It seems I rather underestimated Labour when I said their forthcoming Opposition Day vote on the mansion tax would be boring and unlikely to attract any Lib Dem support. The Staggers reported last night that Labour sources were planning to make the vote as amenable as possible to the Lib Dems by dropping any awkward references to 10p tax rates or any other wheeze that the junior coalition partner disagrees with. Meanwhile Lib Dem sources are saying they are waiting to see the wording before ruling anything out. But the point that this is not a crunch vote that will interest the public still stands, so why are the Lib Dems even bothering to wait for the motion?
The possibility, raised by Vince Cable on Sky News at the weekend, that Lib Dem ministers might be minded to support the motion, makes the party sound rather vain: this is a debate called by the Opposition which has no binding effect on the government whatsoever. The Lib Dems will not add to their bargaining power in the Quad, which is already considerable given the number of MPs they have. It would be an extraordinary suspension of government unity to dance to a tune played not by a Lib Dem campaigning for what they believe is a fair tax but by the Labour party. The Lib Dems have already been campaigning in public for a mansion tax, with a petition to the Treasury and motions at their own conference: if they thought a vote in the House of Commons that handed a political point to their enemies would have any effect, they might have allowed one of their own backbench MPs to engineer such an opportunity before now.
One way to neutralise this would be for the whips to remember their Conservative colleagues’ success in defusing a Tory rebellion over a similar Labour motion on fuel prices in November, and table an amendment that those who passionately believe in a mansion tax could support without having to vote with Labour.
P.S. it would of course be easier for the Lib Dems if they weren’t doing battle with Labour in Eastleigh. The last thing the party needs is a Labour leaflet aimed at the ‘squeezed middle’ saying they’ll vote against a mansion tax.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.