Talking Politics
  • Getty ImagesBy James Harris, director of campaigns and communications for Dignity in Dying

    As is well documented, some dying Britons who consider their suffering unbearable travel abroad to die. Others take matters into their own hands domestically - based on research by the think tank Demos, around ten per cent of all suicides are by people who are chronically or terminally ill. How the law confronts this difficult area is one of the most fraught and important ethical issues we face today.

    Prior to 1961 it was an offence to attempt to take your life. But society moved on, prosecutions dropped, and the law changed. The Suicide Act of 1961 decriminalised suicide and attempted suicide, and attempted to protect vulnerable people by introducing a new offence of assisted suicide - punishable by up to 14 years in prison. In doing so, parliament created a legal anomaly: an offence of assisting an act that is legal.

    Nevertheless, this anomaly exists in part for good reason. There is universal agreement

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  • If political parties meant something, party funding wouldn't be an issue.

    Labour could happily take its money from trade union members, who, clubbed together, would compete with the sums offered by the handful of millionaire donors the Tories rely on. There is nothing unreasonable about this arrangement, if you believe politics to be the resolution of class war.

    Class war is off the agenda now, but not so long ago this was an appropriate way to do things. Alas, the public no longer associates itself with that vision of politics, making the reliance on union and millionaire backers unseemly.

    The image of Cameron mocking Ed Miliband for his 'union paymasters' is particularly disreputable, given the donor scandal which broke this weekend. Miliband has, to his credit, made some effort to minimise union influence on the party, including tackling the block vote. But nine out of ten pounds donated to Labour comes from unions. In the final quarter of 2010, Labour's central office received no

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  • By Dr Matthew Ashton

    Regardless of how David Cameron and the Conservatives might try to dress up the donation row, there is no getting round the fact that this is a huge scandal for the party.

    You have the treasurer of the Conservative party, Peter Cruddas, on tape talking to two undercover reporters and making some pretty serious claims about what they can get in return for donations. While it has to be made clear that no laws were broken because no money changed hands, anyone watching or listening to it would certainly get the impression that there was something wrong. Reading the transcript, there are at least four points that stick out as being problematic.

    Firstly is the fact that Cruddas does seem to be making the argument that if you give money you'll get special access to the prime minister. Also that it has to be a pretty sizeable donation in order to get that access. Sums as large as £200,000 and £250,000 are bandied about. In a democracy like ours, even the suggestion that

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  • Dave Powell is economics campaigner for Friends of the Earth

    Tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry, millions of pounds for roads and the trumpeting of an "unashamedly" pro-developer planning system show where Osborne's heart lies.

    If only we had more than a few years to get carbon emissions under control properly; if only we weren't facing stiff competition for green jobs and industry from other countries; if only we had the luxury of time. Then a Budget that gave a leg-up to dirty, expensive oil and gas and delighted in sacrificing protections for our green and pleasant land at the altar of growth wouldn't be quite so depressing.

    After all, this was a Budget from a chancellor who in opposition - lest we forget, and I suspect he wishes we would - promised that the Treasury would lead from the front in the fight for green jobs, green industry, and decarbonising the UK economy. It was overseen by a prime minister who happily courted the green vote and, with the ink barely dry on his

    Read More »from The chancellor’s priorities are not with the environment
  • George Osborne has two jobs. He is chancellor, a position he is rather well known for, and also Conservative chief election strategist, which he is slightly less well known for. I'll allow minds far more capable than my own to comment on his accomplishments in the former category. But today's Budget shows beyond doubt that he is spectacularly failing in the latter.

    He was never as good at it as many pundits gave him credit for. He played chicken with Gordon Brown over a possible election in 2007 and won, with a promise to cut inheritance tax. This earned him a reputation for genius which he does not seem to actually possess. If he did possess it, one would expect him to have scraped a majority against a deeply unpopular Labour government in 2010.

    The decision to cut the 50p top rate of income tax on incomes over £150,000 commits what the Americans call a 'rookie error'. It plays directly into the narrative that his opponents are using. Labour says the cuts are ideological, that behind

    Read More »from Budget 2012: Osborne’s political failure
  • The biggest cheer during this year's Budget was not about the top rate of income tax, or extra cash for businesses, or that the economic forecasts are improving. It was about whether Wallace and Gromit would remain in the UK.

