The Conservative party privately sent letters to Tory donors and wealthy homeowners promising to defeat Liberal Democrat plans for a mansion tax at the same time as their coalition partners thought they were negotiating on a version of the proposal ahead of the autumn statement, it emerged on Friday. … The letters were sent by the Conservative treasurers Lord Fink and Michael Farmer in November, when Lib Dem cabinet ministers privately believed there was hope that the Conservatives would agree to two extra higher-rate council tax bands as a way of raising funds from wealthy homeowners, mainly in the southeast. They believed they were making progress on the issue with George Osborne, if not with David Cameron. The chancellor had ruled out a mansion tax in his speech to the Tory conference, but Lib Dems claimed he was still open to the idea of extra council tax bands.
And here’s an excerpt from the letter:
The letter, jointly signed by Fink and Farmer, reads: “As you may be aware, the Liberal Democrats and Labour have both called for a homes tax in recent months. “Vince Cable demands a tax on properties worth above £2m. Labour’s shadow chancellor Ed Balls meanwhile told the Independent at the beginning of September that he was planning a proper wealth tax which would include high value properties. The Conservative party are clear that a homes tax will not happen on our watch. …
“A tax on property is a tax on ambition and aspiration. We promise that no homes tax will be introduced during the course of this parliament, but the only way of taking it off the table in the future is the election of a majority Conservative government in 2015, and we can only win with your generous support. To keep the taxman out of your home and return a Conservative government at the next general election, please help by donating today and supporting the ‘No Homes Tax’ campaign.”
Well, it’s not much of a surprise really. Though George Osborne is reportedly sympathetic to shifting the burden of tax away from the low-paid towards those living in high-value properties, David Cameron is also reportedly vigorously against the idea, fearing the London commuter-belt electoral consequences. And it’s those voters, of course, who have the deepest pockets to dig into for Tory coffers.
True, it smacks of bad faith to give the appearance of negotiating while actually having already made up your mind. But to be fair to the Tories, the fact that they are pre-disposed to stick up for their natural constituency of the wealthy ‘haves’ is hardly a surprise. They made that clear in the Coalition Agreement when they refused to consider a ‘mansion tax’, and they’re staying true to that now.
But I was amused to read this story of Tory bad faith in the highest echelons on the same day ConservativeHome launched a broadside against Nick Clegg for highlighting their implacable opposition to property taxes. If you’re going to oppose them, guys, be proud of the fact and embrace the public debate!
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.