Osborne torpedos Clegg's wealth tax

Chancellor says proposed tax would "drive away the wealth creators and the businesses".

The submarine Chancellor has risen to torpedo Nick Clegg's proposed wealth tax. In his first broadcast interview since returning from holiday, George Osborne told ITV: "I am clear that the wealthy should pay more which is why in the recent budget I increased the tax on very expensive property transactions. But we also have to be careful as a country we don’t drive away the wealth creators and the businesses that are going to lead our economic recovery." In other words, it's a non-starter.

Osborne's stance is short-sighted. As I wrote earlier, taxes on wealth are both more progressive and economically beneficial than those on income. By shifting investment away from unproductive assets and into wealth-creating industries, they can increase growth (something the British economy conspicuously lacks), rather than reduce it (as taxes on consumpation and income do). For the Tories, who cannot afford to be seen as the party of the rich in an age of austerity, heavier taxation of wealth also makes political sense. As ConservativeHome editor Tim Montgomerie argued this morning:

A reasonable wealth tax can be used by the Conservative Party to signal that we are not the party of the privileged and already propertied in the South East but also the party of the young northern entrepreneur or homebuyer who is starting out in life. More taxes on mansion owners in the south to fund less taxes on younger people starting out in life. If the Conservative Party embraces such a policy it's the nearest thing we have to a Clause IV moment

But Osborne, wedded to conservative dogma, is still unwilling to recognise as much.

George Osborne warned that a wealth tax risked "driving business away". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.