In Depth

Is Nick Clegg 7 years old? Mansion tax threat suggests answer is yes

Clegg said to be considering tit-for-tat threat if Tories and Labour join forces to get 'snooper's charter'

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NICK CLEGG has been accused of acting like a child by threatening to join Labour in backing a mansion tax on the rich if David Cameron uses Labour help in the Commons to override Lib Dem objections to the "snooper's charter".

Clegg has floated the idea in the past of joining with Labour to force through the tax on owners of homes worth more than £2 million. He knows that taxing the rich would lift Lib Dem poll ratings ahead of the general election. But it would destroy the coalition at a stroke.

When the Opposition sprang a trap on the Lib Dems in March in the Commons, Clegg ordered Liberal Democrats to vote against Labour in order to preserve the coalition.

Now, according to The Times, senior Tories fear Clegg could yet do the dirty on them and join Labour in pushing through the mansion tax IF the Tories and Labour join forces to revive the Communications Data Bill, allowing MI5 the power to monitor internet traffic between suspected terrorists.

Though MI5 have said the intelligence would not have saved the life of Drummer Lee Rigby last week by alleged British jihadists, the Woolwich killing has led to a powerful cross-party alliance of former ministers – Tory and Labour - for Cameron to revive the bill.

The Prime Minister dropped the bill from the Queen's Speech because he knew Clegg would oppose it. (It's not only Lib Dems who regard it as a snooper's charter incidentally; some right-wing Tory backbenchers feel the same way.)

Home Secretary Theresa May made it clear on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that she wants the bill and she has a powerful cross-party alliance of former security ministers behind her. They include Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of the intelligence committee which is overseeing a review into any security lapses that may have failed to stop the killing; former Tory leader and Home Secretary Lord (Michael) Howard; and ex-Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson who said on the same Marr show that it should be a "resignation issue" for May if the Cabinet – that is Clegg - blocked it.

Cameron won't be back from his Ibiza sojourn until the weekend, but he's asked Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood to try to defuse the row with Clegg by seeing if the intelligence and security services can be given access to details of email traffic under existing laws, without the need for a bill.

But the over-riding impression from this ugly episode is that the coalition is creaking to the point of collapse. Daily Telegraph blogger Dan Hodges tweeted today: "Lib Dems saying if Tories push through anti-terror legislation they'll force though mansion tax in revenge. Is Nick Clegg 7 years old?"

Many senior Tories - already furious with Cameron for appeasing Clegg on the Gay Marriage Bill (back in the Commons next week) - think the answer is yes.

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