It’s the budget next week. Does Labour even have a policy on tax?

03/07/2015, 05:45:29 PM

by Samuel Dale

George Osborne is putting the finishing touches to a Budget that will define our national politics for the next five years.

I have previously written how Osborne is both shifting the centre on areas such as fiscal responsibility and tax cuts while moving to the centre on areas where the public opinion will not follow. In other words, political pragmatism – remember that?

The 8 July Budget will do both. It will cut taxes over the parliament, entrench a smaller state as well as moving on to traditionally Labour areas such as boosting low pay.

On moving the centre, Osborne could create a roadmap to merging national insurance and income tax over the next few years in the biggest simplification of tax this country has seen since the 1980s.

As already hinted by the prime minister, he could set in train moving Britain away from a system of tax credits towards a living wage. A lower welfare, lower tax society.

Or he could build on his outlandishly popular pension reforms from last year with a long overdue reform of savings taxation.

He could do all three and more. In the last parliament major reforms to stamp duty and pensions alongside corporation tax cuts shows a bold Chancellor wanting to get out.

He’s also revolutionised how the self-employed file tax returns and he’s simplifying income tax bands on lower and middle earners.

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The 1980s were a tragedy for Labour, but this decade is turning into a farce

02/07/2015, 12:14:07 PM

by Alex White

Two things happened in the Labour party recently which managed to make me sympathetic to things said by both Karl Marx and Neil Kinnock, which is no mean feat.

First, a group of left Labour MPs did what groups of left Labour MPs are reduced to now: they wrote a letter calling for the cancellation of Greek debt, which is one step up on the ladder of Parliamentary left-wing activism from signing an Early Day Motion.

Letters do not generally cause me distress, but letters telling the country that a group of Labour MPs want to let another country abdicate its fiscal responsibility, when our own party has lost two elections weighed down by perceptions of our own fiscal irresponsibility, are definitely a bad thing.

Second, at the Unions Together hustings for the Labour leadership earlier this week, Jeremy Corbyn rallied passionately on the topics of Hugo Chavez, Greece, Colombian trade unionists, Greece again, TTIP, how the bad outweighed the good done by the last Labour government, and occasionally the Conservative Party.

Marx was wrong about a lot of things but he had a good turn of phrase, particularly when he said of a dying regime that it ‘only imagines that it still believes in itself and asks the world to share in its fantasy’.

The same is true of the Labour left who are rallying not just around Corbyn but against any attempt to make Labour electable. They would have you believe that the more you wrap their language around you – anti-austerity, public ownership, industrial action, alternative economic strategies – the more you are on the side of working people.

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No, no, Yvette

01/07/2015, 06:10:20 PM

by Rob Marchant

Yes, leadership candidates need to appeal to party before they can become leader and do anything at all.  But the lengths to which some will go to tickle the tummy of a party, which has just suffered two disastrous election defeats, continues to beggar belief.

Better – for the sake of kindness – to gloss over Andy Burnham’s statement that this was “the best manifesto that I have stood on in four general elections”. I mean, what can have possessed him?

To be fair, it is difficult to see it, as some have, as an attempt to lay the blame for the party’s recent meltdown squarely at the door of Ed Miliband. That would be especially difficult, with Burnham’s area of the NHS front and centre in the campaign; and also given that he followed it immediately with the words “I pay tribute to Ed Miliband”.

Which leaves us with one of two far worse conclusions: either that it was convenient lip-service; or that he simultaneously believed Labour had both the right candidate and the right manifesto, and still lost catastrophically. A level of cognitive dissonance verging on the Orwellian.

But just as we thought there could be no dafter statements from the mainstream candidates (after all, daft statements from Jeremy Corbyn are to be expected), up pops Yvette Cooper, asking for Labour to double the number of ethnic minority (BAME) MPs if the party were to win a majority.

A laudable aim, on the face of it. Except when you stop to think about what it actually means.

First, look at the logic: “More than 15% of Labour voters are from BAME communities but just 10% of Labour MPs.” Note that we do not talk about Britain as a whole, just Labour voters (clearly we do not aspire to encourage people who do not yet vote Labour). According to Wikipedia, only 13% of Britons are from ethnic minorities (11% if you exclude those of mixed race). Do we honestly think that there are folk out there saying, “Cuh! That Labour party. They’ve cheated us out of three per cent! It’s an outrage! We demand the exact same percentage and nothing less!”

