Friday, 13 February 2015

Back to Basics..

Does the row over tax avoidance help, or hurt, Labour? Philip Collins thinks it's the former: "Not much matters in politics but the toxic association of the Tories with the inexplicably rich does matter". 

Smart Conservatives will look at the Ed Miliband-Lord Fink row, recall those focus groups in 2010 that when asked to describe their party drew an unlikable family in front of a large house, and shudder a little. But Tory woe doesn't neccesarily translate to Labour success, as today's papers show.

What Patrick Wintour calls Mr Miliband's "partial victory"over Lord Fink (both men bottled it, but Lord Fink's description of his own tax minimisation as at the "vanilla" or "mild" end of the spectrum makes him and his party look somewhat unsympathetic) is overshadowed by a row over the comparison to the current row to the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone by a senior aide to Ed Miliband.

 "Anger at Ed aide's 'Dowler' tax boast" is the Sun's take, "Storm over Labour aide who compared tax scandal to Milly Dowler's murder" is the Times' and "Dowler family's dismay at Miliband" is our page one lead. "...and now Labour drags Milly into election battle" is the Mail's frontpage take. There are calls for a resignation, but absent a second-day story that is unlikely to happen - and quite frankly if making boneheaded comparisons becomes a sacking offence in Westminster a lot of people are in a great deal of trouble. 

If anything it's Ed Miliband's words on tax avoidance that may cast a longer shadow on the Opposition. Just as John Major's "Back to Basics" campaign was an invitation for journalists to start rooting through the private lives of Conservative MPs, the risk for Labour is that their own tax affairs start to come under scrutiny - in the FT, Jim Pickard details some of the perfectly legal, but politically tricky areas we already know about. It seems likely that there are more out there - MPs with houses in trust, constituency parties with properties bequeathed by members, and so forth - that we don't yet know about. It seems likely that more come to light before this long campaign is over. 


"Red Ed The Tax Avoider" is the Mail's splash, who detail the Miliband brothers' use of a deed of variation to split the house between themselves and their mother, Marion Kozak. But, as the deed would only have minimised the tax paid had Ms Kozak died and Mr Miliband ended up paying capital gains tax when his portion of the house was sold a decade ago, the story is "a straightforward lie", a Labour spinner says, adding: "It can't be tax avoidance if no tax was avoided". 


Vladimir Putin's ceasefire with the Ukraine must be more than "words on a piece of paper", David Cameron has warned. David Cameron has said that sanctions will not be lifted unless Mr Putin's "behaviour changes". The ceasefire will "ultimatley be judged by deeds, and not simply words," Douglas Alexander agreed.


Education spending will increase at least in line with inflation under a Labour government, Ed Miliband announced yesterday. As with the Conservatives "real-terms freeze", it's not as good as it sounds. Sam Freedman explainswhy it means a real terms cut to education, although under Labour's plans per pupil funding will be down 9.5% compared to 10.5% under the Conservatives. 


Nicola Sturgeon tells the i's Oliver Duff that the SNP must be less confrontational, with its rivals and the English. "I'm not making any secret of the fact I still believe in independence," Ms Sturgeon says, ""But as long as Scotland is part of the UK, I want us to play a constructive, progressive role in how Westminster politics develops." She adds: "SNP MPs are never going to be part of a majority for David Cameron." "Trust me, Sturgeon tells the English" is the i's splash. The thought occurs that the SNP-Plaid-Green bloc is leaving itself with a pretty poor hand in negotiations, having all but guaranteed that it will support Ed Miliband come what may. 


Ukip is a "state of mind", Nigel Farage declared yesterday, and said that the party is now the main opposition in nearly every seat in England from the north to the south, while Labour and the Conservatives are merely regional parties, Rowena Mason reports in the Guardian


Sarah Teather is the latest retiring MP in Rosa Prince's running series of interviews. Ms Teather spent a month in silence at Loyola Hall, a Jesuit retreat in Liverpool, before deciding to stand down from Parliament. After the election, Ms Teather will work with the Jesuit Refugee Service, something she is "really excited about", although, she adds, "perhaps I ought to to feel excited because it's a whopping pay cut. People keep telling me the place I'm going to in South Sudan is very basic." 


