Juliette Gerstein looks back at what has been driving the political agenda in the past week.
Foreign policy issues have continued to dominate the agenda this week as the EU agreed a new set of sanctions on Russia, and the conflict in Gaza continued, whilst Westminster began to shut down for the summer.
Tax returned to the headlines, after Whitehall sources suggested that, despite the increase in GDP, the tax take was not high enough to see new tax cuts in the Autumn Statement. The Prime Minister indicated that, whilst he broadly supported an increase to the threshold for the top rate of income tax, he could not promise to implement this at the current time. Increases in the tax take from stamp duty and inheritance tax have led to calls for an increase in the thresholds for both taxes. The Shadow Chancellor gave a speech arguing that wages have fallen under this Government more sharply than at any time since 1880, but faced questions about Labour’s plans for a tax on estates to pay for social care, or an increase in national insurance to pay for the NHS. Tim Bale dismissed suggestions from Oliver Letwin that the Tories could introduce a flat tax, saying it was too risky and too unpopular, whilst Chris Mason at the BBC suggested both Labour’s NHS plans and Letwin’s flat tax comments were merely the ‘musings’ of senior politicians, rather than planned policies.
Labour research suggested that improved UKIP polling at the General Election could help Labour, rather than taking seats equally from the two largest parties, whilst a survey showed that almost one third of Tory voters would prefer a coalition with UKIP to one with the Lib Dems if there was another hung Parliament, and that Lib Dem voters favoured a second Tory coalition over one with Labour. A separate ComRes poll put Labour on course to win the election, but emphasised that Miliband is not popular with voters. Damian McBride published further extracts from his book, attacking Ed Miliband’s policies as a ‘steaming pile of fudge’ and suggested that he is an ‘isolated’ and ‘paranoid’ leader. Commentators welcomed the opportunity to provide advice to the Labour Leader, with Janan Ganesh warning Miliband against being seen as a revolutionary with big ideas, suggesting that this was not what voters want as recovery begins to take hold. Hugo Rifkind said that Miliband’s image was not the issue, but that it’s the ideas that voters don’t like. Frank Dobson, having announced his plans to leave Parliament, attacked Miliband’s inner circle, and said that Labour need to ‘boil things down to a few simple, short, sharp concepts.
David Cameron announced further restrictions on migrants receiving benefits in the UK, including access to child benefit halved from six to three months unless there is a realistic prospect of employment. However, Labour claimed that they had been calling for tighter controls for eighteen months and accused the Government of failing to take a firm stance, whilst Nigel Farage accused the PM of trying to play catch up with public opinion, warning that the Government was powerless to stop migration because of European law. Matthew Norman attacked Cameron’s stance as ‘ugly,’ and questioned whether Cameron himself really supported it. The Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham used a speech to argue that voters deserve a real debate on the future of the NHS, and criticised the ‘pace’ and ‘scale’ of privatisation, but John McTernan said that Labour is fighting the wrong battle on the NHS. The Prime Minister welcomed a major project which will map the genetic codes of cancer sufferers and people with rare diseases. The project intends to make chemotherapy redundant by exploring targeted and personalised treatments. Cameron claimed the announcement would see the UK ‘lead the world in genetic research’.