The cabinet battle over 50p tax

The new dispute between Balls and Mandelson and why it matters for Labour's future.

Today's Daily Mail reports that Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper are pushing Alistair Darling to reduce the salary threshold for the new 50p tax rate from £150,000 to £100,000 in this month's Budget.

The Schools Secretary and his wife previously called for this change ahead of last November's pre-Budget report, but found themselves outmanoeuvred by Peter Mandelson.

This latest dispute is likely to increase the tension between those, such as Mandelson, who view the new tax rate as temporary and regrettable and those, such as Balls, who view it as permanent and desirable.

Unlike the Business Secretary, who believes that it would be madness for Labour to vacate the centre ground, Balls believes that the times call for an unambiguously left-of-centre approach. It's a preview of the sort of the debate we can expect to see in any future leadership contest.

The Blairite wing of the party (at least what's left of it) will argue that any short-term political advantage to be gained from moving to the left is outweighed by the risk of permanently alienating "aspirational" voters. Meanwhile, Balls (who is certain to run) will point to polls suggesting that the 50p tax rate as well as the bonus tax are among the most popular things Labour has done.

Should Darling agree to widen the 50p band in the Budget, it will be first blood to Balls in the battle for Labour's ideological soul.

PS: The potential expansion of the 50p rate is another elephant trap we can expect David Cameron (much to Boris Johnson's consternation) to avoid easily.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood