Nick Clegg on mansion tax, his leadership and that video

"I will not flinch" says the Lib Dem leader

On the Andrew Marr show this morning, Nick Clegg was forced to watch himself make that now-infamous video apology. Explaining his reasons for making the film, he said that he "just wanted to make the apology in a simple and direct way" and that though the "Westminster village [is] always cynical about these things... sometimes the right thing to do is to say sorry". He conceded that some of the parodies were "amusing" but hit out at Ed Balls for never apologising for cosying up to the banks, and Labour for never apologising for taking the country into an "illegal war" in Iraq: "I know what I'm doing is unusual... I'm waiting for some apologies for some pretty big things from the Labour Party."

On the main theme for the Lib Dem conference, "Fairer taxes for hard times", Clegg said it was important to have a debate now about the principles of the economy during a period of "belt-tightening": "you should start at the top and work down not start at the bottom and work up... Let's make sure we do this as fairly as possible." When Andrew Marr asked if he was specifically suggesting a mansion tax, Clegg said: "I believe in a mansion tax... I can't understand how anyone thinks it's ok for an oligarch living in a £3m house in London that you pay the same council tax" as someone living in a smaller house next door.

When asked if he could possibly persuade George Osborne and the Tories to implement such a policy, Clegg said: "I've already persuaded Conservatives to increase capital gains tax, increase stamp duty and clamp down on tax avoidance." The risk, of course, is that Clegg breaks another promise if doesn't deliver. When pinned by Marr on identifying one clear tax increase on the wealthy, Clegg sidestepped naming a specific policy and instead emphasised the measures already in place. However he did state that the Lib Dems "will not accept a new wave of fiscal retrenchment without asking the people at the top to make their contribution."

As for his "much speculated upon" future as party leader, Clegg said, "Yes there are anxieties, there are concerns... but there is extraordinary resilience and unity" within the party. Asked if there was no chance that he would quit as party leader, he said that you could not quit halfway up the mountain, just as the going got difficult. "I'm not going to flinch," he said.

Leader of the Lib Dems, Nick Clegg. Credit: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.