Who passes the Clegg test?

How many of Nick Clegg's four demands do Labour and Tories meet?

So Vince Cable won't be the next chancellor after all. Today's Guardian reports that the Liberal Democrats are planning to rule out forming a coalition government with either the Conservatives or Labour in the event of a hung parliament. But they will be prepared to offer parliamentary support to any party that accepts their "shopping list" of four demands.

So who, as things stand, would pass the Clegg test?

1. "Investing extra funds in education through a pupil premium for disadvantaged children."

Conservatives: The Tories have already promised to introduce a pupil premium, with extra funding for schools that take children from the poorest homes. But the party has yet to say anything about how much it would spend, or where the money would come from.

The Lib Dems have said that the policy would cost £2.5bn a year, with the average school receiving roughly £2,500 extra for every disadvantaged child on its roll.

Labour: Ed Balls opposes a pupil premium, arguing that it would not guarantee that pupils with disadvantages or extra needs actually get the support that they need.

Verdict: A point to the Tories. None for Labour.

2. "Tax reform, taking four million out of tax and raising taxes on the rich by requiring capital gains and income to be taxed at the same rate."

Conservatives: A number of Tories are impressed by Nick Clegg's plan to raise the income-tax threshold to £10,000, but David Cameron has yet to poach the idea. Instead, he plans to focus on cutting inheritance tax and recognising marriage in the tax system. In addition, George Osborne has pledged to reduce corporation tax from 30 per cent to 27 per cent. The Tories have no plans to raise capital gains tax (CGT).

Labour: No plans to cut income tax, but Alistair Darling is said to be looking at raising CGT in the Budget to stop the wealthy exploiting a tax loophole by declaring income as capital gains. This would please the Lib Dems, who could claim to have led the agenda.

Verdict: In anticipation of a rise in capital gains tax, Labour wins half a point.

3. "Rebalancing of the economy to put less emphasis on centralised banking and more on a new, greener economy."

Conservatives: Osborne is sympathetic to calls to split investment and retail banking but has stopped short of calling for a complete separation. Cameron has promised a "localist green revolution" with companies such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer helping to make homes more energy-efficient. But will his backbenchers stand in the way? A ConservativeHome/ConservativeIntelligence survey revealed that reducing Britain's carbon footprint was the lowest priority for Tory candidates.

Labour: The government has so far refused to separate retail from investment banking and is unlikely to change its position. On the "green economy", Labour has promised to create a more than a million new green jobs and to cut UK greenhouse-gas emissions by 34 per cent by 2020.

Verdict: Half a point to the Tories on banking and half a point to Labour on the green economy.

4. "Political reforms, including changes to the voting system and a democratically elected Lords, that go further than proposed by Labour."

Conservatives: The Tories are opposed to any electoral reform and support the current first-past-the-post system. Cameron opposes proportional representation on the grounds that it hands power to the "political elites".

The Tory leader has said he supports a largely elected second chamber but is reluctant to challenge his own peers on the issue, as they are opposed to reform. In private, Cameron has described Lords reform as a "third-term issue".

Labour: Supports the replacement of first-past-the-post with the Alternative Vote and has passed legislation to ensure a referendum will be held. The Lib Dems support the move as a "step in the right direction", but are disappointed that Labour did not opt for a proportional system.

The government continues to favour a predominantly elected Lords. However, Jack Straw has warned campaigners that they will have to wait more than decade before this is achieved.

Verdict: Half a point to Labour.

Final score: Conservatives: 1½ out of 4

Labour: 1½ out of 4

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The Taliban's succession crisis will not diminish its resilience

Haibatullah Akhunzada's appointment as leader of the Taliban may put stress on the movement, but is unlikely to dampen its insurgency. 

After 19 years under the guidance of the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Omar, the group has now faced two succession crises in under a year. But although Haibatullah Akhunzada’s appointment as leader of the Taliban will likely put stress on the movement, it shows few signals of diminishing its renewed insurgency.

The news pretty much ends speculation about former leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s death in a US airstrike in Pakistan’s south-western Baluchistan province, which was criticised by Islamabad as a violation of its sovereignty.

The Taliban would have prepared extensively for this eventuality. The fast appointment, following days of intense council, appears to be a conspicuous act of decisiveness. It stands in contrast to the two-year delay the movement faced in announcing the death of the Mullah Omar. It will be not be lost on the Taliban that it was subterfuge around the death of Mullah Omar that caused the fracture within the movement which in turn led to the establishment of an ISIS presence in the country.

The appointment is a victory for the Taliban old guard. As former head of the Taliban's judiciary and Mullah Mansour’s deputy, in many ways, Haibatullah is a natural successor. Haibatullah, described by Afghanistan expert Sami Yousafzai as a “stone age Mullah,” demonstrates the Taliban’s inherent tendency to resort to tradition rather than innovation during times of internal crisis.

The decision taken by the Taliban to have an elder statesman of the group at the helm highlights the increasing marginalisation of the Haqqani network, a powerful subset within the Taliban that has been waging an offensive against the government and coalition forces in northwest Pakistan.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network who already has a bounty of 5 million dollars on his head, was touted in some Taliban circles as a potential successor, however the decision to overlook him is a conservative move from the Taliban. 

The Taliban’s leadership of the jihad against the Afghan government is hinged on their claims to religious legitimacy, something the group will hope to affirm through the Haibatullah’s jurisprudential credentials. This assertion of authority has particular significance given the rise of ISIS elements in the country. The last two Taliban chiefs have both declared themselves to be amir ul-momineen or ‘leader of the faithful,’ providing a challenge to the parallel claims of ISIS’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Any suggestions that Mansour’s death will lead to the unravelling of the Taliban are premature. The military targeting of prominent jihadi leaders within group structures has been seen in operations against the leadership of ISIS, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and other groups.

In recent research for the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics, we found that it is often less prominent jihadis that play an integral role in keeping the movement alive. Targeted killings do create a void, but this often comes at the expense of addressing the wider support base and ideological draw of militant outfits. This is particularly relevant with a relatively decentralised movement like the Taliban.

Such operations can spur activity. If the example of the Taliban’s previous leadership succession is to be heeded, we might expect renewed attacks across Afghanistan, beyond the group’s strongholds near the eastern border with Pakistan. The brief capture of Kunduz, Afghanistan's fifth-largest city, at the end of September 2015, was a show of strength to answer the numerous internal critics of Mullah Mansour’s new leadership of the movement.

In a news cycle dominated by reports of ISIS, and to a diminishing extent al-Qaeda, atrocities, it is important to comprehend the renewed brutality of the Afghan insurgency.  Data from the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics Global Extremism Monitor found a seventeen per cent rise in fatalities from March to April, marking the start of the Taliban’s spring fighting season. A suicide attack in central Kabul on the headquarters of an elite military unit that killed 64 people was the single most deadly act of terror around the world in the month of April, and the group’s bloodiest attack in the Afghan capital for years. Reports this morning of a suicide attack on a bus killing 10 staff from an appeal court west of Kabul, suggests that the violence shows no sign of diminishing under the new leadership.

All these developments come during a period of renewed impetus behind international peace talks. Last week representatives from Pakistan were joined by delegates from Afghanistan, the United States, and China in an attempt to restart the stalled negotiation process with the Taliban.

Haibatullah Akhunzada’s early leadership moves will be watched closely by these countries, as well as dissonant voices within the movement, to ascertain what the Taliban does next, in a period of unprecedented challenge for the infamously resilient movement. 

Milo Comerford is a South and Central Asia Analyst for the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics