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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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.