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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My time as an old woman with a £4,000 prosthetic face, working for the Daily Mail

On the Tube, a man offered me his seat. “I’m not an old woman,” I told him. “I’m a Daily Mail features writer wearing a prosthetic face.” He moved away.

I was, for a time, a Daily Mail features writer. My job was to sanctify and incite the prejudices of its editorial staff and readers – ideally while wearing fancy dress, because that is more palatable and moronic.

I have been, at various times and for money, a Saxon peasant, a Restoration hussy, the back half of a cow, a devout Muslim, an ice dancer and a man. It quite often went wrong.

I was, for instance, asked to dress up as an old woman, in order to find out what it was like to be an old woman. Any newspaper that was not institutionally insane would have simply asked an old woman what it was like to be an old woman but, since the Mail thinks in fantastical stereotypes, that would never happen. The results would be too shocking.

I was given a £4,000 prosthetic face. I went to the East End because that, according to the Daily Mail, is where poor people live. I was supposed to get mugged, so I walked around with £50 notes falling out of my pockets. A boy came up to me, handed me the £50 note I had dropped and said: “You want to watch your money. You’ll get mugged.”

Editorial was disappointed. Perhaps I should try again in Kensington? This was considered unsuitable (nice people live in Kensington), so I went to Tramp nightclub.

“My grandson comes here,” I said to the woman on the door, in my old woman’s voice. “What tabloid newspaper or TV reality show are you from?” she asked. (She was obviously a Daily Mail reader.) On the Tube, a man offered me his seat. “I’m not an old woman,” I told him. “I’m a Daily Mail features writer wearing a prosthetic face.” He moved away.

I was asked to wear a burqa for a week. A black burqa was no good for the photographs – the Mail hates black clothing, even to illustrate a story about black clothing – so I hired a golden one from Angels, the costumiers. I later saw a photograph of myself in that burqa, illustrating an actual news story in the Evening Standard.

In the US, a woman passed herself off as a man, convincingly, for a year. I was asked to do the same, although the budget would not run to a year. Even so, the idea that the Daily Mail would pay a female journalist to pretend to be a man permanently is not, if you know the paper, that weird.

I went to the BBC costume department and was given a fat suit and a wig. I was a very ugly man. As I left the BBC – my instructions were, among other things, to chat up women – a woman said to me, “You’re not a man, you’re a lesbian.” I hid in a pub and engaged in a telephone stand-off with editorial. I explained that I did not want to leave the pub because I didn’t look like a man at all but a very creepy woman, which is exactly what I was.

Suzanne Moore is away

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State