How progressive is this government?

The outcome of the CGT row may be an indicator.

My column in this week's magazine explores how "progressive" this new coalition government of "liberal Conservatives" and Liberal Democrats actually is. Progressive is, of course, a notoriously nebulous, woolly and, therefore, contested term.

My argument is that a progressive political philosophy has to be defined, at its core, by its attitude towards the poor and -- especially -- towards the gap between rich and poor, and the need to reduce that gap.

One of the more progressive measures suggested by the coalition government is the proposal to raise capital gains tax (CGT), currently set at 18 per cent on all gains above £10,100 a year, to a level closer to that of income tax -- potentially up to 40 or even 50 per cent.

To tax unearned income is essential to tackling inequalities in income and wealth. It is, therefore, an inherently progressive policy.

How else do do we know that it's progressive? Because David Davis and John Redwood are opposed to it.

But will the coalition buckle under pressure from the Thatcherite back benches? Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, has told BBC News that "it's not actually an argument between the coalition partners, as I understand it, it's an argument between a few Conservative backbenchers and others".

He also said:

It's very important that we have wealth taxed in the same way as income. At present it is quite wrong and it is an open invitation to tax avoidance to have people taxed at 40 per cent or potentially 50 per cent on their income, but only taxed at 18 per cent on capital gains. It leads to large-scale tax avoidance. So, for reasons of fairness and practicality, we have agreed that the capital gains tax system needs to be fundamentally reformed.

He's right, of course. But whether or not he -- and the other Liberal Democrats in this new government -- are able to stick to their guns on CGT, and resist the right-wingers, will be a crucial test of the coalition's progressive credentials.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.