France also introduced a financial non-transactions tax last month

It's not just a 0.2 per cent Robin Hood tax which Hollande introduced.

France's recent deficit-busting raft of tax rises included a few measures specifically targeted at the financial markets. Not only was the country's Tobin tax implemented at double the expected rate, from 0.1 per cent of the value of financial transactions to 0.2 per cent, but a new tax specifically aimed at high-frequency trading was introduced.

The Tax Policy Center's Steven Rosenthal explains how it works:

The high frequency tax applies to traders that (1) use computer algorithms to determine the price, quantity, and timing of their orders (2) use a device to process these orders automatically, and (3) transmit, modify, or cancel their orders within half a second (the half a second has been set by draft administrative guidance). The high frequency tax is .01% on the amount of stock orders modified or cancelled that exceeds 80% of all orders transmitted in a month (under the draft administrative guidance). In effect, France now may tax orders that are not filled. It has created a “non-transaction” tax.

The move is interesting not just because it is the first time you can be taxed for not making a financial transaction, but also because it uses the tax system to achieve a goal which many would argue should be done through regulation or criminal legislation instead. The act of deliberately placing false orders in an attempt to manipulate the market is pretty clearly something which has no place in a healthy financial system, and yet the French authorities declined to attempt to ban the act.

Instead, they rendered it pointless by making it impossible to profit from. It's easier to enforce, harder to evade, and will make a bit of money for the government to boot. Seems win-win.

French president Francois Hollande goes for a walk. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.