Call Clegg 20 February: E-cigarettes, London NHS, taxes, special needs and Arsene Wenger

This week and next, Call Clegg, Nick Clegg’s weekly phone-in is happening on Wednesday rather than Thursday. Today’s questions ranged from a new EU directive on e-cigarettes which Nick had never heard of to special needs to fair  tax to the problems of the NHS in London. Today, a few of the questions  were so long that it didn’t flow as well as usual. However, when Nick got the chance, he really chatted properly with people as if there weren’t millions of people listening.

Mansion Tax

The first question was from a man who bought his house in fashionable St John’s Wood 20 years ago and has found it’s worth £5 million. How on earth would he manage with the Mansion Tax. Forgive me if I struggle to find a great deal of sympathy. Nick was a bit more tactful, although he did hammer home the point about fairness.

There is still an underlying issue you can’t duck. There are large properties on sale for tens of millions paying same Council tax as 3 bed family home in Lewisham.  I have never pretended this is a silver bullet for everything but when we are having to tighten our belt, the question we have to face is who tightens their belt first. A small contribution from people in multi-million pound homes is needed.

You have a small mortgage from 20 years ago. You would make millions of pounds in profit. Most people listening to this programme would find it almost unimaginable to live in a property worth £2million. Most people would think this so called draconian tax to be perfectly reasonable.

He brushed off a question from host Nick Ferrari about Labour plans to force a Commons vote on the Mansion Tax:

Labour are game playing on a policy which isn’t theirs. I have no idea what they want to do in Parliament.

Later, in response to a question about whether he favoured reducing National Insurance payments, Nick was clear about what he wanted to do above all else:

My priority is to get income tax system to get threshold up to £10,000. That’s worth £700 to 23 million basic rate taxpayers. There are all sorts of tax changes you could make beyond that but my priority is getting money back into pockets of people on normal incomes.

A school to meet Charlotte’s needs

He was much more sympathetic to a lady who phoned up about schooling for her granddaughter with special needs. If  Nick were Charlotte’s dad, what would he do?

You talk compellingly about how patchy SEN provision is. In my constituency there are some very good examples.

We have been looking at SEN to see if we can make sure if we can make more consistent provision that’s easier for parents to navigate so you don’t end up with take it or leave it situation that you don’t think is right for the child.

He also asked for details so he could get back to her offline with some detailed information.

I’ll get back to you

Then came a very relaxed chat with a guy about how he gave up smoking. His question was that the EU was recommending the downgrading of nicotine levels in E-cigarettes to make them useless and what could the Government do to stop it.

Nick is not afraid to say if he doesn’t know the answer to something and promises to get back to people and promised to do so in this case.

Next up was someone who had tried to contact various people including Lib Dem HQ to ask Nick a question but hadn’t received a reply. I think his expectations were a bit unrealistic given that it seemed that the contacts were quite recent and Nick has a tiny staff to deal with the number of contacts he gets.

What  rights will people Romania and Bulgaria have?

The next question was trickier. Nick was asked how many people would be expected from Romania and Bulgaria and what rights to benefits and housing would they have? 

What rights do people have? We are looking at this very carefully. Simon Hughes’ constituents complain that they are being leapfrogged on waiting list. Councils have powers to balance people’s rights because they live locally. We are considering whether we give councils stronger guidance so that local people are not overlooked.

“NHS in London has problems”

There was then a robust and angry question about the NHS in London which you may as well watch as it’s on You Tube:

Arsene Wenger

If it’s not about Inverness Caley Thistle, I don’t really care as far as football is concerned, but I am assuming that Arsenal lost last night. Apparently there were tears before bedtime in the Clegg household, but Nick was keen to spare manager Arsene Wenger who is, apparently, taking time to build up a new, young team.

I think slagging off the leader of a team who’s having ups and downs is wrong. I’m not comparing myself to Arsene Wenger. He probably wouldn’t like that. He’s putting a young team together. It’s  tough leading a team but it’s also a great privilege.

And that’s it  for this week. See you next Wednesday.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Tony Greaves 21st Feb '13 - 1:55pm

    Well, I’ve put down a question on e-cigarettes so someone in government will have to find out what they are all about!

    Tony Greaves

  • Richard Dean 21st Feb '13 - 3:05pm
  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Feb '13 - 12:18am

    Caron Lindsay

    The first question was from a man who bought his house in fashionable St John’s Wood 20 years ago and has found it’s worth £5 million. How on earth would he manage with the Mansion Tax. Forgive me if I struggle to find a great deal of sympathy.

    Indeed. Round where I live, which is still just half an hour by train to central London, big houses are on sale at one tenth of that price. So he’s not going to be in the position of being made homeless or being forced to move hundreds of miles away, unlike others caught up in recent proposals. He’s in a position of being able to sell and make a huge fat profit out of doing nothing but sitting on his **** for 20 years. Why should he get that tax-free while those of us who work our guts out and wouldn’t get that much in a lifetime have to pay hefty taxation on what we earn from it? The mortgage must be nearly paid off. So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest payment through some sort of equity withdrawal.

  • I can see where you’re coming from on this, Matthew, but if your objection is to the ‘huge fat tax-free profit’ people with valuable homes can make by selling up, then why not tax that profit – ie charge capital gains tax on it. A mansion tax is not a tax on profit. It is a tax on the ownership of an asset which in most cases has been bought out of taxed income or savings.

    I would approach this slightly differently, which is to say, look we have a trio of unsatisfactory property taxes – stamp duty, council tax and business rates – let’s sort those out and put in place a rational structure for taxing property rather than adding another gimmicky tax on top which has no clear underlying rationale.

    For example, if the problem is the regressive nature of council tax, and the arbitrariness of basing it on 1991 property values – both of which I think are problems – then let’s address that rather than faffing about with a mansion tax. Ie conduct a proper revaluation and then reform the tax so it is a flat percentage charge of property value.

    Increasingly it strikes me that the mansion tax is for people who are not serious about tax reform but prefer populist gesture politics.

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