It was so close that they had to count the votes in the conference hall, and even then, the Liberal Democrats only backed Nick Clegg on retaining the 45p tax above a return to the 50p rate by four little votes – 224 in favour of the 45p, and 220 in favour of the 50p. It’s difficult to bill this narrow result as a real victory for the Lib Dem leadership, but at least it means that Clegg has won all four of his confrontations so far with his party – and this tax vote was expected to be a loss.
It was interesting how many of the speakers in favour of retaining 45p encouraged the conference to support it on the grounds that supporting the 50p rate would play into the hands of the Labour party. Lorely Burt, Stephen Williams and Simon Hughes spoke in the debate, and all made this point. It echoed the argument we heard this morning in the economy debate: backing something that Labour had introduced would be ‘snatching defeat from the jaws of victory’, to quote Steve Webb.