Leading article: An idea worth exploring

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The Independent Online

The Tory party in the 19th century was pre-eminently the party of those in possession of a good many rolling acres. Matters have evolved since then but it is still not surprising that the party once led by Disraeli and Lord Salisbury is reluctant to countenance even for a second the Liberal Democrat proposal for a new tax on land. The very phrase "land tax" does indeed have an old-fashioned socialist whiff about it, bringing back memories of the Labour programme of 1945. But it would be a shame if that were to become an excuse to dump the idea without even considering it.

Income tax has become a toxic subject in Britain in recent years. All the major parties are fearful that they will gain a reputation for profligacy if they even talk about raising income tax, while the Tories look determined to cut the 50 per cent tax on the rich that Gordon Brown introduced.

As governments have not ceased to spend more money, the only result of this obduracy over income tax has been a combination of higher borrowing and a marked increase in indirect taxation, which has hit the poor more than the wealthy. The Liberal Democrats are right to recognise that we have to get out of this vicious circle, that imposing more "stealth" taxes is not a long-term solution and that we have to find some way of getting the richest people to pay a bit more.

Whether the answer to the tax dilemma is to be found in taxing land is questionable. The Liberal Democrats' call for a so-called "mansion tax" on homes costing more than £1m is certainly likely to cause less of a furore, as the impact of this tax would be felt mainly by people in towns and cities and so could not be deemed an act of metropolitan spite against the countryside. Either way, the sentiment behind the suggestion is a good one and the idea is worth exploring.