Isabel Hardman

How the Coalition neutered Ed Balls’ mansion tax vote

How the Coalition neutered Ed Balls' mansion tax vote
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The mansion tax - sorry, 'tax fairness' - debate is still rumbling on in the Commons, and Labour are trying to score as many political points as possible on the matter, as expected. Actually, the party's idea to table the Opposition Day vote on this policy was a good piece of political game-playing when they announced it. But equally impressive has been the Coalition's response to it.

The Liberal Democrats were extremely nervous about talking about how they would vote before the Eastleigh by-election. One aide told me at the time: 'We can't have Labour putting about on leaflets that we are opposing our own policy: we don't want a broken promises problem.' And then they didn't really want to confirm that they wouldn't support the very carefully-worded Labour motion when they were at their conference: the cheers Vince Cable got from his Social Liberal Forum audience on Friday night when he talked about bankers' bonuses, mansion taxes, and joked that he had been called a socialist by a tabloid would have underlined that it was important to talk about their love of the mansion tax, not their contempt for the Labour motion.

But as we reported over the weekend, the parties were already working on a Coalition amendment. This is the amendment:

Line 1, leave out from ‘House’ to end and add ‘notes that this Coalition Government has cut income tax for 25 million people, taking over 2.2 million low income individuals out of income tax altogether, while at the same time increasing taxes on the wealthy, including raising stamp duty on expensive properties and restricting tax reliefs; further notes that both parts of the Coalition continue to support tax cuts for people on low and middle incomes; notes that the part of the Coalition led by the Deputy Prime Minister also advocates a mansion tax on properties worth more than £2 million, as set out in his party’s manifesto, and the part of the Coalition led by the Prime Minister does not advocate a mansion tax; and further notes that the top rate of income tax will be higher under this Government than under any year of the previous administration and that the rich are now paying a higher percentage of income tax than at any time under the previous administration, demonstrating that it presided over an unfair tax system where the rich paid less and the poor paid more in tax than now, meaning nobody will trust the Opposition’s promises on tax fairness.’.

The ability of ministers to agree on this statement of differing policies to completely neuter the debate so that it becomes just another Labour backbench debate (watch out for the angry hashtags later, though) underlines not just a continuing desire to work well together as a Coalition, but also a mature 'proalition' approach to doing so. As I've blogged before, good coalition is about being honest about your policy differences from the outset rather than waiting for opponents to exploit cracks as they appear.

And the Tories are even trying to gain political advantage from the vote, with these posters warning about the consequences of a mansion tax:

Written byIsabel Hardman

Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is author of Why We Get The Wrong Politicians.

Topics in this articlePoliticscoalitionuk politics