Will the Lib Dems back Labour's mansion tax motion?

If Clegg supports the motion, he will enrage the Tories. If he opposes it, he will be accused of another "betrayal".

With exemplary timing, Labour has chosen the opening day of the Lib Dem spring conference to publish the text of its Commons motion in favour of a mansion tax. Nick Clegg can now expect to be challenged over the weekend to say whether his party will vote in favour of it when the debate is held on Tuesday.

The motion reads:

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.

The decision to exclude any reference to the reintroduction of the 10p tax rate (which Labour's mansion tax would fund), in favour of a vaguer commitment to "a tax cut for millions of people on middle and low incomes" (which could encompass a rise in the personal allowance), means it will be harder for the Lib Dems not to support it. Vince Cable previously suggested that his party would back the motion provided that Labour did not engage in "party political point scoring" and "drag in other issues like the 10p rate".

It depends entirely how they phrase it. 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.

But very often in these opposition days they can’t resist the temptation to make party political point scoring and drag in other issues like the 10p rate and if that happens I am sure we will not. It is up to them to be statesmanlike and sensible.

Clegg similarly refused to rule out voting with Labour ("Neither Vince nor I know what will be put before us so we can't of course determine in advance how we would vote"), prompting David Cameron to say that he would be "rather disappointed" if his deputy did so. He told ITV News: "I haven’t asked him the question. But as it’s not in the Coalition Agreement to have a mansion tax, I would be rather disappointed if he did."

For Labour, this is a win-win situation. If the Lib Dems back the motion, Miliband will attack the coalition as divided, while painting the Tories as the party of the rich. If the Lib Dems oppose it or abstain, he will accuse Clegg's party of lacking the gumption to even vote for its own policy. As shadow financial secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie said today:

If Nick Clegg and Vince Cable really believe in a fairer tax system they should back our motion in support of a mansion tax on pro perties over £2 million to pay for tax cuts for millions on middle and low incomes.

After going along with a Tory tax cut for millionaires, a failing economic plan, a VAT rise and a trebling of tuition fees this is a chance for the Liberal Democrats to finally vote for something that was in their manifesto.

With the Lib Dems already far from short of political anxieties, Labour has just created another dilemma for Clegg's party.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour Party leader Ed Miliband attend a ceremony at Buckingham Palace. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.