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Finding grace in America and Europe

29/06/2015, 05:44:24 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“We as a country,” said President Obama in his first statement on the Charleston shootings, “will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.” He spoke with a forlorn resignation that was odd coming from the world’s supposedly most powerful person and realistic, given “the politics in this town foreclose a lot of (gun control) avenues right now”.

In the past week, however, Washington DC has not been the cradle of disappointment that it has for Obama. Through rare bipartisanship, he’s taken a big step towards completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade deal intended to cover 40 percent of the world economy and an important plank of Obama’s legacy planning. Obamacare and gay marriage, issues upon which the Supreme Court has this week backed him, also feature in this legacy.

Obama’s America, though, is also a place where, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, black men in their 20s without a high school diploma are more likely to be incarcerated than employed. It will take, of course, much more than TPP to change this. Only in relation to prison services does black America have better access to public services than white America.

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On welfare, Cameron has a point – but we have to hold him to it

25/06/2015, 10:48:01 PM

by David Ward

Napoleon once told Le Comte de Molé the value of being both a fox and a lion, “the whole secret of government lies in knowing when to be one or the other”. For Labour on the prime minister’s speech on welfare and “opportunity” on 22 June, the tempting response will be to roar at injustice as Andy Burnham indicated he would do in the recent Newsnight debate. But there are reasons to be wary of that approach.

We saw in the last parliament how effective Tory attacks on perceived injustices on those who work to provide a living for others can be. No matter how much howling is heard from the left about Benefits Street or reductions in the benefit cap it all falls straight into Osborne’s electoral trap.

Instead we can take a far more interesting approach. To say Cameron has a point on welfare and hold him to account for it.

The prime minister suggests there is a problem with government “topping up low pay…We need to move from a low wage, high tax, high welfare society to a higher wage, lower tax, lower welfare society.” And of course, he’s right. It’s what Ed Miliband used to call predistribution. For some reason it didn’t catch on.

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Labour’s on its knees and the left’s interminable marches against austerity are part of the problem

25/06/2015, 04:30:04 PM

by David Talbot

After a second successive heavy electoral defeat, Labour finds itself in the familiar phase of conducting a leadership election. In 2010, after thirteen years of a Labour government, and the ill-fated reign of Gordon Brown, there was a widely-held sentiment that a new leader would breathe life into a visibly tired and, in parts of the country, reviled party.

It was a job of regrouping, reuniting and then combatting the unheralded coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. There was a high hope, even expectation, that a return to power after five years was all but inevitable. After all, who didn’t despise the Tories and their sell-out collaborators, the Liberal Democrats?

This was an election that Labour could have won but ultimately chose not to. The litany of excuses is already being offered up early by a clearly stupefied left. The fight to define election defeat is well under way.

It is, of course, the fault of everyone but the left.

Stunned, it has returned to its ideological redoubt. What was its first major contribution to the post-election British political landscape? To march, of course. And so they did, hundreds of thousands, or tens of thousands, depending on whom you believed, marching against austerity. Just as they had done, multiple times, to no obvious affect, since 2010.

It was a return to the purity of their comfort zone; to rail against the Tories and their cuts. One could almost feel their collective relief that Labour had lost the election and they could thus continue the struggle. The left, clearly, has learnt little over the course of two devastating election defeats.

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Yes, there’s a housing crisis. Yes, more homes are needed. But what can be done right now?

24/06/2015, 09:31:08 PM

by Dan Cooke

It seems that no political candidate today, from Westminster to the humblest parish council, can venture a comment on the state of the nation without name-checking the “crisis” that is the shortage of housing, both for renters and buyers. The Labour leadership candidates are following this script, with Andy Burnham pledging record house-building to make Labour the “party of property ownership”, and Jeremy Corbyn instead threatening to make it the party of property expropriation with his provocative proposal of a right to buy from private landlords.

However, for many, it remains an unwritten rule of politics that you just don’t mess with the way we, as a country, do real estate.

Yvette Cooper once had a political near-death experience after trying to introduce home-information packs, making the mistake of thinking that the anachronistic conveyancing process  – which tortures legions every year –  might safely be improved.

Similarly, Labour’s modest proposal at the election to introduce longer standard tenancies with stable rents was widely, but absurdly, branded as “rent controls” and treated as something that would defy the laws of economics or even amount to “carpet bombing”. And the less said about the “mansion tax” the better.

