Lib Dem wealth tax leak: new levy on £50k earners proposed
Private document wrongly sent to press, shows Lib Dems count anyone earning £50,000 a year as rich
THE EQUIVALENT of a stink bomb was thrown into the Lib Dems conference in Glasgow today when a proposal to introduce a wealth tax on anyone earning more than £50,000 a year was accidentally leaked from the party press office.
The "lines to take" document was intended for Lib Dem MPs facing interviews with journalists, but it was accidentally sent out to the reporters covering the conference. It immediately sparked a controversy because it describes the "rich" as those on £50,000.
Although this is twice median earnings, many on £50k don't regard themselves as rich, particularly if they are families with only one earner. Indeed, many see themselves as the so-called "squeezed middle", struggling to get by.
The timing was particularly embarrassing for Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, because it came out just as he had defeated an attempt by party activists to demand a change in Lib Dem economic strategy by repudiating George Osborne's austerity plans.
As The Mole reported earlier today, Clegg faced questions about a split with Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, who sympathised with the rebels and had threatened not to turn up to the debate. Cable changed his mind, turned up for the debate and weakly gave his backing to Clegg in defeating two motions tabled by the dissidents.
This should have been seen as a triumph for the Lib Dem leader, but it was overshadowed by the leaking of the £50k tax plan.
Under the heading 'fairer taxes', the document says: "We are looking at how the richest ten per cent of people, those earning over £50,000, could make a further contribution. The vast majority of people in the country would consider £50,000 a very large salary: these are not the middle income earners."
The document adds: "In these difficult times, it is important that everyone makes their contribution. It is right that we ask the broadest shoulders to bear their fair share: it is unrealistic to cut more money from welfare spending without increasing taxes on Britain's richest."
The Lib Dems have already demanded a one per cent annual mansion tax on those with homes worth more £2 million, but Clegg said on the Today programme this morning he was against raising the upper rate of income tax back up to 50p in the £, saying, "What we need to have is reduced taxes on work."
Peter Mandelson, Tony Blair's chief strategist, successfully persuaded Labour under Blair not to "soak the rich" because of the fear of putting off millions of voters who had aspirations to earn higher incomes. The Lib Dems will be accused of attempting to turn the clock back to the days before Blair.
But Cable appears not to be concerned about that. Cable went on to deliver one of the most vicious attacks on the Tories in recent years. Attacking the Tories' use of the Australian Lynton Crosby to sharpen its message on immigration, he said: "We've got dog whistle politics orchestrated by an Australian Rottweiler."
He let rip at George Osborne's Help-to-Buy scheme for homebuyers, saying voters should not be satisfied with growth "fuelled by an old-fashioned property boom".
And he turned on the Prime Minister: 'David Cameron calls me Jeremiah. You will recall from your reading of the Old Testament that Jeremiah was right..."
Blogger Paul Waugh tweeted: "Vince Cable really ramping up the Tory attacks. Not just the 'nasty party', they are now the 'ugly' party, with ugly politics."
The Tories are certain to use the Lib Dems' secret plan to tax those earning £50k to throw at their coalition partners. Judging by his performance today, Cable is likely to say: "Bring it on."
A former Labour councillor in Glasgow, he seemed to be bruising for a fight with the Tories this morning. It leaves Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister, with a tricky balancing act for his leadership speech on Wednesday. ·