Lib Dems reject 50p top-rate of tax by just 4 votes, 224 to 220

How many times have Lib Dems knocked on doors at 9.55pm to get out the last remaining identified voters because “your vote really could make a difference” in this election?

Today’s vote on whether to keep the top-rate of tax levied on those earning £150k or more at 45p, or to pledge to raise it to 50p was much, much, much closer: conference narrowly voted for the leadership’s preferred policy – 45p – by a wafer thin majority of just 4 votes, 224 to 220.

The closest previous conference vote I can recall was in spring 2007 when representatives voted by 454 votes to 414 to back Ming Campbell’s policy of deferring a decision on Trident. (We can look forward to revisiting that debate on Tuesday. You may also notice the halving in the number of votes in the intervening six years, just one of the manifestations of our declining membership. Though it is possible a couple of hundred activists at least may have gone missing presumed lost forever in the labyrinthine Glasgow SECC conference centre, a never-ending Escher drawing of windowless corridors.)

Every vote really did count, and I imagine there are at least some representatives who ruefully realised only afterwards that they should have been in the conference hall voting and had missed their chance.

The debate was a much less charged affair than in 2006 when the party first took the momentous decision to drop its commitment to a 50p rate. In the lead-up to conference, the leadership had half written-off this vote: the expectation was that Lib Dem members would want to reverse George Osborne’s controversial 2012 tax-cut, as indicated by our latest survey of members’ views. As a result, Nick Clegg and his team chose not to waste too much time fighting it, but instead to focus their efforts on winning Monday morning’s economy debate.

That victory chalked up, however, their lobbying operation began in earnest, bolstered by the leadership’s ‘payroll vote’ of MPs willing to back its line. Even so, when the vote was called it proved too close to tell which side had won. (Chair Sal Brinton and her aide Geoff Payne disagreed with each other over which side had prevailed on a simple show of hands: understandably so, when the manual count revealed the 4 vote margin of victory.)

It’s proved a good couple of days for the leadership. On all the votes that it was thought could be tricky for Nick Clegg – nuclear power, fracking, tuition fees, the economy, tax – they’ve won. Having predicted this morning that the leadership was heading for defeat on the economy motion, feel free to ignore my latest forecast… But I cannot believe their record will hold for the whole conference; there’s bound to be a bloody nose delivered on something, and Trident has been my top tip for a leadership defeat. It was close in 2007, it’ll probably be close again. Probably best to make sure you’re in the conference hall to vote at about 12.40 pm on Tuesday…

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • The left are getting quite organised! Unfortunately I missed it on TV – we had a power cut yesterday afternoon. But to come within 4 votes of defeating ministers 18 m before an election (not to mention getting to a point, yesterday morning, where Stephen appears to have preparing for what would have been a catastrophic leadership defeat) shows the depth of feeling in the party. Think how overwhelmingly these votes would have gone with a leader who approved of them. The majority of the party clearly has no problem with the economic positions of the SLF.

  • This does make me wonder how many people are at the conference, how many abstained but were present and how many were elsewhere. I know from my days of attending conference in the distant past that there are lots of attractions, but it is surprising that more people weren’t present for such an important vote.

  • “You may also notice the halving in the number of votes in the intervening six years, just one of the manifestations of our declining membership.”

    Possibly – but isn’t it more to do with having it in Glasgow rather than somewhere closer to where the majority of activists live?

  • Tabman, I hear Clegg is pushing for Shetland next year… 🙂

  • There are also bouncers on the door.

  • jedibeeftrix 17th Sep '13 - 12:20pm

    i wonder how that vote would have gone were it not for the accidental leak? 😉

  • The audience hall seems small compared with recent conferences and the gathering still looks meagre. The party is going downhill fast, sad for me to say so, a member and supporter since before Orpington!
    Going left is not the answer, I read the Daily Mirror yesterday and might vote Conservative as a result!!!! (I’m in a Con/Labour swing seat).
    I keep saying this there has to be a change at the top, that will create a different image and hopefully voter perception.

  • I thought Lib Dems were supposed to march towards the sound of gunfire, not follow their leaders into shameful retreat.

    45p tax rate won’t win us any votes in 2015, when Labour (and the Greens) will be arguing for 50% and the Tories (and UKIP) will be arguing for 40% or lower.

  • Paul K : I thought Lib Dems were supposed to march towards the sound of gunfire, not follow their leaders into shameful retreat. 45p tax rate won’t win us any votes in 2015, when Labour (and the Greens) will be arguing for 50% and the Tories (and UKIP) will be arguing for 40% or lower.’

    Always good to quote Jo Grimond as a reminder of the modern Liberal belief in its raison d’etre in realigning the Left – yes too often the Conference, which I have been watching assiduously this week, has followed the leaders into ‘shameful retreat’ from Liberal core beliefs and past shibboleths.

    I would have thought to be distinctive the LDs should maintain opposition to Trident, oppose fracking as well as steer away from Osborne economics (well done O Vince)

    Actually Nick Clegg’s closing speech wasnt bad in that it described what was so hateful about the Tories e.g. sacking without reason, (like new Labour) undermining civil liberties/human rights, little England attitude to Europe, anti-immigration and general xenophobia, ; however where’s the indication that the LDs have the determination to stop the Tory reactionary policies. In the past three years they have got away with many appalling things which Nick could have vetoed (ok he did oppose ID cards and limited the Ghastly May which was very important to do and got the tax threshold raised which the Tories on their own would not have done but little else if we’re being honest)

    A red line should have been drawn over electoral reform as even Ed M. seemed to back that and if he had been determined enough Nick could have won over the electorate if he hadn’t gone for the terrible half way measure which even advocates of reform said was not even a half way house to STV – I bet many people like me abstained because it wasn’t real PR!). House of Lords reform should have been another red line. One has to ask that what political reform has got through this Parliament when political reform is one of the key distinctive things about the LDs?

    Had these latter reforms passed Nick would have seen to have been a main influence in this government and he and the Party would have won a lot of respect from people – even with the about turn on tuition fees. As it is who are the LDs going to try to win back for 2015? At the end of Conference he might have started to talk the talk but he has not been seen to have been delivering reform and stopping a lot of Troy reactionary policies; that is sad because the LDs are progressive but increasingly seen as in the lap of a Right Wing Tory government which never ever had a mandate for its policies.

  • Simon Banks 19th Sep '13 - 6:10pm

    Having seen the need for discipline in a council group, I’m perfectly happy with MPs being whipped (please don’t interpret that too literally) in Parliament, but to whip MPs and (if this is implied) employees in their conference votes is craven, cynical and undermining party democracy. But perhaps it’s just a sense that careers will go well if votes are cast the right way? Not much better.

    As for the leadership’s series of victories on the closer votes, I think it’s worth noting that both on the economy motion and on the themes for the manifesto motion substantial amendments shifting the content towards more specific support for disadvantaged people were accepted. Read the original text and that finally agreed, and there is a shift. If the leadership thinks it’ll lose a vote, it may give ground. So the process is not entirely managed.

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