Harriet Harman has become embroiled in a war of words with Karen Danczuk, a former Labour councillor, and wife of Simon Danczuk, the maverick Labour MP. Ms Danczuk says Ms Harman told her that she was "far too pretty to be interested in politics" and "should be in Girls Aloud". It's "inconceivable I would ever have said that", Labour's deputy leader protested. But Ms Danczuk is standing by her version of events. "I actually took it as a compliment and still do," she says. Matt Holehouse has the story. 


I got a little over-excited yesterday about a study suggesting that Google had a bigger impact on how people voted in the Scottish referendum than the Vow. Chris Hanretty, one-third of the excellent ElectionForecast.Co.Uk, delivers a fairly comprehensive debunking of the study on his blog. I forgot Twyman's Law: if a finding is interesting, it's probably wrong. Apologies.  


Speaking of which: IpsosMori has all the papers jumping with a new poll showing Ukip on their lowest rating (9%) with any pollster since September of last year, and the Liberal Democrats on 6%, their worst showing with that company for 25 years. It's nothing to be that excited about. The Liberals have polled at 6% or below 12 times this year, with their worst showing at just 5% with Opinium. This doesn't really tell us anything we don't already know: Ukip appear to be suffering a small decline in their support, while the Liberal Democrats are still flatlining. 


Boris Johnson is urging the Conservatives to put tax incentives for firms that pay the living wage at the heart of the Tory campaign, Tom Newton Dunn reveals in the Sun. "Getting people better incomes" should be the campaign's focus, the Mayor of London has told friends. 


Andy Grice has an interview with a morose Jeremy Brownein the Indy - "Ex-Lib Dem minister slams 'insipid' Clegg" is their splash - who says that the Liberal Democrats face losses from which it will "be very difficult to recover", that from 2012 his party stopped to think like a governing party, distancing themselves from the Coalition, which he calls "a winning proposition. If [it] was on the ballot paper, it would win in May." He adds, modestly: "I embody the spirit that Nick Clegg brought to government for the first two years of this Parliament – to a greater degree than he now does." 


Jamie Ross and Jim Waterson of BuzzFeed have unearthedAlex Salmond's cameo in a Pakistani soap opera. The former First Minister, at that time having a resting period between stints as SNP leader, played a ghost in the supernatural series The Castle. Mr Salmond tells the BuzzFeed team he hopes to play a ghost in his second retirement as well. "This time round I'm hoping to haunt the House of Commons," he chuckled. 


"With the benefit of hindsight I wish we had known what we subsequently discovered but that's hypothetical. I knew what I was doing. I made a decision, and I'm accountable for it," Jack Straw says of his support for the war in Iraq. "I knew that had I taken a contrary view I could have stopped the UK's involvement."  Labour's brush with death in the early 1980s, his time as a SpAd to Barbara Castle, at the bar, and at the Home and Foriegn Offices all feature in Rosa Prince's interview, which will be available here in the afternoon here, where you can also read the full series of interviews so far. Have a lovely weekend. 

You can get in touch with me by pressing "reply" or or on Twitter. Our cartoon is the work of Christian Adams, who is also on Twitter. A gallery of his work can be viewed here.  


Labour 34% Conservatives 33% Ukip 14% Liberal Democrat 7% Ukip 14% Greens 7% (Ashcroft-IpsosMori-Opinium-Populus-YouGov) 


Ipsos-MORI: Labour 36% Conservatives 34% Ukip 9% Green 7% Liberal Democrat 6%

YouGov: Labour 34% Conservatives 31% Ukip 15% Green 7% Liberal Democrat 7%


@rafaelbehr: Email arrives: 'time to register for party conference'. Can I get through circles 1-8 of political hell before signing up for ninth please.


From the Telegraph

Fraser Nelson - Raising tuition fees is paying off for everyone, except Nick Clegg

James Kirkup - Nigel Farage has become a boring politician like all the rest 

From elsewhere

Philip Collins - Toxic Tories are digging themselves into a hole (Times)

Helen Lewis - What Leonardo and the loo paper can teach us about modern politics (NS)


0900: Nigel Farage on LBC Radio. 

1600 LONDON: Campaigners hand in giant Valentine's Day card for Guantanamo Bay detainee Shaker Aamer at US Embassy.


In recess until 23rd February