MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
BREAKING: David Gauke, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, was just on the Today programme talking about aggressive tax avoidance schemes.
He said it was immoral for wealthy people to avoid tax when so many people on middle incomes were struggling, adding that “in these circumstances, it’s perfectly reasonable” for politicians to comment on tax affairs.
He also suggested that those who had have used the K2 schemes to avoid tax should not presume that they will not be required to pay some of it back – since it may not be “an effective” shelter under the current set up.
But has David Cameron thought through the consequences of his attack on Jimmy Carr? He’s described the comedian’s tax avoidance wheeze as ‘morally wrong’ and no doubt most people will say ‘hear hear’. As Robert Colvile argues, the humiliation of this smug leftie is a cause for national celebration. But the Prime Minister may find that his intervention invites some searching questions about the tax morality of others, in particular those in his social circle.
It also defies the principle that the Government should defend taxpayer confidentiality: it shouldn’t be for a minister to comment on the tax affairs of a citizen doing something that may not delight everyone, but which is perfectly legal.
Then there’s the very issue of morality and taxes: the Tories have talked about it before, but in the sense of deploring as immoral the enormous amounts of money the state takes off each of us. Is he changing course? The cheers he might get for mouthing populist sentiment might not last long.
NO PINK SHORTS
Craig Oliver’s threat to publish pictures of Lobby journalists relaxing in Mexico clearly got to one hack. A rumour reaches me that a prominent member of the Lobby may have tried to nick Dr Dre’s camera to get hold of certain photos that may have showed, among other things, another big man of the Lobby lounging in pink shorts.
RETURN OF THE O-LEVEL
That aside, the big policy news today is the Mail’s splash: “Return of the O-Level: Gove plans to scrap dumbed-down GCSEs and National Curriculum in the biggest revolution in education for 30 years”
Leaked documents reveal that Mr Gove has drawn up a blueprint which would tear up the current exam system as well as abolishing the National Curriculum. From September 2014, it suggests, pupils will begin studying for ‘explicitly harder’ exams in English, maths, physics, chemistry and biology.
Another step in the Gove progress towards true voice of muscular conservatism. Will we hear more calls for Mr Gove to become PM?
Stephen Twigg MP are out suggesting that this could divide children at fourteen into winners and losers, saying: “When the Tories abolished O-levels and introduced GCSEs in the 1980s they said standards would rise. Now they say they’ve fallen.”
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Truss MP has called on the the Government to make maths a required subject to the age of 18 by 2015 to address the “strategic weakness the UK”.
A DECADE OF CUTS
And, of course, we still don’t have any money – and won’t for a long time. We report that Sir Jeremy Heywood has warned that we face decade of spending cuts last night.
Apparently we’re only a quarter of the way through balancing the books. He said: “We are 25 per cent through fiscal adjustment. Spending cuts could last seven, eight, 10 years,” keeping us squeezed until 2020.
The Coalition said they’d clear the structural deficit in five years in 2010. Then last year George admitted he’d need two more – and some tax rises. And since then, the economy has slipped back into recession, eroding the tax take and pushing up welfare spending. Guess they were wrong.
George could keep trying to blame the eurozone though. Particularly as progress towards a solution is as slow as ever. Last night Angela Merkel let us know that her support for a bond buying plan to ease euro debts is only ‘theoretical’. You can read more about that here.
STATE OF THE TORIES
Mr Gove’s O-level announcement might cheer Tories today, but the mood is fractious. The Guardian’s Nick Watt reports that the Chief Whip has told the PM to expect a heavy defeat on House of Lords reform if it goes ahead. More than 100 Tory MPs have indicated that they are prepared to rebel (this would dwarf the rebellion of last October on the EU referendum).
It reports that one well-placed Tory said: “If the programme motion does not go through the government’s whole legislative business will be gummed up for the rest of the parliament. Colleagues do feel very strongly about it. A few PPSs [parliamentary private secretaries] will resign.”
Lord Ashcroft doesn’t have good news for the Blues either. In a column for the Guardian he warns against the Tories attacking Ed Miliband, explaining that polling shows people support the Labour Party despite Ed Miliband, whereas people were initially drawn into voting Tory because of David Cameron. They need to be careful not to emphasis this:
“Deteriorating opinions of Cameron will therefore have a bigger impact on the Conservatives’ vote share than worsening views of Miliband would have on Labour’s.”
George Osborne will not like Peter Oborne’s view on how to fix this mess. In his column today, he argues that No 10’s many troubles can be traced back to the Chancellor, suggesting that he should be forced to choose between his two jobs at the coming reshuffle.
And on the other major bone of contention for the Coalition, Nick Clegg and Andrew Mitchell soldier on. Both gave their whole-hearted support for gay marriage yesterday. Nick Clegg recorded a video for Out4Marriage campaign yesterday, saying it was “a fundamental right in a liberal society” (you can watch the video here) and Andrew Mitchell said only OAPs oppose it. You can read more about this in the Mail .
Yvette Cooper, however, is in a softer mood. She has a column in the Times today, saying Labour’s learned its lesson on immigration:
“This isn’t the easiest subject for the Labour Party. In government we didn’t do enough to address people’s concerns on immigration. By the election, we had lost the argument — people felt that the system was unfair and politicians weren’t listening.We need to change.”
She does, of course, take a pop at the Tories solutions though.
Dave dampened hopes that he’d scrap the 3p increase in petrol tax planned for this autumn on Sky News yesterday (after all he only agreed to “look at” it).
He warned that the Government “does not have a bottomless pit of money” and would need to find an additional £1.5 billion per year if it were to ditch the increase.
And if you thought you’d seen the last of Adrian Beecroft, you’d be mistaken. Today he’ll take part on the first in a series of Telegraph workplace debates. He’ll be sat alongside Brendan Barber, answering readers’ questions in a video debate.
He’ll be appearing before the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill Committee at 1.15pm. But that is not before
TWEETS AND TWITS
Tory MP Peter Mannion isn’t subtle:
“@PeterMannionMP: I hope someone gives Dave a tape of William Hague’s performance at #PMQs today. #pmq”
Latest YouGov/The Sun results: Conservatives 34%, Labour 41%, Lib Dems 10%, UKIP 8%
Overall government approval rating: -32
In The Telegraph
Sue Cameron: Who will find David Cameron a pro-gay marriage archbishop?
Peter Oborne: No 10’s many troubles can be traced back to George Osborne
James Delingpole: Drugs: let’s be softer on our youngsters
Leader: Pump action
Best of the rest
Dominic Raab in the Financial Times: How bankers and unions can get their just deserts
Steve Richards in the Independent: Forcing peers to face the voters will make them obey the rules
Yvette Cooper in the Times: Labour has learnt its lesson on immigration
Michael Ashcroft in the Guardian: Why a Tory onslaught on Ed Miliband could backfire
Today: Nick Clegg attends a “high-level fringe discussion” on food security and the environment at the Rio+20 Conference. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Today: Alastair Campbell diaries vol. 4 published covering 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq
1.15pm: Adrian Beecroft appears before the the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill Committee. Boothroyd Room. Westminster
3pm: Aung San Suu Kyi addresses both houses of UK Parliament. Westminster Hall, London
4pm: Eurozone finance ministers meet in Luxembourg amid ongoing debt crisis
10.35pm: ‘Question Time’ from West Bromwich. The panel will include Ken Clarke, Andy Burnham, general secretary of the Unite trade union Len McCluskey, economist Ruth Lea and Midlands businesswoman of the year Julie White.