Nick Clegg’s demands today for an emergency tax on Britain’s wealthiest – in order to rescue Britain from its economic troubles – was effectively slammed shut by the Chancellor this morning. The deputy prime minister made this bold plan just as recess ends, and as George Osborne came back from his summer holiday. This political positioning is an indication of the less collegial tone of Coalition colleagues that we can expect from the next session of Parliament.
Nick Clegg announced in the interview that, “If we want to remain cohesive and prosperous as a society, people of very considerable personal wealth have got to make a bit of an extra contribution,” in today’s Guardian interview.
He further added that, “I personally think that if we are now moving into a longer phase of fiscal restraint, that kind of caution just doesn’t make sense any more. We are moving into a different world where everybody, at the top of society as well as the bottom, knows there is less money to go round.”
It is also reported that Clegg said, “If we are going to ask people for more sacrifices over a longer period of time, a longer period of belt tightening as a country, then we just have to make sure that people see it done fairly and as progressively as possible.” Yet, after a broken manifesto pledge to scrap Tuition fees, this may sound like empty words to the thousands of young people across the country that will start their first year of university with fees of £9,000 looming in front of them – leaving them indebted for years to come.
So, how have his views changed so dramatically from just 5 months ago, when he was praising the Coalition budget? Just after the ‘Boomerang’ budget, Nick Clegg announced in March:
“As Liberal Democrats, our clear priority has been to bring tax cuts to millions of ordinary hard working families.”
“There are many winners and indeed losers in any Budget.”
“So who are the losers in the Budget? The millionaires who weren’t paying their fair share.”
Critics will find Clegg’s new stance patronising: soon after the budget, opponents of cutting the top-rate of tax to 45p in exchange for a mansion tax took to the airwaves in droves, tweeting and blogging that it just did not add up as progressive.
And in response George Osborne is clearly sticking to his guns, reiterating this morning that he was clear that, “the wealthy should pay more which is why in the recent budget I increased the tax on very expensive property transactions.”
“But we also have to be careful as a country we don’t drive away wealth creators and the business that are going to lead our economic recovery,” he added.
Talk of “hard-wiring fairness” by Clegg in the interview seems like empty rhetoric. This political positioning in calling for a significant tax U-turn out in the public like this is deeply unhelpful for the deputy prime minister’s image. There was a chance to demonstrate a strong stance when it really mattered, during budget negotiation earlier this year. The problem facing Clegg is that the there has been a loss of trust: the Liberal Democrat poll ratings currently stand at 15% in the Guardian/ ICM poll. The question remains that when there is another chance to have real impact in general, how far will the deputy prime minister stick to his bold words about the Liberal Democrats “spreading our wings”, stamping some sort of authority on the coalition?