Happy New Year! Here are the five things you need to know on Sunday 5 January 2013...
1) DAVE DEFENDS TAX CUTS AT THE TOP
Are the Tories - in the midst of a 'cost of living crisis', to quote Labour politicians - really going to cut income tax for the rich, again? Really? David Cameron has been speaking to the Sunday Times, which reports:
"The prime minister continues to come under attack from Labour over his decision to scrap the 50p top rate of tax on earnings over £150,000. It fell to 45p in April last year. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, repeatedly portrays it as a 'tax cut for millionaires'.
"Cameron vigorously defended the move, arguing that the 50p rate did not boost revenue to the exchequer. Indicating that he was not afraid to take politically unpopular decisions if they are right for the economy, he suggested that he could go further in future.
"'It just seemed to me that if your top rate of tax is not raising the money that it should, and it's holding back the competitiveness of the economy, then even if it's politically unpopular to change it, you must do it.'"
"Even if it's politically unpopular"? Hmm. Asked about a further cut to the top rate of tax on the Andrew Marr programme on BBC1 this morning, however, Cameron hesitated, and answered: "We'll set taxes... to raise revenue not to make a political point. But if I had money in the coffers I would target that money at the lowest paid..." He didn't, though, rule out returning to a 40p tax rate for the richest members of our society.
Meanwhile, the other big political story out of the Sunday Times interview relates not to the rich, but to the elderly, with the PM pledging to extend increases in the state pension over the lifetime of the next parliament, too:
"He also promised that if he is re-elected in 2015 he will maintain the so-called 'triple lock' for the duration of the next parliament, ensuring that pensions rise by at least 2.5% a year. He described the pledge as 'huge' — claiming the additional security would help give people 'dignity' in old age."
The PM told the paper that his pension pledge "is the first plank of the next general election manifesto".
However, again, in his appearance on the Marr show, Cameron was more coy on the whole issue of pensioners than he was in the Sunday Times, declining to say whether he'd re-pledge to protect universal benefits for the elderly, such as free TV licenses and bus passes.
2) BLUE SUNDAY FOR BLUE PARTY
Dave won't want to look at the results of a new mega-poll commissioned by former Tory deputy chairman, Lord Ashcroft, which suggests the PM hasn't been able to hold on to 2010 Tory voters - from the Huffington Post UK:
"The huge difficulty David Cameron will have winning a majority at the next election has been laid bare by a new poll published today, which reveals more than a third of those who voted Conservative in 2010 would not do so again were an election held tomorrow.
The figures, which will worry Tory MPs, show that the 37% of one time Tory voters that have abandoned the party far outweigh the 6% of voters who have been attracted from other parties... According to the survey around half of the voters that have abandoned the party said they would vote Ukip in an election tomorrow. Less than one in five defectors have switched to Labour or the Liberal Democrats. One third say they do not know how they will vote."
Cameron has to increase his vote share at the next election if he is to have any chance of winning a majority - something no Tory premier has done since 1955. He needs to be winning over new voters, not losing old ones...
3) 'CLAMPING DOWN' ON IMMIGRATION, LABOUR-STYLE
It's the new year so it must be time for political parties to bash immigrants - especially from Bulgaria and Romania. This morning it's Labour's turn on the front of the Independent on Sunday - and, admittedly, Ed Miliband does so in a more restrained, nuanced and economy-related fashion than his right-wing counterpart but it does amount to a form of bashing, nonetheless:
"A Labour government will clamp down on British businesses using cheap foreign labour, Ed Miliband will pledge today, as he gives a warning that the arrival of migrant workers from Romania and Bulgaria could make the cost of living crisis worse for Britons.
"If Labour wins in 2015, the Government would work with businesses to close a European Union loophole which allows companies to undercut staff legally by paying agency workers lower wages... Writing in The Independent on Sunday, the Labour leader says it is right to address 'understandable' fears about immigration, while maintaining Britain's position as a country that 'reaches outwards to the world'."
The evidence suggests that immigration tends not to have a negative impact on jobs or pay in the UK, and that migrants pay in far in taxes than they take out in benefits. But, sadly, you won't hear much about this from Miliband or any other party leader.
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of Russell Brand taking on a heckler during his Messiah Complex tour; it's basically Brand 1, Heckler 0.
4) TRISTRAM VS MIKE
From the Observer splash:
"Labour has accused the government of using the centenary of the start of the first world war to 'sow political division' after the education secretary, Michael Gove, tore into 'leftwing academics' for peddling unpatriotic 'myths' about the role of British soldiers and generals in the conflict.
"Writing in the Observer, Tristram Hunt, Labour's shadow education spokesman and a historian, accuses Gove of a 'shocking' attempt to score political points ahead of the events to mark the war, which began in August 1914 and led to the deaths of 16 million.
"Responding to an article in which the education secretary attacked what he sees as an unpatriotic, leftwing version of history that portrays 1914-18 as 'a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite', Hunt says such 'ugly' and politically motivated interventions diminish what should be a time of national reflection."
5) ALEX VS DAVE?
From the BBC:
"David Cameron has come under renewed pressure for a public debate with Alex Salmond ahead of the referendum on Scottish independence.
"The SNP has commissioned a poll which it said showed "overwhelming support" across the UK for a debate between the prime minister and first minister.
"It came after Mr Cameron used his New Year message to urge Scots to reject independence."
The PM of course believes that any TV debates should be between Scots - for example, between Salmond and Alistair Darling, the leader of the No campaign - and I happen to think he's got a point.
"When millions of workers already have low pay and poor job security in Britain and we add high levels of low-skilled migration, mostly from within the EU, some benefit but some lose out." - Ed Miliband, Independent on Sunday
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the Lord Ashcroft mega-poll:
Lib Dems 8
That would give Labour a majority of 96.
From the Observer/Opinium poll:
Lib Dems 8
That would give Labour a majority of 84.
From the Mail on Sunday/Survation poll:
Lib Dems 11
That would give Labour a majority of 36.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@David_Cameron I pledge to keep the "triple lock" on the basic state pension after 2015. It'll rise in line with wages, prices or 2.5%, whichever's higher.
@MPritchardMP Will EU referendum vote go ahead if Cameron is PM of another coalition government or only if he is PM of a Conservative majority government?
@LucyMPowell You didn't "veto" a treaty, Cameron. Vetoing means stopping it from happening. You opted out. It's different. #Marr
900 WORDS OR MORE
Andrew Rawnsley, writing in the Observer, says: "Lord Ashcroft's big bucket of cold water to douse Tory optimism."
Matthew D'Ancona, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "Immigration is a major worry for voters, but the Tories need to be wary of sounding like the skinhead outside the pub."
John Rentoul, writing in the Independent on Sunday, says: "George Orwell's novel 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' influenced a mood that was suspicious of the power of the state."
Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (email@example.com) or Ned Simons (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol