Failing to vote for a mansion tax would be another Lib Dem betrayal

The Lib Dems have a simple choice – either they back their flagship policy by voting for Labour's motion or they don’t.

The Lib Dems have repeatedly said they support a mansion tax. Today they have a chance to vote for one.

This isn’t just a bygone pledge from their now notorious 2010 manifesto. Nick Clegg has made it the centrepiece of his leadership in the last few weeks. Kicking off the Eastleigh by-election last month, he called for "taxes on mansions, tax cuts for millions".

He said: "the mansion tax is an idea whose time has come" and that opponents of it should "join with the Liberal Democrats and the chorus of voices seeking to make our tax system fair." So it would be astonishing if Nick Clegg and his MPs today failed to back a straightforward motion supporting their long-held policy of a mansion tax on properties over £2m.

As Vince Cable himself said: "If it is purely a statement of support for the principle of a mansion tax, I'm sure my colleagues would want to support it."

And that's exactly the motion we tabled last Friday:

That this House believes that a mansion tax on properties worth over £2million, to fund a tax cut for millions of people on middle and low incomes, should be part of a fair tax system and calls on the Government to bring forward proposals at the earliest opportunity.

Is there anything in this motion that Liberal Democrat MPs disagree with? Asked this very question by Andrew Neil, the Lib Dem party president, Tim Farron, said: "none of it." And as Vince Cable’s friend Lord Oakeshott said last month: "If they [Labour] move a core Liberal Democrat flagship policy like that why wouldn’t Liberal Democrat MPs support it?"

That is a question every Lib Dem MP should ask themselves today. Because the government amendment today in the name of the Prime Minister is pure political fudge - it simply notes that "parts of the coalition" support a mansion tax and others don't.

So Liberal Democrat MPs shouldn't kid themselves that voting for David Cameron's amendment means they have voted for a mansion tax or done anything to help secure one. The Lib Dems have a simple choice – either they back their flagship policy by voting for today's motion or they don’t. No amount of wriggling or contortion can get them out of that simple choice.

At a time when the flatlining economy, cuts to tax credits and higher VAT means millions of working people are seeing their incomes squeezed like never before, there is a clear case for asking the wealthiest to make a greater contribution.

And Labour believes the funds raised should be used to introduce a new lower 10p starting rate of tax - putting right a mistake made by the last government. This would mean a tax cut for 25 million people on middle and modest incomes struggling with the rising cost of living.

After supporting a Tory tax cut for millionaires, a failing economic plan, a VAT rise and a trebling of tuition fees, we will judge the Lib Dems on what they do, not what they say.

Chris Leslie is Labour's shadow financial secretary to the Treasury

Nick Clegg makes his keynote speech at the Liberal Democrat spring conference on March 10, 2013 in Brighton. Photograph: Getty Images.

Chris Leslie is chair of Labour’s backbench Treasury Committee and was shadow Chancellor in 2015. 

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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