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Douglas Alexander was touring television studios this morning explaining why he thought holding a referendum on Britain’s EU membership was a bad idea. After months of toying with the idea of copying the Tories in promising an in/out referendum in the next parliament, Labour seems to have finally decided that would be a bad idea.
This uncharacteristic decisiveness gave Ed Miliband a platform from which to attack David Cameron in today’s PMQs, and the Labour leader made the most of it. His first question was meant to embarrass the PM and amuse his own party, and it worked:
As Britain trundles towards a possible referendum on EU membership, people are beginning to ask what kind of result it might throw up.
David Cameron is gambling that if he manages to renegotiate some powers away from Brussels, voters will prefer this new settlement to not being in the union at all. And if past experience is to be believed, he has reason to be optimistic: when asked to assent to a plan from Brussels, voters across Europe tend to answer yes.
Fraser Nelson writes an interesting column in the Telegraph today arguing that David Cameron has returned to Downing Street a changed man in 2013 with a renewed desire to make “Cameronism” mean something. But Nelson also notes that the Tory leader’s big vision all too often gets lost in policy u-turns and conflicting messages.
It is a trait that is increasingly vexing his backbenchers, fed up of defending contradictory messages emanating from the centre with their local associations. This week those rumblings rose to the surface when his parliamentary party used a meeting on the 2015 election strategy to let off steam about his very public backing of gay marriage.
Sir Jeremy Heywood, the government’s chief civil servant, was up in front of MPs on the Public Administration Select Committee this morning, talking about the Andrew Mitchell “plebgate” affair.
Heywood had been asked by the prime minister to look into the email trail behind the accusations that Mitchell had called a police officer a “pleb” – in particular at the testimony from someone purporting to be a member of the public who had witnessed the incident.
When reviewing these emails, Heywood looked at the CCTV footage from nearby cameras. These seemed to suggest Mitchell had not got angry with the officer in question, although was inconclusive whether he said the word “pleb” (he has always maintained he did not).
Instead this was a major moment; when the Obama administration made clear in public its growing concerns about the prospect of a UK exit from the European Union – and even with the idea of a referendum.
MPs on all sides of the Commons have piled into the Tories – and particularly George Osborne – over the party’s developing narrative of “shirkers vs workers” (or if you like “skivers vs strivers”).
Sarah Wollaston, the Tory MP, was one of the first from her side to speak out against the kind of image seen in one of her party’s latest campaigns, which depicts an unemployed person slumped on a sofa, apparently unwilling to work. She told the Commons:
Martin Beck of Capital Economics has sought to remedy that today, putting out a 12-page briefing note on whether the rest of the UK would suffer if Scotland went it alone. Many of the conclusions are speculative: an awful lot depends on what the independence settlement looks like and what happens to the economy after 2014. But there are some interesting points definitely worth pulling out:
The coalition’s mid-term “mid-term” parliamentary programme – which is hogging the headlines today – may seem rather thin compared with the original coalition agreement of 2010, which ran into hundreds of pledges.
What’s striking is today’s PR stunt (sorry, renewal of political vows) also includes one or two areas where an agreement is by no means pinned down between the Tories and Lib Dems.
One of these is the attempt by George Osborne and others to inject billions of pounds into the road network, preferably by a privatisation of the motorways and trunk roads.
This year is likely to be one of the hardest for the coalition, as spending cuts begin to hit harder than ever before. Tory MPs are warning that the measure that is most worrying their constituents is the removal of child benefit from higher earners, and analysis today from the Institute of Fiscal Studies gives us some inclination as to why.
The IFS has examined how much this will cost parents earning over £50,000 – the point at which the payments begin to be taken away. It has found that the measure will mean that for someone with one child who earns over £50,000, they will have a marginal tax rate of 52.6 per cent. In other words, for every extra pound earned over that level, 52.6p will be taken away. As they continue to go up the income scale, they will lose more and more cash until they hit £60,000 and all the child benefit payments are gone. This results in a marginal tax graph that looks like this:
Labour shadow ministers have been piling into the argument over the three year squeeze on working-age benefits, which will limit their rise to just 1 per cent rather than inflation as normally happens.
Ed Balls is at it again today in a piece for PoliticsHome, in which he says:
Two-thirds of people who will be hit by David Cameron and George Osborne’s real terms cuts to tax credits and benefits are in work.
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