Today’s Times carries a story (£), with not very much substance to it, that the Liberal Democrats have threatened to team up with Labour to vote on the Mansion Tax if the Conservatives team up with Labour to force through the Communications Data Bill so loved by Theresa May and which has been rejected by Nick Clegg on 3 occasions now. The first was when he refused to let it in last year’s Queen’s Speech as a full bill, ensuring it received detailed scrutiny by a parliamentary committee. The second was when the Parliamentary Committee rejected the measure out of hand and the third was a few weeks ago when he announced on Call Clegg that such a measure would not be enacted with the Liberal Democrats in Government.
The Times says Conservative Ministers have told them of the latest threat:
But Tory ministers say that the Lib Dems have warned that forcing through laws without their support would lead them to retaliate, by backing a Labour motion for a mansion tax. Labour and the Lib Dems back the annual levy, applied to all homes worth more than £2 million.
This is denied by the Liberal Democrats:
Senior Lib Dems said that they had not had to issue such a threat as they believed that Tory Cabinet ministers knew that any move to ambush them over the Communications Data Bill would end in “mutually assured destruction”.
Now, if you are a Liberal Democrat minister, being asked to reconsider a measure you have rejected on 3 previous occasions, with no evidence whatsoever that it is required, surely you are just going to say “no.” You would not enact a measure that is such a touchstone issue for your party for the price of your coalition partners having egg on their face after a Commons vote. You see, if Labour and the Liberal Democrats got together and defeated the Conservatives on the Mansion Tax, it wouldn’t even be binding. Such a move would also constitute the sort of parliamentary games that Nick Clegg disparaged last week.
But what should Nick Clegg do if the Tories and Labour unite to bring in the Snoopers’ Charter. He has two options:
- Lead Liberal Democrat MPs into the division lobbies to vote against it
- Try to improve it to make it less intrusive, and end up voting for it
The risk of the first option is that you risk being portrayed as soft on terror. That line of attack didn’t work so well for Labour when we and the Conservatives junked ID cards. This is a much more intrusive and unnecessary measure and the media is largely against it too.
The risk of the second is that it diminishes our reputation on civil liberties, already tarnished by secret courts, even further.
My view would be that we should reject the Communications Data Bill out of hand and vocally campaign against it. There is no point in making a stand if we sit politely on the sidelines and let Labour and the Tories dominate the news agenda.
* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings