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.

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Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.