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Stephen Tall is the Co-Editor of LibDem Voice. Follow Stephen on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-09-09 at 19.35.40The
first time I wrote for ConservativeHome, in
March 2012, I asked the simple question, “Why don’t people like me
vote Conservative?”

"I
dislike big government, and support a low-tax, free enterprise economy. I
believe competition is a key driver of public service reform, and am relaxed
about private sector involvement in the delivery of health and education so
long as the principle of "free to all at the point of use" prevails.
And I think the state has no business intruding into our private lives, whether
to keep tabs on citizens or to legislate against our lifestyle choices. I
should be the sort of voter a modern Conservative Party would want to appeal
to. And yet to me, and to many who share the same principles, the idea of
voting for the Tories is completely off-limits. Why?"

I
want to return to that question. I’m an economic and social liberal. For me, the
(in)famous Rose Garden press conference in May 2010 was a genuinely exciting
political event. Written off today as a moment of madness, for me it showed the
radical possibilities of coalition government, bringing together two different
parties with enough of a shared agenda. Read the original Programme
for Government
 and the scope of its ambition still impresses.

But
we all know what happened next. Buffeted by events, not least the worst
economic downturn in a century, the Coalition’s founding purpose has drifted.
Activists in both parties will shed few tears if it dies a death in 2015.


The
voters may, of course, have different ideas and deliver a second
we-don’t-trust-any-of-you verdict that forces a second Coalition. Even if that
happens, though, a second coalition will likely be a duller, more cautious
contract, dictated more by transactional ‘red lines’ cancelling out each
other’s pet projects/hates than by the original, wide-eyed potential of what
could be achieved in partnership.

So
what follows is a wish-list, written by a market liberal who’d welcome working
in coalition with liberal Conservatives (and indeed any liberal Labourites who
still exist). Some may happen. Most won’t. But if they did you might find more
people like me willing to lend the Conservatives their vote next time round…

1.
Focus on tax-cuts for the low-paid (and forget the marriage tax
allowance)

The
next election will be dominated by living standards. One of the most potent
arguments the Coalition can make is that it has put its money where its mouth
is by focusing tax-cuts on the low-paid. In that first ConHome article, 18
months ago, I said I was “baffled” the Conservatives hadn’t tried harder to
identify themselves more with the Lib Dem policy of increasing the income tax
threshold to £10k
. Clearly
they took my words to heart.  And yet, as
I noted in my column here a couple of months ago, the Conservatives
seem set once again to cede the advantage back to the Lib Dems by turning their
attention instead to the tax-break for married couples slammed
by the Institute of Fiscal Studies as ‘complicated, confusing and
untransparent’. We should continue instead to lift personal taxes until they
reach at least the minimum wage and end the 'boondoggle' of the state taking
taxes off the lowest-paid with one hand and giving it back in benefits with the
other.

2.
We should be unashamedly pro-immigration

Of
all my wish-list, this is the most cat-in-hell’s-chance of happening. Though
Conservatives (and Ukippers) feign support for a free market economy, that gets
forgotten the moment free movement of labour is mentioned. Heck, even my party,
the supposed home of liberalism, has
decided there are more votes in pandering to the Daily Mail. As
Jonathan Portes has pointed
out before: we know "that immigration is good for the public finances
in both the short and long run. We know that there is little evidence that
immigration impacts negatively on jobs or wages; we know that immigrants are
much less likely to claim benefits, and that they overall make less than
proportionate use of public services like health". But regard for facts has
long since been sacrificed: easier for politicians to chase the “I’m not racist
but…” vote.

3.
Build new houses but compensate local people for development

Though
everyone claims they’re not NIMBYs, not-in-my-back-yardism ism is perfectly
rational. For most of us, our home is the most expensive purchase we’ll ever
make: why be surprised if local people oppose developments which may reduce its
value? Yet we also know there is a housing shortage in some parts of the country.
We need to find a market solution to this – one that recognises Labour-style
top-down diktats don’t work, but which doesn’t object to any and every attempt
to build on land that happens to be green. A range of liberal measures have
been proposed, from community
land auctions
 to land
value taxes
. Will they prove popular enough? Honestly, I don’t know.
But we have to break the impasse which is pricing so many people out of decent,
affordable housing.

4.
End pensioners’ perks

Ah,
that pledge! No, not Nick Clegg’s, the other one: David
Cameron’s pledge
 to protect universal pensioner benefits. “We will
keep the free television licence, we will keep the pension credit, the winter
fuel allowance and the free bus pass. Those letters you’ve been getting from
Labour are pure and simple lies … They make me really very, very, angry.” David
Cameron’s defensive outburst in the 2010 televised general election debates has
boxed the Prime Minister into a corner. While preaching ‘we’re all in it
together’ austerity, he finds himself in the awkward position of defending the
fact that 988,000 millionaire pensioners receive a tax-free winter fuel
allowance. No more. Taxes should be re-distributed on the basis of need.

5.
Promote civil liberties in Government not just in Opposition

Civil
liberties was the issue that brought the Conservatives and Lib Dems together
during the 2005-10 parliament. Then David Davis resigned as shadow home secretary
and was replaced with ever more authoritarian figures, culminating in Theresa
May. That regression has combined with the natural tendency of governments to
make a grab for ever more state power: ‘secret courts’ have been extended while
William Hague has resorted
to that tired cliché, “If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to
fear.” (To which my standard response is, “Fine: can I see your internet
browsing history then, please?”) My party has ridden to the rescue a few times
– for instance, torpedoing the ‘snooper’s charter’ – but we’ve not always
succeeded (and, to be honest, the leadership hasn’t always tried very hard).
Civil liberties – protecting the individual against an over-might state – isn’t
just for Opposition.

6.
In Europe to reform Europe

I am
pro-European. I am, broadly speaking, pro-EU. But the Lib Dems have always
championed a reformed EU. An EU which is more responsive to democratic opinion.
An EU which liberalises the free movement of people and trade while tackling
the problems we share, such as environmental pollution and crime. That is the
positive version of the EU I want market liberals to advocate. As it happens, I
think that liberal Conservative David Cameron wants pretty much the same – which
leaves me with a bit of a dilemma. Do I want the UK to remain a member of the
EU? Yes. Do I want the Conservatives to lose their Europhobe nut-job
contingent? Yes. Logically, as
I've argued before, there is only one possible way for me to vote in
2015: Conservative.

7.
Support liberal interventionism abroad

On
Syria, I was far from convinced by the Government’s case that a military
intervention could hope to make things better, not worse. I believed more time
was needed to exhaust efforts within the UN, to mobilise support among the Arab
League, to plan a plausible exit strategy. But I am an internationalist and a
supporter of liberal interventionism and I found the somnambulant decision by
our MPs to rule out any future involvement was shaming. The alliance of
hard-left “America’s the real evil” conspiracy theorists and right-wing
“there’s no British national interest here” isolationists laid down the
gauntlet to those of us who believe that sticking up for the oppressed doesn’t
stop at national borders.

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