English parliament

The Telegraph asks whether it’s time for the Commons to sit as an English parliament. 

It is a fortnight since Gordon Brown proposed his latest ideas on giving yet more powers to the Scottish Parliament. He also railed against the Tory plan for English votes for English laws. The Thane of Fife has said nothing of note since these pronouncements, which leads me to suspect that he has either exhausted his supply of ideas for constitutional vandalism (unlikely) or he is preparing himself for yet another assault on the battered United Kingdom (likely).

Mr Brown’s relative silence on the subject in recent weeks is odd, because since the final desperate days of the Scottish referendum campaign the Unionists have danced a reel to a tune played by the former prime minister. It was Mr Brown who organised “The Vow”, the infamous document put together on mock-medieval parchment and signed by David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, which promised more devolution to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. It was published on the front page of the Labour-supporting Daily Record tabloid, whose editor had come up with the original idea, and trumpeted with revivalist fervour by Mr Brown in the powerful speeches he made on numerous occasions in the final days of the campaign.

Scotland

North of the border, the Telegraph reports that the Labour leader may not be allowed to campaign there.

Scottish Labour MPs are threatening to bar Ed Miliband from campaigning in their constituencies before the election amid fears he puts off voters.

Politicians fighting to keep their seats amid surging support for the SNP have also told the Sunday Telegraph the Labour leader will not feature on local campaign leaflets.

It comes with senior Scottish Nationalists privately pledging to highlight Mr Miliband’s low personal approval ratings and lack of obvious links to the country ahead of the election.

They will attempt to portray Mr Miliband as the Labour leader with the “least affinity” with Scotland for a generation and claim he is an electoral asset for the SNP.

The revelations come with Labour facing an electoral apocalypse in Scotland in less than three months with polling showing the party could lose as many as 35 of its 41 Scottish MPs.

To test the mood within the party this newspaper talked to numerous Scottish Labour MPs about their hopes of mounting a comeback after the alarming slump in support since the Scottish independence referendum last September.

Tax avoidance

Sky News picks up on Red Ed’s refusal to back down on tax avoidance.

Ed Miliband has accused the Government of failing to tackle tax avoidance, as he pledged a Labour government would carry out an inquiry into the UK’s tax authority.

The party leader argued people not paying their fair share had left “a £34bn hole in the nation’s finances” and threatened “the fabric of society”.

Promising an “aggressive” review into Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) if his party wins the May general election, Mr Miliband pointed to suspicions of “sweetheart deals” with wealthy firms.

“It will shine a light on parts of our tax system that have been shrouded in secrecy under this government,” he said.

Mr Miliband’s comments came as the fall-out from claims of tax dodging at HSBC continued, with the company’s former boss, Lord Green, announcing he is stepping down from an influential City lobby group.

But the Telegraph claims that Labour Party donors are facing similar accusations

The most senior business leader to back Ed Miliband has been accused of avoiding tax over a multi-million pound company loan.

Dale Vince, a green energy tycoon said to be worth more than £100million, took £3.2 million out of his own company through an interest-free loan that one tax expert described as a “tax avoidance arrangement, in all likelihood”.

The allegation is potentially embarrassing for Mr Miliband, who has gone on the offensive, accusing David Cameron of being a “dodgy prime minister surrounded by dodgy donors” who have avoided paying tax.

Mr Vince’s company, Ecotricity, announced last week that it was donating £250,000 to the Labour Party, riding to the rescue of Mr Miliband who was under fire for his failure to find a single significant business figure to back him.

The latest Ecotricity accounts, posted on Friday at Companies House, show Mr Vince has been loaned £3.2 million by his own company. The loan is interest free and there is no time limit stipulating when it must be repaid.

The loan allows Mr Vince – who made his fortune building wind farms and solar parks and selling green electricity to 150,000 customers – to use the income without paying personal tax on it, other than a much reduced sum as a benefit in kind.

Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant and tax expert, said: “What the loan does is potentially advance money at a lower rate of tax than would be the case if he was paid a dividend or a salary now.

“Deferring when the tax is paid is one of the major methods of tax avoidance. This therefore looks to be a tax avoidance arrangement.”

Labour’s ‘mansion tax’

The Telegraph has calculated that other ways of raising revenue could be found as an alternative to the mansion tax.

Labour could generate the same amount of money by ditching the mansion tax and instead raising levies on empty houses, foreign buyers and buy-to-let landlords, a new report has found.

Analysis by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) found targeted taxation could raise more than £6 billion next parliament without hitting cash-strapped families.

The findings call into question whether Labour’s plans to make people in houses worth more than £2 million pay more is the fairest way to boost revenues through property tax.

Howard Cox, who runs centre-right Fair Homes Tax campaign and commissioned the research, said Labour was pursuing the policy for ideological reasons and called on them to reconsider.

He criticised Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, for refusing to consider ditching the mansion tax after the pair met for face-to-face discussions about the findings and other tax changes.

