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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Jeremy Corbyn secures big victory on Labour's national executive committee

The NEC has approved rule changes which all-but-guarantee the presence of a Corbynite candidate on the ballot. 

Jeremy Corbyn has secured a major victory after Labour’s ruling executive voted approve a series of rule changes, including lowering the parliamentary threshold for nominating a leader of the Labour party from 15 per cent to 10 per cent. That means that in the event of a leadership election occurring before March 2019, the number of MPs and MEPs required to support a candidate’s bid would drop to 28. After March 2019, there will no longer be any Labour MEPs and the threshold would therefore drop to 26.

As far as the balance of power within the Labour Party goes, it is a further example of Corbyn’s transformed position after the electoral advance of June 2017. In practice, the 28 MP and MEP threshold is marginally easier to clear for the left than the lower threshold post-March 2019, as the party’s European contingent is slightly to the left of its Westminster counterpart. However, either number should be easily within the grasp of a Corbynite successor.

In addition, a review of the party’s democratic structures, likely to recommend a sweeping increase in the power of Labour activists, has been approved by the NEC, and both trade unions and ordinary members will be granted additional seats on the committee. Although the plans face ratification at conference, it is highly likely they will pass.

Participants described the meeting as a largely low-key affair, though Peter Willsman, a Corbynite, turned heads by saying that some of the party’s MPs “deserve to be attacked”. Willsman, a longtime representative of the membership, is usually a combative presence on the party’s executive, with one fellow Corbynite referring to him as an “embarrassment and a bore”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.