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.

Getty Images.
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As long as Jeremy Corbyn's Labour opponents are divided, he will rule

The leader's foes have yet to agree on when and how a challenge should take place.

Labour MPs began plotting to remove Jeremy Corbyn as leader before he even held the position. They have not stopped since. From the outset, most regarded him as electorally and morally defective. Nothing has caused them to relinquish this view.

A week before the first major elections of this parliament, Labour found itself conducting a debate normally confined to far-right internet forums: was Hitler a Zionist? For some MPs, the distress lay in how unsurprised they were by all this. Since Corbyn’s election last September, the party has become a mainstream venue for hitherto fringe discussions.

Many MPs believe that Labour will be incapable of rebuilding its standing among the Jewish community as long as Corbyn remains leader. In the 1930s, Jewish support for the party was as high as 80 per cent. “They handed you your . . . membership just after your circumcision,” quipped the father in the 1976 television play Bar Mitzvah Boy. By the time of the last general election, a poll found that support had fallen to a mere 22 per cent. It now stands at just 8.5 per cent.

Corbyn’s critics cite his typical rejection of anti-Semitism and "all forms of racism" (as if unable to condemn the former in isolation), his defence of a tweet sent by his brother, Piers (“Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for Palestine”), and his description of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”. The Lab­our leader dismissed the latter remark as a diplomatic nicety but such courtesy was not displayed when he addressed Labour Friends of Israel and failed to mention the country’s name. When challenged on his record of combating anti-Semitism, Corbyn frequently invokes his parents’ presence at the Battle of Cable Street, a reference that does not provide the reassurance intended. The Jewish community does not doubt that Labour has stood with it in the past. It questions whether it is prepared to stand with it in the present.

MPs say that Labour’s inept response to anti-Semitism has strengthened the moral case for challenging Corbyn. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of how the fear of “enormous reputational damage” had pushed him to the brink of resignation. As the New Statesman went to press, Corbyn’s first electoral test was looming. Every forecast showed the party on course to become the first opposition to lose council seats in a non-general-election year since 1985. Yet Corbyn appeared to insist on 3 May that this would not happen, gifting his opponents a benchmark by which to judge him.

Sadiq Khan was projected to become the party’s first successful London mayoral candidate since 2004. But having distanced himself from Corbyn throughout the race, he intends to deny him any credit if he wins. Regardless of the results on 5 May, there will be no challenge to the Labour leader before the EU referendum on 23 June. Many of the party’s most Corbyn-phobic MPs are also among its most Europhile. No cause, they stress, should distract from the defence of the UK’s 43-year EU membership.

Whether Corbyn should be challenged in the four weeks between the referendum and the summer recess is a matter of dispute among even his most committed opponents. Some contend that MPs have nothing to lose from trying and should be prepared to “grind him down” through multiple attempts, if necessary. Others fear that he would be empowered by winning a larger mandate than he did last September and argue that he must be given “longer to fail”. Still more hope that Corbyn will instigate a midterm handover to the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, his closest ally, whom they regard as a beatable opponent.

Those who are familiar with members’ thinking describe many as “anxious” and in need of “reassurance” but determined that Corbyn receives adequate time to “set out his stall”. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of being “caught between Scylla and Charybdis” – that is, “a Labour Party membership which is ardently Corbynista and a British electorate which is ardently anti-Corbynista”. In their most pessimistic moments, some MPs gloomily wonder which group will deselect them first. The possibility that a new Conservative leader could trigger an early general election is cited by some as cause for haste and by others as the only means by which Corbynism can be definitively discredited.

The enduring debate over whether the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged (the party’s rules are ambiguous) is dismissed by most as irrelevant. Shadow cabinet members believe that Corbyn would achieve the requisite nominations. Momentum, the Labour leader’s praetorian guard, has privately instructed its members to be prepared to lobby MPs for this purpose.

There is no agreement on who should face Corbyn if his removal is attempted. The veteran MP Margaret Hodge has been touted as a “stalking horse” to lead the charge before making way for a figure such as the former paratrooper Dan Jarvis or the shadow business secretary, Angela Eagle. But in the view of a large number of shadow cabinet members, no challenge will materialise. They cite the high bar for putative leaders – the endorsement of 20 per cent of Labour MPs and MEPs – and the likelihood of failure. Many have long regarded mass front-bench resignations and trade union support as ­essential preconditions for a successful challenge, conditions they believe will not be met less than a year after Corbyn’s victory.

When Tony Blair resigned as Labour leader in 2007, he had already agreed not to fight the next general election and faced a pre-eminent rival in Gordon Brown. Neither situation exists today. The last Labour leader to be constitutionally deposed was J R Clynes in 1922 – when MPs, not members, were sovereign. Politics past and present militate against Corbyn’s opponents. There is but one man who can remove the leader: himself.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred