Clegg renews his push for a mansion tax

The Deputy PM warns that coalition support will fade if the rich are not targeted.

It's Nick Clegg's turn to pitch his tent on the increasingly congested terrain of "responsible capitalism" today. As I write, Clegg is delivering a speech at Mansion House in which he makes a distinctively liberal argument for reforming the market. Calling for workers to be given the right to request shares in the companies they work for, he argues:

John Stuart Mill hoped that employee-owned firms could end what he called the 'standing feud between capital and labour'. And liberals have been championing it ever since. We don't believe our problem is too much capitalism: we think it's that too few people have capital. We need more individuals to have a real stake in their firms.

Encouragingly, we also learn this morning that the Deputy PM has renewed his push for George Osborne to adopt some form of property tax. There's no chance of the Chancellor adopting a "mansion tax" immediately, not least because the 50p tax rate will now remain for the duration of the parliament, but it's possible that he will set up a review to look at raising more from the rich by shifting the burden of tax from income to wealth and act to reduce stamp duty avoidance.

As NS editor Jason Cowley argued in a October 2010 cover story ("The coming battle over land and property"), there is a strong meritocratic argument for heavier taxation of unearned wealth (inheritance, property and land) and lighter taxation of earned income. Property taxes are harder to avoid than those on income (you can't move a mansion to Geneva) and reduce the distorting effect that property speculation has on the economy. For the psephologically minded, it's worth noting that high-end property taxes are popular. A recent YouGov poll found that 63 per cent of the public, including 56 per cent of Tories, support a mansion tax, with just 27 per cent opposed.

Clegg's warning that public support for the coalition's deficit reduction programme could fade unless the rich shoulder more of the burden is a prescient one. Those who have benefited immensely, through little effort of their own, from the dramatic rise in house prices over the last decade are an obvious target. Labour, which has been curiously absent from this debate, should not miss a rare opportunity to make common cause with the Lib Dems.

Update: In the Q&A session following his speech, Clegg played down hopes of a mansion tax - "I lead a party with eight per cent of MPs in parliament" - but said he still hopes for "progress" in this area.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.