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Clegg to Cameron and Osborne: Cut taxes on the poor or defend the wealthy. It's your choice.

By Tim Montgomerie
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Nick Clegg on ITV earlier this morning.

Big moment in the short history of the Coalition today and Nick Clegg wants you to know it. His spin-doctor was tweeting at half-six this morning, trailing the fact that the Deputy PM would be on ITV Daybreak, Sky News, BBC Breakfast TV and then Five Live for a series of media interviews.

Danny Finkelstein has noted that the Lib Dems have so far been associated with largely unpopular or inside-the-Beltway causes - breaking their pledge on tuition fees, opposing Cameron's EU veto fall into the first category - and wanting the introduction of AV or Lords reform fall into the second.

Screen shot 2012-01-26 at 06.58.51Well today Nick Clegg has almost certainly found a much more popular cause. In echoes of Barack Obama's re-election strategy he wants to increase taxes on the wealthy in order to accelerate the raising of the raising of the income tax threshold to £10,000. "Cut taxes for 23 million Clegg tells Chancellor," reports The Mail. Clegg call to speed up tax cuts for poor, says The Sun. Speed up the tax cuts to tackle Britain's economic crisis, splashes The Telegraph.

It is, to say the least, unusual for a member of a government to be trampling all over the Chancellor's turf but the Deputy Prime Minister will be very direct in a speech he'll give to the Resolution Foundation later today. "Every politician now has a simple choice," he will say: "Do you support a tax system that rewards the hard-working many? Or do you back taxes that favour the wealthy few?" Mr Clegg will continue:

"I know which side of the line I stand on - the UK's tax system cannot go on like this, with those at the top claiming the reliefs, enjoying the allowances, paying other people to find the loopholes, while everyone else pays through the nose. This is about fairness in the middle. More money in the pockets of the people who need it."

A Tory source tells me that Mr Clegg is setting out Liberal Democrat rather than Government priorities. Apparently, the Quad (Cameron, Clegg, Osborne, Alexander) hasn't even met yet to discuss budget questions.

It is regrettable that the Tory leadership has allowed Nick Clegg to make the running on this issue. The Conservative brand remains fundamentally weak. At the last four elections we've scored just 30.7%, 31.7%, 32.4% and 36.1%. One of the key reasons is that we are not seen as a one nation party. Half of Britons tell YouGov that the Tories only appeal to one section of Britain. That compares to just 19% and 11% who think the same of Labour and the Lib Dems. George Osborne should be leading the way in creating a system that taxes jobs less and wealth more while leaving the overall burden of tax unchanged. This is a principle theme of ConHome's Majority Conservatism. If Conservatives do not rebalance the tax system in a sensitive way then more radical parties will do so in a way that's less helpful to the free market. My fear is that the usual Tory MPs will fill the airwaves today to attack Nick Clegg and reinforce the Tory toff problem. 

Nick Clegg will have trouble convincing many 'Alarm Clock Britons' that he's really on their side. For many voters he'll forever be known as the politician who lied about tuition fees but this is the cleverest political position he has yet adopted and it's central to the very dangerous Lib Dem claim that they are humanising the Conservatives. Lord Ashcroft's polling has shown that Clegg's party are doing a lot better in the seats they hold than national opinion polls would suggest. One poll this week from ICM had the Lib Dems on 16%. Reports of the Lib Dems' death might have been exaggerated.


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