29 Aug 2012

What lies behind Clegg’s wealth tax

What’s Nick Clegg up to floating the idea of a temporary wealth tax of some kind? There’s a good take on this, as ever, at FT Westminster. Of course this is about addressing the troops ahead of conference.

David Cameron and fellow Tories can emphasise welfare cuts as an internal crowd-pleaser in their party. So Nick Clegg should be allowed to emphasise his focus on burden-sharing to his troops. But what are his chances of getting something to show for his rhetoric in the budget negotiations? How specific are his plans?

There were conference calls at the weekend to chat about conference and pre-conference announcements. They’ve become part of the rhythm of the coalition. Th leaderships speak to distribute “sweeties” – policy announcements that play to each side’s conference, like Danny Alexander’s announcement on a tax avoidance clampdown at last year’s conference, not to mention his rather similar announcement at the 2010 conference. Way back in the halcyon early days of Coalition it wasn’t unheard of for the leaders to share the sort of political attack Nick Clegg made today. But I understand that Nick Clegg didn’t flag up his call for a temporary wealth tax.

What are his chances of getting something like that? Lib Dems and Tories say they got a lot further down the line towards some kind of mansion tax in the last Budget than many might think. Even if Tories tear their hair out at the thought of a temporary wealth tax (and George Osborne signalled he thought it would drive wealth out of the country today), the Lib Dems say you never know what your chancellor might end up considering if he’s determined to get through £10b in welfare cuts in a second tranche of spending cuts.

What might be the specifics? Deputy Leader Simon Hughes suggested on Radio 4’s World at One that a 0.5 per cent annual levy on assets like pension funds and investments above a certain value, to be imposed from 2013 and into the next parliament. The proposal appears in a tax policy consultation paper going in front of Lib Dems at their conference in Brighton next month, as do hikes in inheritance tax and the perennial land value tax. Nick Clegg will put more detail on what he’s got mind at the conference.

I’m guessing one man who won’t be backing Nick Clegg is Tory MP Brian Binley. He’s a long-time critic of the PM and his attack on his blog today isn’t as surprising as Tim Yeo’s yesterday. But here’s Mr Binley’s take on David Cameron:

“The country needs a full-time Prime Minister and not a chamber-maid for a marginal, irrelevant pressure group (the Lib Dems) who have got him in a virtual arm-lock with a constant stream of threats to abandon ship.”

From mouse to chamber-maid in 24 hours. What next?

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