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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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.