Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Left Foot Forward shows its bias

When Will Straw first set up Left Foot Forward in 2009 he asked me to be a part of the inaugural team of contributors with a particular focus on drugs policy and electoral reform. Having learned all about how LFF was to be an evidence based blog with a left-leaning agenda I was happy to be a part of it although over the last few years I drifted away from contributing.

I was however somewhat irked in 2010 when LFF published a number of pieces relating to research done by Tim Horton of the Fabians and Howard Reed of Landman economics which did its best to try and comprehensively destroy the argument for the Lib Dem £10K tax rate funded by a mansion tax. Their arguments were that it did nothing to help the very poorest (because they pay no tax), only around £1 billion out of £17 billion goes to the lowest earners, households in the second richest decile did better than the poorest and that overall it would increase socially damaging inequalites.

Despite lots of people arguing in the comments (which I cannot currently locate) that they were missing the point, that the change was essentially progressive and had lots of good aspects to it, especially the mansion tax aspect the LFF editorship seemed to have no truck with this. I was particularly irritated because I suspected that had Labour announced a similar policy they would have given it a much fairer wind. Of course I had no proof of this so I let it lie.

Then today, Ed Miliband announces a plan to reintroduce the 10p tax rate for low earners paid for by, yes you've guessed it, a mansion tax. This is very similar to lifting low earners out of tax. There are of course some differences and I would argue that a higher starting rate is even more progressive (as this analysis suggests) but they are close policy stablemates. And the mansion tax seems pretty much identical to how the Lib Dems wanted to fund their policy. So you would have expected LFF to come out dead against it straight away, exactly like they did when they published their "Think again Nick!" analysis on the £10K rate and mansion tax.

Not a bit of it. The first piece they have published on this subject is this post which highlights the 5 reasons why progressives should support the mansion tax. They also praise Ed Miliband for his "differentiation" on 10p with Gordon Brown.

I tweeted about this pointing out their hypocrisy. To be fair they did tweet back saying they would be publishing a piece later highlighting some of the problems with the 10p rate. But that doesn't change the fact that their initial reaction was to be broadly supportive of policies that three years ago when proposed by a party that is not Labour they were arguing against using analysis resources to explain why. There was no balanced argument back then, just attack, even naming the pamphlet in a way that seemed like a campaign targeting the leader of the party proposing it.

I have no problem if Left Foot Forward wants to be biased towards the Labour party. But if that's what they are going to do they need to be open about it rather than claim to be "evidence based" when they are actually actively looking for evidence to support Labour and to attack Labour's opponents.


Anonymous said...

Left Foot Forwards have consistently ignored my comments where I pointed out that "evidence" seemed to show the UK government was close to perfect up until May 2010. Whereas "evidence" immediately after this date showed that the our government was entirely useless.

Evidence seems to be quite a fickle beast........

Anonymous said...

LFF is a pile of ole shite and I don't know why anybody would visit the site.

Anonymous said...

I think your memory must be playing tricks when you speak of the Lib Dems proposing to fund the raising of the income tax allowance to £10,000 from the mansion tax. On the party's own estimate the mansion tax would have raised only £1.7bn - perhaps a tenth of the cost of income tax cut. Other estimates of the mansion tax yield were significantly lower. Either way most of the money for tax cuts would have had to come from other sources.

John K said...

Politiicans don't want evidence based policy; they want policy-based evidence...

James Bloodworth said...

Hi Mark,

It's not really hypocrisy so much as a change of personal. I'm now editing LFF and I do believe that a mansion tax is progressive.

That is now LFF's 'line' if you like, and had I been editing the blog when the Lib Dems proposed the mansion tax I would probably have supported it as policy.

If you re-visit 'Five reasons progressives should support a mansion tax' post you will see that someone associated with the original report attacking the mansion tax is having a go at me.

Anyway, I just wanted to point out that it wasn't a party political thing. I support the idea of a mansion tax. Where the money goes after that I am a little more open to persuasion.

Btw Mark, if you'd like to write something for LFF on the issue (or on other issues) feel free to drop us an email.

James Bloodworth

Mark Thompson said...

Hi James

Thank you for taking the time to respond and engaging with my comments. I appreciate it.

You make a fair point about the change in editorship so on that score we'll have to wait and see.

However I have to say it isn't just this instance that has me concerned. There seems to me to be an ongoing, low level perhaps even unconscious bias against the Lib Dems on the site. For example you will report on Labour shadow cabinet members attacking Lib Dems and sometimes those reports almost feel like they could be on a Labour leaflet going through people's doors.

Now perhaps sometimes those attacks are justified from a "progressive" perspective but there are so many of them that in the end it just feels like partisanship.

A good example of this is recently after the vote on equal marriage where you chose Sarah Teather as your "regressive of the week" for voting against it. I am not happy with Teather either on this and have said so publicly and repeatedly. But you had 4 Lib Dem MPs to choose from who voted against and 22 Labour MPs who voted against. Yet you still chose a Lib Dem to highlight. I'm afraid that really does feel like bias. At the very least you could have chosen a Labour MP as well and made them "joint regressives of the week" or something. I can't be sure but I think this was since you took over editorship of LFF.

But on your general point I'll take you at your word and I look forward to more balanced coverage when Lib Dems announce policies in future!



Anonymous said...

Sorry, if it's "evidence based" what does a change in editorship matter?

I only visited the site once a year or so ago, didn't take me a minute for the labour bias to make me close it.

Load of biased rubbish, welcome to yesterdays news.

Unknown said...

I had quite a lot of contact with LFF while Director of the Social Liberal Forum (2011/12) and on the whole didn't feel at all that editorial policy was pro-Labour tribalist; they came across as genuinely broad-church progressive. They don't like neo-Libs pretending to be progressive, but then....? Much of the readership may be less open-minded, however.