Willetts wants to keep top tax rate

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Indy Politics

A Tory minister has called for the 50p top rate of tax to be kept amid a simmering coalition row on the issue.

Universities Minister David Willetts said the levy on the highest earners sent an important message that society was "in it together" while "times are tough".

The intervention puts Mr Willetts at odds with some of his senior Conservative colleagues, and suggests that divisions over the future of the top rate do not run purely along party lines.

Chancellor George Osborne has indicated that he believes the rate - which applies to income over £150,000 - should be scrapped if it is not raising significant revenue.

However, the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, has dismissed the idea of dropping it as "cloud cuckoo land".

A potential compromise of replacing the levy with a "mansion tax" has also come under fire from Tories.

In an interview with The Times, Mr Willetts said he regarded the top rate as an important symbol.

"It is very important that people see that when times are tough, we are, as they say, all in it together," he said. "That is an argument. Whilst times are as tough as they are at the moment, people see that there are higher rates of tax being borne.

"We need (details) about how much tax it is raising and all that, but that (symbolic fairness) is why we have kept it so far.

"Because when you are expecting sacrifices from people with modest earnings, it's right that that can apply to people on high incomes as well." PA