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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Does the UK care enough about climate change to admit it is part of the problem?

The government’s energy policies make can make it hard to decipher its commitment to emissions reduction.

“People tell me it’s ridiculous to be flying for a climate change project but you have to get real with it, I mean I can’t cycle across the Southern ocean,” says Daniel Price, an environmental scientist from London. As founder of Pole-to-Paris, Price is about to complete a 17,000km bike ride from the Antarctic to the Arc de Triomphe.

Price came up with the idea in an effort to raise public awareness of COP21, the UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Paris next week. During the trip he’s faced a succession of set-backs: from the discovery that boats were prohibitively expensive, to diplomatic tensions scuppering his Russian visa plans. Yet the darkest moments were when he became overwhelmed by the magnitude of his own mission. “There were difficult times when I just thought, ‘What is the point of this’?” he says. “Cycling round the world is nowhere near enough to engage people.” 

As world leaders descend on Paris, many questions remain unanswered. Not least how much support developing nations will receive in tackling the effects of climate change. New research commissioned by Oxfam claims that such costs could rise to £1.7tn a year by 2050. But with cuts kicking in at home, the need to deliver “climate justice” abroad feels like a bigger ask than ever.

So does Britain really care enough about climate change to accept its full part in this burden? The government’s energy policies make can make it hard to decipher its commitment to emissions reduction. In September, however, it did pledge £5.8bn from the foreign aid fund to helping poorer nations combat climate change (twice that promised by China and the United States). And there’s evidence to suggest that we, as a public, may also care more than we think.

In America attitudes are much darker; in the dismissive words of Donald Trump “It’s called the weather”. Not least since, as a recent study proves, over the last twenty years corporations have systematically spread scepticism about the science. “The contrarian efforts have been so effective," says the author Justin Farrell, a Yale sociologist, "that they have made it difficult for ordinary Americans to even know who to trust.” 

And what about in China, the earth's biggest polluter? Single-party rule and the resulting lack of public discussion would seem to be favouring action on the environment. The government has recently promised to reach "peak" emissions by 2030, to quadruple solar installations, and to commit $3.1bn to help low-income countries adapt to the changing world. Christiana Figueres, the UN’s chief climate official, has even lauded the country for taking “undisputed leadership” on climate change mitigation.

Yet this surge of policy could mask the most troubling reality of all: that, when it comes to climate change, the Chinese are the least concerned citizenship in the world. Only 18 per cent of Chinese see the issue as a very serious problem, down 23 percentage points from five years ago, and 36 points behind the global median.

A new study by political economist Dr Alex Lo has concluded that the country’s reduced political debate could be to blame for the lack of concern. “In China popular environmentalism is biased towards immediate environmental threats”, such as desertification and pollution, Lo writes, “giving little impetus to a morally driven climate change movement”.

For the international community, all is well and good as long as the Chinese government continues along its current trajectory. But without an engaged public to hold it to account there’s always a chance its promises may fade into thin air.

So perhaps the UK’s tendency to moan about how hard it is to care about the (seemingly) remote impacts of climate change isn’t all bad. At least we know it is something worth moaning about. And perhaps we care more than we let on to each other.

Statistics published this summer by the Department of Energy and Climate Change reveal that three quarters of the British public support subsidies for renewable energy, despite only 10 per cent thinking that the figure is that high. “Even if the public think the consensus is not there, there are encouraging signs that it is,” says Liz Callegari, Head of Campaigns at WWF. “Concern for climate change is growing.”

As Price puts it, “You can think of climate change as this kind of marathon effort that we have to address and in Paris we just have to get people walking across the start line together”. Maybe then we will all be ready to run.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.