Click for original image from the Liberal Democrats on Flickr
Click for original image provided by the Liberal Democrats

In his conference speech, Nick Clegg said,

The Conservatives, on the other hand, have made it clear that their priority is to help some families over others, with a tax break for married couples. A tax break for some, funded through the taxes of everybody else – that tells you everything you need to know about their values.

While making an argument in the Finance Bill Committee against tax privileges for favoured industries, I said,

We should not say, “Actually, everybody else will have to pay with a tax disadvantage to prop up a couple of industries that we favour.”

While Nick Clegg rejects benefitting some groups at the expense of all others in relation to marriage, Vince Cable is busy running an industrial policy which provides “a tax break for some, funded through the taxes of everybody else”. I object to it and I wish Vince agreed with Nick.

Too often, politicians like special privileges for favoured groups when it suits them instead of following some general rules about what is and what is not appropriate. It’s true my own Party thinks marriage is a good thing and I agree, although I don’t think a tiny tax break is a necessary, effective or appropriate use of the tax system. For Nick Clegg to imply that supporting marriage as an institution is in some way disreputable tells us a great deal about his values, particularly when he supports industrial policy contrary to the same principles.

Clegg is willing to cast honest disagreement as malicious intent or a sign of poor character and then seize the moral high ground he has manufactured, even when the same arguments apply to him and his Party in another context. It’s a clever political trick and we should see through it.

Government should stop fiddling with society and instead concentrate on serving the common good. Amongst other things, that requires relatively fixed institutions which treat everyone equally in so far as that is possible or desirable and equal treatment is usually both. It’s one thing to feed, clothe, educate and provide healthcare to those who would otherwise go without but it is quite another to take from everyone to give to whichever special interest group seems fit at the time.

Necessary compromise must mean complete consistency is too much to hope for in practical politics. Contradiction may indicate error in a formal proof but it’s increasingly clear to me why “hypocrisy” is a word not permitted in Parliament. We would tire of using it.

See also: Principles for a Free Society.

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