By Matthew Barrett
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"Boris isn’t shy about lobbing grenades across the political landscape", as my colleague Peter Hoskin noted earlier this week. Sometimes he seems to want to cause controversy, sometimes he seems to want to grab attention – and sometimes, as Tory activists admire him for, he says what senior Conservatives cannot.
The Daily Telegraph reports that the Mayor of London has called Nick Clegg’s mansion tax plans "a non-starter [and] he knows it". That's not particularly incendiary by his standards, but it is the first big intervention on the mansion tax after an oddly mute few days on the issue from senior Tories, including David Cameron, and it will annoy the Treasury, who the Telegraph say are working on plans for the new tax. Mr Johnson's full quote is:
"I like Nick Clegg but he can’t be serious. These proposals are a non-starter. He knows it. I know it. The idea of a mansion tax is crazy. The idea of a mansion tax by the back door through vastly inflated council tax bills is nonsense. These taxes will disproportionately hit London and Londoners, penalising people simply because of circumstance, trapping people who in many cases are cash poor. London is the motor of the UK economy; kicking it hard makes no sense at all."
Mr Johnson is likely to have four factors playing on his mind when he made those comments. Firstly, he will know the strength of feeling amongst some senior Tories. The Telegraph names Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (who will presumably have some responsibility for administering the policy), and Grant Shapps, the new Chairman, as opponents of the policy so far.
Mr Johnson will also be doing his duty as he sees it, and standing up for London. As he suggests, many of the homes affected by the policy would be in London and the South East, where, the Telegraph notes, the average detached home is worth over £500,000, suggesting most detached homes in London will need to be inspected if Clegg's planned threshold is £1million.
Mr Johnson's third and fourth calculations will be pleasing to the grassroots: standing up for those likely to be personally affected by the policy, and attacking Clegg in general. Internal Conservative research suggests that a million home owners will have to have their properties reassessed under the plans, including many pensioners who don't have a great deal of disposable income, but who have seen the price of their homes rise over the years. Many of the aforementioned Southern homeowners and pensioners, will be core Conservative voters, who will take heart from Mr Johnson's comments.
On a side-note, the Financial Times (£) today details the extent of the "grey vote"'s presence in Conservative seats – after Nick Clegg also suggested means-testing winter fuel payments, free bus passes and free TV licences for pensioners. The FT reports:
"On a regional level, almost 60 per cent of the taxpaying elderly with pension income over £50,000 live in London, the south-east, the south-west and East Anglia, a much higher proportion than the 45 per cent of taxpaying pensioners that live in regions."
Whether right or wrong, policies like these which hit pensioners hardest will not make life easy for many Conservative MPs.