Danny Alexander rules out cut to 50p tax rate

The Lib Dem minister says government is not going to "shift our priority to reducing the tax burden

Danny Alexander has said that the government does not want to reduce the top tax rate, saying that anyone advocating a cut in the 50p tax rate was "living in cloud cuckoo land".

This follows calls by Boris Johnson and the former chancellor, Norman Lamont, to scrap the rate. Lamont said yesterday that taxes needed to be cut to make Britain as competitive as other European countries.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show this morning, Alexander was unequivocal:

We set out in the Coalition agreement, and it's something that we as Liberal Democrats pushed very hard for, that the Government's first priority in tax reductions would be tax cuts for people on low and middle incomes. Those very families who are working hard to try and make ends meet. Anyone who thinks we're going to shift our priority to reducing the tax burden for the wealthiest has got another think coming.

It's another clear statement of Lib Dem identity by a senior minister, and will draw ire from elements of the Tory backbench, who oppose the high rate. It also marks a departure from George Osborne's line, which has always been that the 50p rate is a temporary measure. The Chancellor said in the Budget earlier this year that high personal tax rates "crush enterprise, undermine aspiration and often undermine tax revenues as people avoid them", but refused to be drawn on when the 50p rate would be brought down.

Osborne is instinctively a low tax Conservative, and if his hands were not tied by the deficit reduction programme, it is likely he would have brought the rate down by now. It has been reported that the 50p rate could be scrapped in 2013, which would seem to go against Alexander's implication that it is being retained for ideological reasons. Either way, it is not going anywhere soon.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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“It was like a religious ceremony”: What happened at Big Ben’s final bong?

Both inside and outside Parliament, people gathered to hear the clock’s final midday chime before undergoing repairs.

“It’s just hacks everywhere,” a photographer sighs, jamming his lens through a gap in Parliament’s railings to try and get a closer look.

New Palace Yard, Parliament’s courtyard directly below Big Ben, is filling with amused-looking journalists, waiting for the MPs who have promised to hold a “silent vigil”, heads bowed, to mark Big Ben’s final chime before four years of silence while the tower’s repaired.

About four of them turn up. Two by accident.

It’s five minutes to twelve. Tourists are gathering outside Westminster Tube, as tourists do best. A bigger crowd fills Parliament Square. More people than expected congregate outside, even if it’s the opposite within the Palace. The world and his phone are gazing up at the sad, resigned clock face.


“It’s quite controversial, isn’t it?” one elderly woman in an anorak asks her friend. They shrug and walk off. “Do you know what is this?” an Italian tourist politely asks the tiny press pack, gesturing to the courtyard. No one replies. It’s a good question.

“This is the last time,” says another tourist, elated, Instagram-poised.

“DING DONG DING DONG,” the old bell begins.

Heads down, phones up.


It finishes the on-the-hour tune for the last time, and then gives its much-anticipated resignation statement:

“BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG.”

Applause, cheers, and even some tears.


But while the silly-seasoned journalists snigger, the crowd is enthusiastic.

“It’s quite emotional,” says David Lear, a 52-year-old carer from Essex, who came up to London today with his work and waited 45 minutes beneath Big Ben to hear it chime.

He feels “very, very sad” that the bell is falling silent, and finds the MPs’ vigil respectful. “I think lots of people feel quite strongly about it. I don’t know why they’re doing it. During the war it carries on, and then they turn it off for a health and safety reason.”

“I don’t know why they can’t have some speakers half way down it and just play the chime,” he adds. “So many tourists come especially to listen to the chime, they gather round here, getting ready for it to go – and they’re going to switch it off. It’s crazy.”

Indeed, most of the surrounding crowd appears to be made up of tourists. “I think that it was gorgeous, because I’ve never heard him,” smiles Cora, an 18-year-old German tourist. “It was a great experience.”

An Australian couple in their sixties called Jane and Gary are visiting London for a week. “It was like a religious ceremony, everybody went quiet,” laughs Gary. “I hope they don’t forget where they put the keys to start it again in four years’ time.”

“When we first got here, the first thing we did was come to see it,” adds Jane, who is also positive about the MPs who turned up to watch. “I think it’s good they showed a bit of respect. Because they don’t usually show much respect, do they?”

And, as MPs mouthing off about Big Ben are challenged on their contrasting reactions to Grenfell, that is precisely the problem with an otherwise innocent show of sentimentality.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.