Many elderly pensioners would face a colossal annual fine of tens of thousands of pounds – in other words, ruin. He has not thought of the many families who are living in large properties, but whose outgoings mean they would be unable to pay the tax without unreasonable sacrifice. He has failed to take account of the way any such tax would bite disproportionately on London – where property values have inevitably been resilient throughout the recession, and where they are now surging again. As the estate agents Knight Frank have shown, he is above all being dishonest in his projections about what the tax would yield. In order to raise his target sum of £1.75 billion, he would have to hit houses of values much lower than £2 million – and once a tax of that kind was in place, we all know that the Government would keep coming back for more: cruelly taxing people for an increase in the value of their property. Indeed, they would be providing many homeowners – especially those on the threshold of being clobbered – with a weird incentive to reduce the attractiveness of their homes, perhaps by planting buddleia on the roof or artistically smashing the windows for when the inspector calls.
This tax is an utterly typical Lib Dem policy, in the sense that it sounds pleasingly populist – and many people will mistakenly believe that it will only hit “rich foreigners” – while being actually both impractical and irresponsible. But what really makes my blood boil is the tone in which the pronouncement is made. It’s the lordliness, the condescension, the sublime certainty that the Lib Dems are going to be in government, whatever happens. Here is a party that is currently on 9 per cent in the polls, and languishing fourth behind Ukip. And yet it appears to be the settled view of every pundit and psephological expert that they are once again about to hold the balance of power.
The two most likely outcomes – so we are constantly told – are a continuation of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, or else a new coalition between Labour and the Lib Dems. You can have any government you like, in other words, as long as it’s got yellow in it. The British constitution has turned into an ice cream van that sells only red-and-yellow lollies, or else blue-and-yellow lollies. Most of the punters don’t want either. They want blue lollies or red lollies – and yet there is nothing they can do about it.
It was the Lib Dems who saw to that. They were so piqued at losing the referendum on AV that they betrayed all their principles and made it impossible for Parliament to reform the boundaries so as to reflect the population; and that makes it much harder for any Conservative government to get an outright majority. The whole thing is frankly an abuse of democracy – but it allows Cleggers to lounge back on the silken cushions of his harem, and wonder whether to click his fingers at the pouting figure in the red pyjamas or the one in the blue. He is the invincible loser, the Hans-Dietrich Genscher of British politics.
Or that, at any rate, is becoming the general view at Westminster. If he believes it, I reckon he is being much too complacent. Look at the polls in the past few months. It is not just that there has been a steady drop in Ed Miliband’s support, to the point where his personal ratings are becoming truly alarming to Labour MPs. Much more significant is the steady climb in David Cameron’s vote – and the huge lead he is now establishing as the best candidate to occupy No 10.
The closer the election gets, the sharper the contrast will be – between a Tory party that has very largely addressed and rectified an economic disaster, and a Labour Party that had a large share in causing that disaster. With just a few more points for the Tories, and a few less for Labour, we are back in the territory of outright majority. And then it won’t matter at all what demands the Cleggster makes now, as the price of his cooperation.
Just in case, though, I have an idea. I see that my old chum Jeremy Clarkson is thinking of standing against Ed Miliband in Doncaster. Right idea, Jezza – wrong seat. I hope fervently that the great man can be persuaded to stand against Cleggers in Sheffield, where his majority (unlike Ed’s) is very frail indeed. Come on, Clarkson! Stand against the Cleggster with his hideous turbines and mad new taxes. That should put the wind up him.