“Lib Dems give Mansion Tax threat over terror bill” says Times

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

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20 Comments

  • Melanie Harvey 29th May '13 - 12:04pm

    Fact: The assailant of Lee Rigby and possible terrorist threats should have no bearing on the communications bill in that the security services were aware of him in any case and access could have been legally obtained by current methods and clearly with adequate time to do so. Therefore the proposed communications bill would not have made a damn bit of difference to the outcome and demise of Lee Rigby. It appears making the communications bill a scap goat for the obvious and clear failures in the first instance is what is in play.

  • There is a third option and it’s the one we should choose: walk. We cannot have a coalition where measures not agreed within the coalition can be passed – and that works both ways. Government legislation is just that, and the Tories have opened both parties up to a world of pain by starting to bring forward disputed measures in private members’ bills. Fighting a snap general election on such a touchstone issue for the Lib Dems is about the best scenario we could hope for at the moment, it would give us the easiest of answers to why a vote for the Lib Dems would make a different.

    I know this is just bored newspaper hacks speculating, and we shouldn’t forget the 40 Tories who have written to the PM opposing the Data Communications Bill, but we should make it clear that there is no negotiation on the table here – if the Tories want this measure they can win an election with it in their manifesto.

  • So far theres no evidence that The Snoopers Charter is coming back, if it does look like a serious idea then we need to have a serious discussion about whether to force an Election to stop it. We would need to look at the big picture – all the possible losses & gains.
    I doubt either Labour or Tories are serious, it would open up new divisions in both Parties.

  • Why are we getting so worked up about terror? The security services do an excellent job with the laws they have. We do not need to junk our freedoms because a tiny number of people are killed now and then by a looney tune.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th May '13 - 1:55pm

    I agree that tit-for-tat retaliation will do us no credit.

    Staying in the coalition and attempting to ameliorate measures to which we are really opposed has done us no credit. We’ve been doing it since the coalition was formed. The amount of thanks we’ve got for it from people who in the past have been supportive of us is approximately zero. The damage done to our party has been immense. The non-Tory public don’t see the behind the scenes work, they just see Liberal Democrats voting for things that Liberal Democrats would never have voted for in the past and throw abuse at us. The only people who can see what we are doing are firm Tories, and they hate us for it.

    This is what being the junior partner in a coalition is like. You get hated by both sides. Had Nick Clegg bothered to seek advice from those who know about these things, that is what he would have been told. Instead he made a difficult situation a whole lot worse by playing up to the lines that would inevitably be used to attack us.

    At some point we have to say “Enough is enough” and walk out. We do so, saying something like:

    We entered the coalition because it was the only viable government resulting from the Parliament elected in 2010, we did not want to play political games making the country ungovernable through not having a majority government. We are not Conservatives, so a government dominated by Conservatives due to them having five times as many MPs as us was very far from our ideal, however as democrats accepted the will of the people as expressed by their votes and interpreted by the electoral system. If the people were unhappy with the over-domination of the Conservatives in that government caused by the distortions of that electoral system, they had the opportunity to reject it in the referendum on electoral reform in 2011, but they supported the current system and hence endorsed the coalition with the imbalance we have.

    However, we have been the ones to suffer from this. Our public support has collapsed. What we have been trying to do has not received the recognition we believe it should have done. The Conservative Party has not played its part by accepting the very modest alterations we have proposed to what it would be putting through if it had gained a majority. We have kept quiet for the sake of democracy and for the stability of the country, but we feel we must now listen to those who supported us in the 2010 general election but have fallen away because they have wrongly assumed that we have no criticism of the current Conservative dominated government.

    We are therefore leaving it to the Conservatives alone to show what they would do if they did govern alone. We will make clear on any further policy issues what we would do if we governed alone rather than feel forced to compromise in order to allow the coalition to continue. If the Conservatives feel they cannot continue to govern under these circumstances, we will support them in a call for an early general election.

  • David Allen 29th May '13 - 1:59pm

    “There is a third option and it’s the one we should choose: walk.”

    I would love to see us walk, but I just can’t see this as quite a big enough issue to justify the fall of a government. Especially after we didn’t walk on tuition fees, on the NHS, on taxes, on benefits, etc etc. Yes, it’s a silly panic measure, like the Dangerous Dogs Act, but had we brought down a government over the Dangerous Dogs Act, we would have been the ones who ended up looking silly. Caron’s option 1 makes better sense I’m afraid.

