This week Nick Clegg took to a predictably welcoming audience in The Guardian to sound out the idea of an emergency tax on the rich. This would ensure, he claimed, that the wealthiest in this country pay their way before another round of government cuts. A seemingly sensible proposal, but the jury is out on whether he really means it.
Contrary to Clegg, George Osborne believes that taxing the rich could strangle growth - echoed by Tory backbencher Bernard Jenkin who described it as 'strangling the goose that lays the golden egg'. This position relies on the concept that we all benefit from individuals becoming wealthier in our economy - but the figures fly in the face of this myth. Inequality has been increasing year on year since 1979 and, even worse, since the birth of the Coalition in 2010, the growth of inequality has drastically accelerated. So, it appears the money earned by the top few is not trickling through to the rest of society.
Indeed, while thousands are made redundant or forced to work in lower paid work for which they are woefully overqualified, the rich do not appear to have been touched by recession. The annual Sunday Times Rich List showed the highest levels of wealth among the top 1000 in the country in its 24 years of publication. In a letter sent to his MP in February, Author of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time and top-end tax payer Mark Haddon, went as far as to claim that 'Austerity measures introduced by the coalition have caused real suffering to many people, but my comfortable life hasn’t changed in the slightest. Why have I, and people like me, been asked to contribute nothing ?'
So far, the poorest in this country have been asked to pay for the majority of a recession caused by wealthy bankers taking unforgiveable risks for the sake of high profits. The Coalition is imposing ideologically-driven, brutal cuts that disproportionately hurt the poor: ill and disabled people are being forced to find work or lose their benefits, and people without work have been labelled scroungers and workshy with little or no reference to the lack of reliable work available. All of this under the watchful eye of Clegg and leading Liberal Democrats.
It is worth remembering that Nick Clegg voted for a reduction of the top rate of tax on the wealthy from 50p to 45p. This was a temporary tax introduced by Labour in 2010 in an attempt to raise revenue during recession years and ensure that the burden didn't fall solely on working people; sound familiar ? In the words of Labour’s Shadow Treasury Minister, Chris Leslie, 'Nick Clegg is once again taking the British people for fools. He talks about a tax on the wealthiest, but he voted for the tax cut for millionaires in George Osborne's Budget'.
During his time as Deputy Prime Minister, Clegg has frequently defended the interests of business and the rich over the majority. He even went as far as to describe opponents to the Coalition’s Workfare programme, which involved young people looking for work being forced to slave for major businesses earning below the minimum wage, as having a 'messed up set of priorities'.
It is easy to see where Clegg’s priorities lie - and in this case it appears to be party politics. The Deputy Prime Minister surely knows that his proposed policy (such as it is) is highly unlikely to make it anywhere near Osborne’s Red Box before 2015, and he is fabricating differences between his party and the Conservatives at a time when the Liberal Democrats are polling at just 15% as a result of being too closely associated with the right.
image: © Liberal Democrats