THE deficit will have to be paid off by raising taxes, Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has warned, as he tries to pitch his party as offering a more realistic vision of government than Labour and the Tories.
Speaking in Glasgow yesterday during his party’s last autumn conference before the election next year, Mr Clegg suggested that the Lib Dems’ mansion tax on homes worth more than £2 million should be used to help pay off the UK’s debt.
In a broadside at his opponents, he also said that the Tories and Labour offer “a dismal choice” as coalition partners after the next election.
Mr Clegg accused his Conservative coalition partners of abandoning the progressive ideas they had when the two parties went into government, but warned activists Labour does not offer a better choice.
The Tories have recently pledged tax cuts but asked if the Lib Dems would raise taxes, Mr Clegg said: “Yes, of course. We must raise taxes.”
This came despite a pledge by Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander to cut tax by raising the threshold where people start to pay national insurance.
Later, sources close to Mr Clegg suggested that the party will propose a new version of the mansion tax which will create new council tax bands, with people in properties of £2m paying much less than those in homes worth £5m or more.
With the polls suggesting that there will be a hung parliament again after the election in May next year, Mr Clegg is under pressure to say what he would do if he finds himself as kingmaker again, with many in his party pushing for him to rule out another coalition with the Tories.
However, with the Lib Dems currently polling 7 per cent – well behind Ukip on 14 per cent – Mr Clegg also admitted that he has much to do to win over the British public.
But he claimed his party will fare better than the polls suggest.
He said: “I think, to be blunt, these national poll ratings don’t tell you very much any more because the country has become so varied.”
Later, Mr Clegg lashed out at his Tory coalition partners, furiously denouncing their announcements last week that they would freeze all benefits for two years, introduce a welfare cap of £23,000 instead of £26,000 and scrap the Human Rights Act.
Mr Clegg said he would not lead his party into coalition with the Tories if they insisted on pressing forward with these policies.
He said: “Of course the Lib Dems are not going to enter into government with an economic agenda which would only penalise the working-age poor. It is anathema to everything we believe in.”
On Prime Minister David Cameron’s change of tack to a more right-wing agenda, he added: “When I first went into coalition with David Cameron in May 2010, he said the Conservatives cared about the environment. They self-evidently don’t. [He said] that they are not going to bang on about Europe; they only bang on about Europe.
“[He said] that they are going to protect civil liberties and human rights. They now want to trash them. And, most important, they said they were compassionate Conservatives, but George Osborne confirmed last week that they are now burying compassionate Conservatism.”
But he also made it clear he was not convinced by Labour’s message a fortnight ago at its conference in Manchester.
Mr Clegg said: “What they are presenting to the British people is a dismal choice between a broken economy at the hands of Labour and a divided society at the hands of the Conservatives.”
And addressing Labour leader Ed Miliband’s decision to adopt the Lib Dem proposal of a mansion tax to pay for increased spending on the NHS, Mr Clegg insisted that it needed to be used for the deficit instead.