LIBERAL Democrat ministers have insisted they are confident they will be able to persuade their Tory counterparts in the Coalition to introduce more taxes on wealth before the next General Election in 2015.
Party sources indicated that, as well as pushing for a 1% annual mansion tax on properties worth more than £2 million, Nick Clegg and his colleagues would now be pressing David Cameron and George Osborne to scrap higher-rate tax relief on pensions, raise more taxes on capital gains and squeeze more money out of so-called non-doms.
With the conference theme as "fairer taxes in tough times", the Deputy Prime Minister made clear he would not accept cuts that would hit lower-income workers unless taxes on the richest in society were increased. He insisted he wanted to start rebalancing the economy from the top down, not the bottom up.
Michael Moore, the Scottish Secretary, was also clear that the richest in society could make a fairer contribution, stressing: "We are not going to balance the books on the backs of the poor. We believe it's right that the wealthier should contribute more."
Asked if he was confident of convincing Tory colleagues to slap a wealth tax on the better-off, he told The Herald: "Yes. We have set our mind to it as we believe the policy is based on fairness."
Mr Clegg admitted that he had not yet been able to persuade the Prime Minister and Chancellor to introduce a mansion tax – they fear it could hit people with high-value property but relatively modest incomes, particularly in London – but said he was determined to do so.
However, he noted: "The mansion tax is not the only way in which you can make people at the top make a fair contribution to this huge national effort of balancing the books. We have already illustrated through capital gains tax, through stamp duty, through tax avoidance and many other measures, the top 10% pay more and we can do more of that."
The comments followed an announcement by Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander of new scrutiny on homeowners with assets worth more than £1m. The previous threshold was £2.5m.
Revenue officials are to "sniff out" wealthy individuals not paying their fair share of tax. The so-called Affluence Unit is to target an extra 200,000 people, including football players and BBC stars, who it is thought use legal schemes to avoid tax.
Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, also signalled a renewed clampdown on offshore tax avoidance, promising tougher action against "shady" tycoons, who make "systematic and cynical" use of offshore tax havens.
However, the Coalition's critics were unconvinced.
Rachel Reeves for Labour said: "Nobody will be fooled by Nick Clegg's empty words on tax. This is the man who backed a £3 billion tax cut for millionaires in the Budget while asking millions of pensioners and families to pay more."
The SNP asked what happened to Mr Alexander's promise of last year to recruit 2000 tax inspectors. It pointed out the number of tax enforcement staff in Whitehall has fallen by more than 1500 since LibDems joined the Tories in Government.
"The LibDems' conference is turning into an exercise in cynicism," declared Kenneth Gibson MSP, Convener of the Scottish Parliament's Finance Committee. "One could say it is a tax fraud itself to promise more tax inspectors when they have been cut by such a number."
Meanwhile, Nigel Green, Chief Executive of the deVere Group, the world's largest independent financial advisory body, claimed the better-off already faced a range of taxes on wealth and warned: "Attacking the wealthy will dampen the UK's economic growth and job creation and will send capital overseas."