  • I have noticed a spike in the level of anti-Lib Dem coverage in both the Times and the Telegraph recently, with a return to the kind of attack articles, particularly against Nick Clegg, that were all too persistent in the two years after the general election.

    Maybe it’s just coincidence or the conspiracy theorist in me, but I think something wider is afoot at Tory Towers. Maybe they’ve decided to start the “air war” for the general election even earlier than usual with some “bombing raids” to soften us up.

  • Helen Dudden 29th May '13 - 2:12pm

    You never walked on the bedroom tax either, causing great pain within some areas.

    I agree with the need to employ all ideas to prevent what happened last week.

  • Eddie Sammon 29th May '13 - 2:18pm

    I’m not a fan of the mansion tax. First of all it is not a mansion tax and second of all it is discriminatory and disproportionately hits some people.

    I can just about accept a high value homes tax it as long as it isn’t coupled with class warfare and disgusting photos vilifying the rich by making them look like inhumane freaks who deserve to be punished.

  • Eddie Sammon 29th May '13 - 2:20pm

    Plus stamp duty is already at 7% on houses over £2 million.

  • Eddie Sammon 29th May '13 - 2:25pm

    That’s already £140,000 of tax someone has to pay when buying a £2 million pound house.

  • David Allen: “I would love to see us walk, but I just can’t see this as quite a big enough issue to justify the fall of a government.”

    The issue would be one party in the coalition forcing through legislation that had not been agreed either in the coalition agreement or via usual negotiations. I don’t see how effective Government would be possible in those circumstances. We either have a Government or we don’t. I believe the issue itself would be worth votes – it’s an area the Lib Dems are clearly distinct from the others – but I’d want to see polling to back that up before committing.

  • Helen Dudden – “I agree with the need to employ all ideas to prevent what happened last week.”

    This way madness lies. ‘All’ ideas? Have another think.

    I think the Lib Dems should’ve walked already, to be honest. If this bill really is resurrected then they have another opportunity to do so.

  • If Labour and Tory combine together, they obviously have an overwhelming majority and in this case it would be up to the Liberal Democrats to make the opposing argument, which needs to be heard. Option 1 is the obvious route and co-incidentally one that strengthens the identity of the party. Sure there would be some short term disadvantages just as there were in our opposition to the invasion of Iraq.

    It would not be a financial bill, despite financial implications for which Lib Dems should make it clear that they will not increase any budgets, so questions about a ‘mansion tax’ should not be linked. I am sure the linkage only exists in the strange minds of Times political commentators.

    Clearly it is not going to happen as it would have a devastating effect on the Labour party with lingering consequences.

  • Peter Watson 29th May '13 - 9:04pm

    If a majority of MPs (Tory and Labour) want the Communications Data Bill, and a majority (Lib Dem and Labour) want a Mansion Tax, then surely that is just democracy in action and something we should applaud.

  • RC There is no need for “bombing raids” to “soften us up”. We are already prostrate in large parts of the country. It has been argued, I know, that our strongholds are still defensible, and carrying on the metaphor, I suppose each successful bombing raid could weaken those strongholds.

    On the substantial discussion taking place here, I think we do need to make the point that most restrictions, including the “snoopers’ charter” don’t tackle the hard cases, mainly they just affect people going about their normal business. We need to show people they CAN be weaned off the expensive timewasting and incidentally, repressive, “security agenda”. Another job for taking the tabloids head on. It just shows the effects of too much timidity over the years.

    I agree with David Allen that we would probably not benefit from “walking” on this issue, and that should be on health, education, or the economy / benefits, where we HAVE, I am afraid, shown that we are wedded too much to the Tory neoliberal agenda. Only by attacking the Tory / NuLab / Corporate consensus will we regain any real sense of independence as a Party – and that means shrugging off Orange Bookery.

  • Andrew Colman 30th May '13 - 8:57am

    Labour and Lib Dems teaming up to Vote in a mansion tax

    An interesting idea, democracy in action.

    As for the mansion tax being discriminatory, ALL TAXES are discriminatory and no one likes paying. Better to tax the ves rather than screw the have nots though the disgusting “ATOS” tests. The economy is in a mess, an it is quite right that those who have done well in the boom years and now own properties worth £millions should take some of the pain needed to restore the economy

  • Eddie Sammon 30th May '13 - 10:15am

    Andrew, I am of the opinion that there should be a net wealth tax or not wealth tax – I am not sure which is more desirable.

    On your point of taxing people who have done well in the property bubble: this is only fair if you give back in the bust years.

  • Agree totally with your final conclusion:

    “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.”

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