Higher-rate tax and Danny Alexander’s time-limited dead body

by Stephen Tall on February 5, 2014

This was the couldn’t-be-clearer headline in the Mirror today, atop an interview with Lib Dem chief secretary to the treasury Danny Alexander:

danny alexander mirror headline

Defiant Danny Alexander today opened up a fresh rift within the Coalition Government by vowing to block Tory plans for yet another tax cut for the rich. … His comments will enrage Conservative MPs who are pushing to slash the rate from 45p ahead of next year’s General Election. It comes just days after David Cameron refused, on three occasions, to rule out cutting tax. But in an exclusive interview with the Mirror, Mr Alexander insists he will not allow any such financial relief for the wealthy. He says: “The top rate of tax has been an issue of late. Labour wants to take it back up to 50p, I think the 45p rate is the right place to be. I wouldn’t go to cutting below 45p – that would happen over my dead body. It’s better to say we are going to stick where we are.”

Couldn’t be clearer? Maybe, maybe not… Here’s the well-sourced Isabel Hardman:

A source close to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury tells me: ‘What he’s saying is over my dead body in this Parliament [my emphasis – ST]. He’s very explicit in the language he uses.’

So that’s “over my dead body” for another 15 months, then.

It’s an odd hostage to fortune. After all, it’s an open secret that Nick Clegg and Danny were willing to let the Tories cut the top-rate of tax to 40p in return for the introduction of a mansion tax. George Osborne was signed-up; it was David Cameron who vetoed the deal. Personally I’d be open to such a deal – switching from taxes levied on income to taxes levied on wealth is a long-standing liberal goal. So quite why Danny would choose to make such a categoric pledge (ah, that word again: we should’ve learned) on an issue he’s known to be flexible on – and rightly so – is beyond me.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.