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Mehdi's Morning Memo: Labour's Not-So-Blank Sheet Of Paper

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The five things you need to know on Friday 4th January 2012...

1) LABOUR'S NOT-SO-BLANK SHEET OF PAPER

Labour leader Ed Miliband is often mocked for once saying he was presenting his party with 'a blank sheet of paper' on policy. But Her Majesty's Opposition has been busy in recent months - with shadow chancellor Ed Balls pledging to build 100,000 new homes with revenue from 4G spectrum sales and Miliband himself calling for migrants who can't speak English to be barred from working in some public sector jobs.

And this morning, in an article for PoliticsHome, Balls unveils yet another new, headline-grabbing policy:

"Ed Miliband, Liam Byrne and I are today calling for a compulsory Jobs Guarantee for the long-term unemployed."

This, he says

"is the One Nation jobs contract Labour would introduce right now: the government will ensure there is a job for every adult who is long-term unemployed, and people out of work will be obliged to take up those jobs or face losing benefits."

But how will it be funded, I hear you ask? Not the bonus tax again, right? Right. According to Balls:

"While getting people back to work will save the taxpayer money in the long-term, the upfront costs of Labour’s jobs contract can be funded by reversing the government’s decision to stop tax relief on pension contributions for people earning over £150,000 being limited to 20 per cent."

The centre-right papers don't seem too happy - but most of them have covered the proposal on their front pages (and most of them weren't fans of Gordon Brown's pension-fund-funded 'New Deal for the unemployed' in the late 1990s).

"Labour plans pension raid to support the jobless," says the Times.

"Labour plans pension tax raid," declares the Telegraph.

"Labour eyes pension grab to fund jobs," is the headline on the front of the FT.

This is 'tough love' from Labour - those on long-term out-of-work benefits who refused to take part in the proposed scheme would face penalties.

But the policy won't be easy to implement: Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), told the Today programme this morning that restricting tax relief on pension contributions for high-earners could "create complexities and an awful lot of tax planning".

Still, Labour will claim that it is taking the problem of long-term unemployment much more seriously than the government is, and will use this policy proposal to bolster its progressive credentials. It'll also help the party deflect the usual accusations of "Well, what would you do differently?" ahead of next week's contentious vote on the uprating of benefits and tax credits.

As the FT observes: "The initiative reflects a view in Labour's high command that it needs to set out concrete policies in 2013."

Not a bad way for the opposition to start the year, some might say...

NOTE: This Memo's 'five things you need to know' will revert to being 'ten things' on Monday morning, when MPs return to Westminster.

2) STOP PRESS! CHILD BENEFIT CUT HITS TORY SEATS

More good news for both the chancellor and CCHQ. From the Daily Mail:

"Tory voters will be the hardest hit when child benefit is axed for higher earners.

"Figures obtained by the Daily Mail reveal that the Conservative heartlands in the South East will be the biggest losers when the changes come into force on Monday.

"Nine of the top ten constituencies where most letters have been sent out warning that families will lose the benefit are in Conservative safe seats in London and the Home Counties."

Nonetheless, writing for the Huffington Post UK, Tory Treasury minister David Gauke says the child benefit changes "are fair and reasonable, and will save £7 billion per year by 2017-18".

Gauke should take a look at the Independent's splash this morning. The paper reports:

"Ministers were accused last night of demonising benefits claimants in an attempt to justify their controversial decision to increase most state handouts by less than inflation.

"Polling commissioned by the Trades Union Congress suggests that a campaign by Tory ministers is turning voters against claimants – but only because the public is being fed 'myths' about those who rely on benefits.

"...people who know least about the facts are the most hostile towards claimants. More than half of those who are 'least accurate' about the system think benefits are too generous, while fewer than one in three (31 per cent) of those giving the 'most accurate' answers agree."

3) OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR

From the Times:

"A promise by William Hague to give MPs a veto over proposed military action is in doubt amid warnings that it would compromise Britain’s security.

