POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Tax Cuts? Over My Dead Body

05/02/2014 08:25 GMT | Updated 05/02/2014 08:59 GMT
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British Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander talks during the launch of the Scotland analysis paper in Glasgow on January 17, 2014. Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague warned Scots that independence would leave them stuck outside the EU and losing influence on the world stage. AFP PHOTO / ANDY BUCHANAN (Photo credit should read Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images)

Here are the five things you need to know on Wednesday 5 February 2014...

1) TAX CUTS? OVER MY DEAD BODY?

Tories who are desperate for the Treasury to cut the top rate of tax again, from 45p to 40p, might want to check out Danny Alexander's interview in today's Mirror:

"Defiant Danny Alexander today opened up a fresh rift within the Coalition Government by vowing to block Tory plans for yet another tax cut for the rich. The Lib Dem Treasury Secretary says that Chancellor George Osborne will only be able to reduce the top rate of tax to 40p, 'over my dead body'... It comes just days after David Cameron refused, on three occasions, to rule out cutting tax. But in an exclusive interview with the Mirror, Mr Alexander insists he will not allow any such financial relief for the wealthy. He says: 'The top rate of tax has been an issue of late. Labour wants to take it back up to 50p, I think the 45p rate is the right place to be. I wouldn’t go to cutting below 45p – that would happen over my dead body. It’s better to say we are going to stick where we are.'"

Asked on the Today programme about the top rate of tax, Boris Johnson said he still hoped the Tory manifesto would contain a pledge to cut the rate to 40p in the pound but joked that he didn't see the need for such a "sacrifice" from the Lib Dem chief secretary to the Treasury. Asked if Alexander might be sacked before the general election in order to make a top rate tax cut possible in this parliament, the mayor replied: "Stranger things have happened at sea."

Meanwhile, Conservative spinners have clearly been briefing the Telegraph, which splashes on the news that:

"Householders face council tax increases of 2 per cent this year after the Liberal Democrats blocked a Conservative attempt to lower a cap on rises. Local authorities will be told today that they cannot raise the levy by more than 2 per cent without putting their proposed increase to voters in a referendum. The Conservatives had pushed for the cap to be set at 1.5 per cent, but Lib Dem ministers, backed by some Tory council leaders, rejected the plan. The Lib Dems said last night that the Conservative proposal would have had "devastating" consequences for council budgets and local services. The Tories accused their Coalition partners of showing 'complete disregard' for taxpayers."

The Times splashes on the news that the housing boom will continue for another ten years, according to chancellor George Osborne.

2) WHO REPRESENTS THE UGLIEST FACE OF UKIP?

With Godfrey Bloom gone, could it be his former colleague in the European Parliament, Gerard Batten? From the Guardian front page:

"A Ukip MEP believes that British Muslims should sign a special code of conduct and warns that it was a big mistake for Europe to allow 'an explosion of mosques across their land'. Gerard Batten, who represents London and is member of the party's executive, told the Guardian on Tuesday that he stood by a 'charter of Muslim understanding', which he commissioned in 2006. The document asks Muslims to sign a declaration rejecting violence and says parts of the Qur'an that promote 'violent physical Jihad' should be regarded as 'inapplicable, invalid and non-Islamic'. Critics said his comments represent the 'ugliest side of Ukip' and 'overlap with the far-right', in spite of the efforts of party leader Nigel Farage to create a disciplined election machine ahead of the European elections."

3) CAMERON'S CRONIES, PART 43

From the Independent front page:

"The Government has been accused of politicising the hospitals watchdog after the chair of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) called for more private sector involvement in the NHS. David Prior, a former Tory MP who served as the party’s chief executive and deputy chairman, had said in an article in a Sunday newspaper that the NHS was in need of 'serious change' and needed 'more competition to drive up standards of care; more entrants into the market from private sector companies, the voluntary sector and other care providers'. But last night Labour’s shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, told The Independent it was 'not the job' of the chairman of the independent health watchdog, responsible for ensuring the quality and safety of health and social care services, to make the case for greater private sector involvement in the NHS."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of Benedict Cumberbatch on 'Sesame Street'. You know you want to.

4) TOUGH ON TERROR, PART 776

Given the home secretary has just announced she'll strip foreign-born terror suspects (suspects, not convicted criminals!) of their British passports, is it possible to get even tougher on terrorism? Her colleague, the justice secretary, seems to think so. From the Guardian's splash:

"Chris Grayling will aim to burnish his rightwing credentials as a tough justice secretary on Wednesday by promising fresh crackdowns on terrorists and an end to the use of 'simple' cautions for repeat offenders. The new criminal justice and courts bill, published on Wednesday, contains a range of punitive measures to reform sentencing, create new offences and overhaul the operation of the courts. The punitive tone of the bill, which has been signed off by the new justice minister and former deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, Simon Hughes, is demonstrated by its language. It calls for a 'clampdown' on the most serious terrorism offences, a 'crackdown' and 'tough punishment' for criminals on the run and a 'radical overhaul' of cautions."

So much for Hughes being a moderating and liberal influence on the Ministry of Justice, eh?

5) 'BANKRUPT'?

The Mail isn't impressed with Labour's historic reform of its relationship with the trade unions. There's no pleasing some people, is there? From the paper's report:

"Ed Miliband’s bid to loosen the unions’ financial grip on Labour is to be delayed for five years amid fears it could ‘bankrupt’ the party, aides admitted last night. The Labour leader had pledged a major shake-up of the party’s long-standing links with the union movement in the wake of the Falkirk vote-rigging scandal. Yesterday, the party’s ruling National Executive Committee backed a watered-down package of reforms, expected to be rubber-stamped by a special conference next month. Mr Miliband hailed the package as ‘historic’ and claimed it would help reconnect the party with working people."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 39

Conservatives 33

Ukip 13

Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 78.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says: "Once a power in the land the union movement still dominates the public sector - but for how much longer?"

Tim Bale, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Timothy Yeo's deselection: Is this the start of a Tory Spring?"

Matthew Norman, writing in the Independent, says: "There’s nothing the Right enjoys more than demonising Bob Crow. But why shouldn’t the Tube union’s boss take a holiday?"

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