    The chancellor was of course referring to plans to boost Britain as a location for the production of "premium" television programmes like Birdsong and Downton Abbey. You won't find it in the official text of the Budget statement, but there can be no denying these words left Osborne's mouth: "It is the determined policy of this government that we keep Wallace and Gromit exactly where they are!" Tory backbenchers enjoyed Osborne's use of Miliband and Balls' nicknames of course, but the roar of approval also reflected a triumphant exultation of these very British characters in the midst of these embattled times.

    It was a very jingoistic Budget. The chancellor is instinctively pulled towards flagging up the strength of the UK economy on the world stage. This is the

    Read More »from From the Commons chamber: More tax cuts, Gromit?
  • Osborne should listen to the modernisers

    Duncan O'Leary is deputy director of the Demos think-tank

    Politicians have a golden opportunity to come out in favour what would really help the "squeezed middle" — tax reform.

    As ever, this week's Budget will be driven as much by politics as economics. All parties agree on the need to kick-start growth — but the policy preferences of each are driven by much more than their reading of the economic data. Behind the debates over tax, spending and regulation lie disagreements about what kind of society Britain is, and should become.

    Increasingly, these disagreements are surfacing within political parties, not just between them. The Liberal Democrats made headlines last week as activists clashed with the leadership over expectations of a mansion tax. Members want to see Vince Cable's idea written into the Budget; those involved in coalition negotiations are more sanguine about its prospects. Nick Clegg has sought to head off a revolt with his own proposal for a 'tycoon tax', designed to

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  • Those losing sleep over the possibility of another conflict over the Falkland Islands should rest easy. The current high level of tensions suits politicians in both London and Buenos Aires.

    This April 2nd marks the 30th anniversary of the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentinian forces. It has been preceded by months of rising tempers. Prime minister David Cameron and president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner have engaged in a very public slanging match over the archipelago. Maps of the Falklands with an Argentinian flag plastered over them have perhaps been the highlight of this very unsubtle public messaging campaign.

    Some people are understandably nervous about this. They fear that Argentina might be looking to make another grab for the Islands. They shouldn't be worried, according to Nigel Inkster of the International Institute of Strategic Studies think tank. Argentina is simply not going to launch another military invasion of the Falklands.

    "The Argentines' armed forces

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  • The need for a radical tax policy

    By Dr Matthew Ashton

    A financial minister once commented that "the art of taxation is like plucking a goose: to get the most feathers with the least amount of hissing". This is the issue facing George Osborne this week. No one disagrees with the argument that lowering taxes could help kick-start growth, however if the overall burden of taxation is reduced then the government potentially will have to make up the gap with further borrowing. This makes the Budget the world's most complex balancing act. Osborne has to take into account not only the wishes of his own party and supporters, but the Liberal Democrats, the IMF and the various credit rating agencies. The smallest change in taxation one way or another could significantly alter how they view the UK's long term prospects, with knock-on effects on our AAA credit rating. I'd argue however that there are four other problems with regards to the government's long-term approach to tax.

    One is simply the fact the system still has so many

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  • We don’t need the 50p rate OR the mansion tax

    Pic: ThinkstockBy Emma Boon, communications director for the Taxpayer's Alliance

    Ahead of the Budget next week there is much discussion about how we make the rich pay more tax. Vince Cable has suggested he would trade the 50p income tax rate for a mansion tax. But we shouldn't feel constrained to a choice between two awful ideas.

    If you tax high incomes at the 50p rate (more like 60p once you include national insurance) you will find there are fewer high incomes around to tax. Politicians can try to clamp down on tax avoidance but they can't stop people employing the avoidance strategy of last resort: don't earn a lot of money in the UK.

    Britain has one of the highest top marginal tax rates, and one of the highest combined top marginal income rates (including national insurance contributions), in the developed world, and the highest of the major developed economies. With the 50p rate in place we can't compete with other world economies and there is a powerful incentive for people to leave or not come

    Read More »from We don’t need the 50p rate OR the mansion tax


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