"The Foreign Secretary committed the coalition to a new law that would force governments to go to the House of Commons before sending the Armed Forces into battle. But officials have struggled to draw up a Bill that would give ultimate authority to the Commons while allowing ministers leeway to respond to an emergency.

"Former generals have urged Mr Hague to abandon his promise, warning that it would rob the Armed Forces of the element of surprise and could compromise intelligence."

Constitutional historian and life peer Peter Hennessy told the paper that "whatever the ground rules for the House of Commons having a say in going to war, it’s a matter of first-rank constitutional importance and the degree to which [the government] has gone quiet is quite striking... a decision about war and peace is the highest that comes before Parliament and it would be good if the coalition could signal their intentions on this matter".

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch the this video of the most common New Year's resolutions - as illustrated by cats!

4) AUSTERITY WATCH, PART 446

From the Guardian:

"Two-thirds of local authorities in England are from April planning to demand council tax payments from working-age households which are currently exempt, according to new research.

"The finding comes in a survey of local authorities undertaken jointly by the New Policy Institute and Resolution Foundation into how councils are responding to the abolition of council tax benefit.

"Just over 320 councils in England must decide by the end of the month how they will implement the successor, known as council tax support, which comes with a 10% cut in central funding and rules ensuring full protection for pensioners. The 10% cut will allow national government to save up to £500m a year."

Much of the debate about austerity so far has been at a national level where some cuts-deniers pretend there is no pain; very little attention has been paid to the local level where swingeing cuts were front-loaded by George Osborne and Eric Pickles.

The New Policy Institute's Peter Kenway gives the Guardian's Patrick Wintour a pretty damning quote: "Come April we will have the grotesque spectacle of councils without a penny to spare pursuing citizens without a penny to spare through the courts for a tax that until now they have been deemed too poor to pay."

5) TALK TO THE HAND

Hey Cristina, Dave ain't listening. From the BBC:

"The future of the Falkland Islands is up to its inhabitants - not Argentina, Prime Minister David Cameron has said.

"It comes after Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner urged the prime minister to abide by a 1965 UN resolution to 'negotiate a solution' to the dispute.

"'The future of the Falkland Islands should be determined by the Falkland Islanders themselves - the people who live there,' said Mr Cameron.

"A referendum on the islands' political status is to be held in March."

Meanwhile, the Guardian, as my colleague Felicity Morse reports, "has been slammed as 'money grabbing' and 'disrespectful' on social media sites after publishing in one of its adverts a letter from the Argentine President calling David Cameron to relinquish control of the Falklands.

"... Falklanders have criticised the newspaper for providing the outspoken president with a platform for what many people have described as her 'propaganda'."

Today, the Sun has taken out an ad in a Buenos Aires newspaper which rebuts Kirchner's claims and ends with the words "hands off" in capital letters. Trust the Sun to stay classy, eh? I guess it's better than "gotcha"...

Meanwhile, the HuffPost UK has put together a collection of Kirchner's best (worst?) quotes on the Falklands - it's worth a read.

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"The fact some give food to food banks, merely enables people who can’t budget... or don’t want to, to have more money to spend on alcohol, cigarettes etc." - Conservative councillor in York, Chris Steward, shares his wisdom and compassion with the world.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the latest Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 43
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 116.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@WilliamJHague Prime Minister @David_Cameron today: 100% backing for people of the Falkland Islands and their right to choose their own future

@IPPR_NickP Good that Labour is proposing a job guarantee for the long-term unemployed - @IPPR has been pushing this for some time.

@mattzarb Eric Pickles wants to deny benefits to obese people when his own department last year spent £10,000 on biscuits.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Phil Collins, writing in the Times, says: "I blame the English for India’s backwardness."

Gaby Hinsliff, writing in the Guardian, says: "It's tempting to side with conservative Eeyores. But from peace in Ulster to US healthcare, the case for progressive politics is clear."

Simon Heffer, writing in the Daily Mail, says: "America could still go over the cliff — and take the rest of us with it."

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