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The battle for Britain’s place in the world starts now

22/06/2015, 10:47:41 PM

by Callum Anderson

The election has passed, the Labour (and Liberal Democrat) leadership contests are in full swing and the Queen has made her speech at the State Opening of Parliament.

And as has been well documented over the last month, amongst the Bills announced was the EU Referendum Bill – a commitment to giving the British people a vote on the UK’s EU membership by the end of 2017.

It was passed with an overwhelming majority of 544-53 last week.

Of course, in many ways, this is no surprise.

The tide has largely turned within the Labour camp on the concept of a referendum: the three frontrunners in the leadership contest having reversed Ed Miliband’s opposition to an EU referendum, acknowledging the inevitability that the British people wanted to have their say on whether Britain continues its membership in the EU.

A myriad of polls have shown either a decent poll for the retaining membership: YouGov poll revealing ‘record support’ among Britons for staying in the EU, while a British Future survey recently found, up to 46.8 per cent of Britons would vote to stay in the EU, as opposed to the 40.3 per cent on the contrary.

But, of course, one of the many things the 2015 General Election taught us was that we must not slavishly and unquestioningly believe opinion polls and so, therefore, we pro-Europeans must reject any notion of complacency towards the task that now stands before us.

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Want to reinvigorate the union? Get parliament and central government out of London

22/06/2015, 11:02:06 AM

by Ranjit Singh Sidhu

The news that the Palace of Westminster must undergo a works programme that could last up to 40 years, and cost more than £7bn, has taken a much greater, deeper significance than that of a simple renovation project of a crumbling structure.

Never has the palace of Westminster so physically  embodied the state of the union of the United Kingdom. We have a choice; either to patch up the old institution as best as we can, or can we be brave enough, bold enough to see it as a chance to re-imagine a new structure.

Let us make no mistake, we need bold changes to deal with the state of the union, which has become the issue of our time in the UK.  With the rise of the SNP, Scotland, naturally, is the poster child of our failing UK, however there is a greater malaise in the union felt by all not in the South East of England. The disconnect from Westminster politics of the Mancunian, Liverpudlian or Devonian is just as great as that of a Aberdonian or Glaswegian.

Coupled with this is the continual economic distress the regions of the United Kingdom have suffered over the last 35 years with the steady flow of jobs and wealth to the south east.

This is in no small part due to us still living in a United Kingdom whose central trappings are those of a conquering empire with all its legitimacy and pillars of governments, be it the head of state, executive, legislature or judiciary having all their seats of power in London. Something which may have been practical for running an empire in the 18th and 19th century, but in the modern 21st century has been one of the key drivers of systemic inequality across the UK.

So let’s fix this imbalance by getting power out of London and siting the House of Commons, the House of Lords and central government departments in different parts of the UK.

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The Tories need to be introduced into Labour’s leadership race

18/06/2015, 10:52:14 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Labour’s leadership race needs to become a lot less comradely. Last night’s debate was a pedestrian trot through the expected.

There was little direct challenge with even less to enlighten members on how these candidates would bear up when facing the Tory meat-grinder.

This has to change.

Gordon Brown serenely glided through his selection without having once been put under the type of pressure the Tories subsequently exerted on him every day.

While his disastrous leadership was little surprise to several of those who had worked with him at close quarters in government, for the rest of the Labour party his inability to deal with sustained political attack was a nightmarish revelation.

Ed Miliband triumphed without once having been robustly challenged on his innate lack of electability or an economic platform that totally ignored the judgement of the British people at the 2010 election.

Yet again, the Labour party was largely unprepared for what the Tories did to him.

This time, the membership need to see the leadership contenders run through their paces in a live-fire environment.

US primaries vet their aspirants in a way British parties’ leadership elections rarely do. Obama was a far better candidate for having faced Hillary and her 3am call ad.

The Tories need to be introduced into Labour’s leadership election.

What would they do to these candidates?

Andy Burnham is in many respects the ideal contender on paper. Experienced, decent and committed.

But he was also chief secretary to the Treasury just before the crash and opposed a full public inquiry for Mid Staffs as secretary of state for health.

This clip from the general election, highlights the continuing political danger from Mid Staffs and his inability to answer the most obvious and basic Tory attack. (more…)

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