Labour proposes to charge people with a house worth between £2 million and £3 million an extra £250 a month – the equivalent of £3,000 more every year.

The CEBR research found that a similar amount could be raised by more targeted taxation. Charging foreign buyers a higher rate of stamp duty would increase tax revenues by a total of £3.3 billion by 2019-20, the report found.

Allowing councils to charge a 100 per cent council tax premium on properties empty for longer than six months would generate an additional £1.3 billion by the end of next parliament while scrapping tax reliefs for buy-to-let landlords would add another £1.5 billion.

School academies

The Independent reports that some academies are behaving inappropriately.

Serious flaws in the way the Government’s 4,400 academies are scrutinised have emerged as a result of an investigation by public spending watchdogs.

Directors of trusts that run academies have been allowed to “develop inappropriate business interests”, Chris Wormald, chief official of the Department for Education (DfE), has been warned.

The warning comes in a letter by Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, and seen by The Independent on Sunday. It also warns that the DfE must draw up tougher guidelines for “what constitutes fit and proper behaviour for those in positions of responsibility in the academy sector”.

The letter follows a public hearing into the financial affairs of the Durand Academy in Brixton, south London, where executive head and trust director Sir Greg Martin was found to be in receipt of £160,000 a year from a company set up to run leisure facilities on a site at the school in addition to his £229,000 headteacher’s annual salary.

The committee was also told that a website at the school was used to run a private dating agency.

Party donations

The Observer quotes ex-chancellor Ken Clark’s comments that the Tory party should shun wealthy donors to avoid scandal.

The Conservative party needs to break its dependence on millionaires, the former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke has told the Observer, amid a growing furore over the tax affairs of the party’s donors.

After a week of some of the most intense fighting between the parties in recent years, Clarke said the Conservatives would be strengthened by loosening the hold of rich men on their financial survival.

He called on David Cameron to cap political donations and increase state funding of political parties to put an end to damaging scandals and rows. The Conservatives have been rocked in the past week by a potentially toxic combination of allegations of tax evasion by clients of the HSBC bank, whose chairman, Lord Green, became a Tory minister; tax avoidance by party donors; and leaked details of the secretive black and white fundraising ball.

On Saturday, Green stepped down from a financial services lobby group, TheCityUK’s advisory council, in order to avoid “damaging the effectiveness” of its efforts “in promoting good governance”.

Shrinks for MPs?

The Sunday Times quotes former spin doctor Alistair Campbell saying MPs need psychiatric help.

EVERY politician in Britain should see a psychiatrist, Alastair Campbell, the former Labour spin doctor, has told The Sunday Times.

In an interview, Tony Blair’s former spokesman argued that “100%” of British politicians would benefit from psychiatric help to deal with the stresses of the job and to make them better leaders.

Campbell, who has himself been treated for depression and alcoholism, also revealed that he advised Blair and Gordon Brown to get couple’s counselling at the nadir of their relationship in order to settle their differences.

That revelation is contained in Campbell’s book, Winners and How They Succeed, serialised in The Sunday Times today.

The book argues that modern politicians are less effective leaders than top people in sport and business, where psychologists are routinely employed to improve performance.

Asked how many politicians would benefit from psychiatric support, he said: “I think 100%.”

The pink bus

The Independent reports that Labour’s pink campaign bus is patronising to women.

Most voters think Labour’s pink Woman to Woman campaign bus patronises women, according to a ComRes poll for The Independent on Sunday. The poll found that 57 per cent of women and 55 per cent of men agree that “by travelling around Britain in a pink bus to try and attract female voters, the Labour Party is patronising women”.

The bus – which Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader, described as “magenta” – aims to reach the nine million women who didn’t vote at the last election. But the choice of colour has been criticised by campaigners against gender stereotyping.

Some female Labour MPs who support the Let Toys Be Toys campaign against gender-specific marketing have been privately embarrassed by the row.

Our poll also found that women voters support the campaign against the marketing of toys and books, often colour-coded pink and blue, at either girls or boys.

The poll found that 44 per cent of people agree that “shops should put less emphasis on aiming some toys at girls and others at boys”; 33 per cent disagree. Just over half of women polled agree (52 per cent), compared with 36 per cent of men. More men disagree (39 per cent) than agree.

THAT tweet

The Mirror claims Shadow chancellor Ed Balls is selling signed and framed copies of ‘that’ tweet.

Ed Balls and the Labour Party are now selling framed, signed copies of *that* tweet.

On April 28, 2011, Ed Balls made Twitter history when he tweeted his own name – simply tweeting “Ed Balls”.

It became clear that the Shadow Chancellor was attempting to search Twitter for a news article in which he was mentioned.

Now ‘Ed Balls Day’ is celebrated across the country each year on April 28.

The Labour Shadow Chancellor is now giving away framed copies of the tweet – and even better, he is signing them.

Labour Students – the student wing of Labour – were given the framed tweet by Ed Balls in order to raise money for the General Election in May.

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