Mehdi's Morning Memo: Wake Up And Smell The Taxes

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The ten things you need to know on Monday 3rd December 2012...

1) WAKE UP AND SMELL THE TAXES

It's tax avoidance week. From the BBC:

"Global firms in the UK that pay little or no tax are an 'insult' to British businesses, a committee of MPs says.

"Public Accounts Committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge said HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) needed to be 'more aggressive and assertive in confronting corporate tax avoidance'.

"MPs said HMRC must ensure everyone was seen to be paying their share of tax.

"... Meanwhile, Chancellor George Osborne will unveil later details of £154m of funding to help tackle tax avoidance and evasion, amid public concern over the tax affairs of major international companies and wealthy individuals."

Totally by coincidence (!), over the weekend, Starbucks revealed that it had agreed to review its UK tax arrangements with HMRC, following several months of intense criticism over its use of overseas subsidiaries which have enabled it to pay very little corporation tax in recent years. Campaigners have been planning a boycott of the coffee chain - and Hodge told the Today programme this morning that she's been doing her own personal boycott of Starbucks and Amazon.

The press seem to welcome the chancellor and the PAC's more aggressive stance on tax avoidance, with Google joining Starbucks in the papers' crosshairs.

"Osborne vows £10bn tax-dodging purge," says the headline on the front of the FT.

"Taxman targets Google," says the headline on the Times splash.

But perhaps the guys and girls at UKUncut shouldn't disband yet: according to a new report ("Avoiding Avoidance") from the charity, War on Want, "the Chancellor’s autumn statement on Wednesday, would... fail to tackle recent tax avoidance scandals involving the Student Loans Company, the BBC and high ranking civil servants.

"War on Want’s research shows the government rejected the opportunity to recover up to £5.5 billion a year via a General Anti-Avoidance Principle, instead opting only to target “artificial and abusive” tax avoidance through an anti-abuse rule.

“...The report argues that under the government’s proposed plans the types of tax avoidance undertaken by large multinational companies would now be considered responsible “tax planning”, while only a tiny minority of cases at the very fringes of what is legal would be covered by the new rule.

"... War on Want is calling for a General Anti-Avoidance Principle aimed at tackling tax avoidance, raising revenue and increasing the equity of the tax system by reducing the opportunities for rich individuals and large corporations to reduce their tax contributions."

2) OUR BILL'S BETTER THAN YOUR BILL

On Leveson, it seems, Miliband means business. From the Press Association:

"Labour has started work on drafting its own Bill based on the Leveson recommendations for press regulation and will use it as the basis for a Commons vote if David Cameron blocks reform, it has emerged.

"The party was frustrated by suggestions that draft legislation the Prime Minister ordered to be drawn up was simply an exercise in showing the plans are unworkable.

"It has brought in legal experts to put together proposals within two weeks that would implement the core principles of Lord Justice Leveson's findings, a party source said."

The Labour leader has a powerful supporter in Christopher Jefferies, the Bristol landlord who was smeared and vilified by the media in the wake of the murder of architect Joanna Yeates; Jefferies has written to every single MP on behalf of the Hacked Off campaign, calling for the Leveson recommendations to be implemented in full.

(On a side note, Tom Mockridge, the News International chief executive who replaced Rebekah Brooks last year, has announced he's quitting his job at the end of this month to "pursue outside opportunities".)

3) SHAMI VS HARRIET

Meanwhile, the right-of-centre press, has been getting very excited over comments made by Shami Chakrabarti - director of Liberty and one of Lord Justice Leveson's advisers - first to the Mail on Sunday and then yesterday to the BBC's Andrew Marr show and then again this morning on the Today programme, in which she defended David Cameron's position on statutory regulation and claimed any laws to enforce media ethics or standards could breach the Human Rights Act.

But Labour's Harriet Harman later told the BBC's Sunday Politics show that Chakrabarti was plain wrong:

"I don’t think that’s right because what Leveson proposes is actually quite similar to the Irish system and the Irish are passionate supporters of the European Convention of Human Rights and in fact their system, which is backed by law, has not fallen foul from the European Convention so she’s wrong about that."

Harriet 1. Shami 0.

(The Liberty director, incidentally, claimed on the Today programme this morning that the free press she's been so vociferousy defending over the past 48 hours had sensationalised and spun her original comments; in the same live segment of the show, Labour peer and Ed Miliband ally Lord Falconer accused John Humphreys of being a "deceitful" interviewer. Strong stuff! If you missed it, it's a worth a listen on the iPlayer...)

4) "FULL TO BURSTING"

It's almost winter. Must be time for a 'winter NHS crisis'. From the Guardian's splash:

"Hospitals are 'full to bursting' and bed use is reaching such 'dangerous' levels that staff are struggling to maintain the safety and quality of patients' care, claims an authoritative report based on the NHS's own performance data.

"Bed occupancy rates are often well above 85%, the maximum for patients to be well looked after and not exposed to health risks, according to official statistics collated by healthcare information firm Dr Foster, which the government half owns.

"The analysis also found that death rates at more than a dozen hospital trusts in England are 'worryingly high'."

Over to you, Jeremy Hunt...

5) WAR ON BENEFITS, PART 92

The chancellor isn't only being urged to crack down on tax avoiders and evaders but also to not crack down on benefit claimants; a new coalition of charities and campaigners says it would be "a tragedy for millions and a travesty for the economy" if the budget was balanced by slashing benefits for the poorest Britons.

