free. I’d succeeded. Lib Dem tax policy had been changed. It was so popular I hoped that whoever won the General Election would implement the policy. I didn’t expect that the Lib Dems would have that opportunity, but we did. The next challenge is to get the threshold raised to the level of the NMW and to get it pegged there and we will have permanently improved the income of the lowest paid in Britain as well as putting money back in the pockets of 26 million.
To quote Margaret Mead – Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.
Originally published in Lib Dem Voice.