From the Independent:

"The Chancellor pledged to 'tackle welfare bills' yesterday, as part of a range of measures to save billions of pounds in his autumn statement this week. He is expected to announce a below-inflation rise in key state benefits, including unemployment payments, while also raising revenue by cutting pension tax relief for the wealthy.

"But in a letter to The Independent, more than 50 charities, academics and unions urged Mr Osborne not to penalise the poor at a time when food and utility prices are rising.

"...Signatories include Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), Anne Marie Carrie, chief executive of Barnardo's, and Fiona Weir, chief executive of single parents charity Gingerbread.

"They write: 'This week's autumn statement could leave thousands of children and families even further away from being able to meet their essential costs of living.'"

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a cat vs a turntable, 'Bob Marley edition'.

6) HAS BIBI GONE TOO FAR THIS TIME?

On Saturday, foreign secretary William Hague condemned Benjamin Netanyahu government's decision to build 3,000 "illegal" new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank in response to the UN General Assemby's decision to upgrade Palestine's diplomatic status. Yesterday, according to AFP, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon warned "that if Israel implemented its latest plan for new settlements it would deal an 'almost fatal blow' to any prospects for peace with the Palestinians".

Now, Haaretz is reporting:

"Britain and France are poised to take action − possibly including the unprecedented step of recalling their ambassadors, according to senior European diplomats − in protest at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to move settlement construction ahead in the area known as E1, between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem."

Recalling the British ambassador from Tel Aviv? Really? If true, astonishing and definitely unprecedented...

Well done, Bibi!

7) TIME TO TALK TO UKIP?

Ukipmania, it seems, is still in full swing. Vince Cable says it's time to take the anti-EU party seriously, according to the Telegraph:

"The Liberal Democrat Business Secretary said both Coalition parties should 'engage with [Ukip] on the big issues' after they were harmed at the polls by a strong showing for the eurosceptic party in Rotherham, Middlesbrough and Croydon North."

I don't deny that the Lib Dems took a beating last Thursday and I do understand why they now fear Ukip but I'm not quite sure about which of Ukip's issues Vince wants to "engage" on - the freeze on all immigration into the UK? A burqa ban? Or, the holy grail, a full withdrawal from the EU?

Over to you, Vince...

8) THERESA VS NICK

Did you know that Nick Clegg puts politics "before people's lives"? Well, that's the view of his cabinet colleague, Theresa May.

From the Sun:

"Home Secretary Theresa May today warns MPs who oppose new powers to probe the internet: “Do not put politics before people’s lives.”

"In an exclusive interview with The Sun, the Home Secretary insists “we could see people dying” if a new law to authorise online probing is blocked.

"Her thinly-veiled attack on Deputy PM NIck Clegg’s stand on civil liberties grounds is the most explosive public exchange yet between senior Coalition ministers."

Indeed it is. The Home Secretary added:

“Criminals, terrorists and paedophiles will want MPs to vote against this bill... It’s a question of whose side you’re on.”

Your move, Mr Deputy Prime Minister...

9) I'LL BE BACK

Nad's been doing her best impression of Arnie. From the Telegraph:

"Nadine Dorries has claimed that she is to be allowed back into the Tory parliamentary party 'very shortly', following her return from the ITV show I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!

"However, senior party sources said that, while it was a matter for Sir George Young, the Chief Whip, she had not done enough to make amends with fellow Tory MPs. Mrs Dorries met Sir George for a brief meeting last week, she told Sky News.

"The source told The Daily Telegraph that Mrs Dorries had not shown understanding for why her colleagues were angry about her television venture.

"This meant she was unlikely to be given back the whip by the party in the short term."

10) WHY IS THE POPE TRENDING? *INNOCENT FACE*

From CNN:

"On Monday, Pope Benedict XVI will officially join millions of people around the globe by launching his own Twitter account. The formal announcement is set for a press conference Monday morning at the Vatican with Catholic and Twitter officials.

"A Vatican official told CNN the pope will be composing the tweets for the new account himself. For the first tweet from the account, the pope will also press the button to send the tweet himself, but after that others will send the tweets on his behalf."

The big question is: will the pontiff have time for Twitterspats with @dalailama and/or for live-tweeting Question Time on Thursday nights?

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"It would be a tragedy for millions, and a travesty for the economy, to push the poorest into deeper poverty by this week failing to uprate benefits in line with inflation, or by making other cuts to social security for families and disabled people." - from a letter published in today's Independent, signed by more than 50 charities, academics and trade unions.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 44
Conservatives 31
Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 126.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@NadineDorriesMP @ITVLauraK if people stop using Starbucks Google and Amazon they threaten British jobs. #justsaying

@patrickwintour Margaret Hodge PAC chairman proposes govt kitemark for companies that are tax compliant. Great bit of nudge unit.

@TimMontgomerie Ronald Reagan, 1984: "Simple fairness dictates that government must not raise taxes on families struggling to pay their bills."

900 WORDS OR MORE

Jackie Ashley, writing in the Guardian, says today's "report from Margaret Hodge's public accounts committee on how the biggest companies dodge their fair share of taxes is incendiary, huge in its implications, and ought for once to unite politicians from all sides".

Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says: "The Health Secretary knows the NHS is a vital issue for voters, so his bold, Gove-style plans for it are a gamble."

Boris Johnson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "It is the web, not the press, that must be brought under control."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol