Left and right unite to condemn planned VAT rise

Expected rise in VAT under fire from trade unions and the Taxpayers’ Alliance.

It must count as some achievement to attract the simultaneous ire of the Taxpayers' Alliance and the TUC. That's the unusual position the coalition finds itself in this afternoon as the anticipated rise in VAT comes under attack.

The TPA has released a video condemning the regressive effect that any rise would have, pointing out that "VAT hits the poor twice as hard as the rich".

The video (and I apologise for the sub-Razorlight soundtrack) also reminds voters of the Lib Dem campaign poster that sounded the alarm over the Tories' "VAT bombshell".

George Osborne is expected to raise VAT from 17.5 per cent to as much as 20 per cent. A recent report for the Centre for Retail Research found that raising VAT to this level would cost each household £425 a year on average. It added that the resultant drop in consumer spending could cost 47,000 jobs and lead to the closure of almost 10,000 stores.

The TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, has warned: "VAT increases don't just hit the poor more than the rich, they also hit small firms, threaten retail jobs, and by boosting inflation could also lead to higher interest rates."

Lib Dem left-wingers (if such a term is not completely oxymoronic) such as the party's deputy leader, Simon Hughes, have already indicated that any rise in VAT would be unacceptable to them.

So long as the prize of electoral reform remains within their grasp, the Lib Dems will want to make the coalition work. But a VAT increase is bound to exacerbate the internal tensions that have emerged in recent weeks.

Osborne, a better politician than he is an economist, must hope that he has not miscalculated this time.

Hat-tip: Andrew Sparrow.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Harriet Harman warns that the Brexit debate has been dominated by men

The former deputy leader hit out at the marginalisation of women's voices in the EU referendum campaign.

The EU referendum campaign has been dominated by men, Labour’s former deputy leader Harriet Harman warns today. The veteran MP, who was acting Labour leader between May and September last year, said that the absence of female voices in the debate has meant that arguments about the ramifications of Brexit for British women have not been heard.

Harman has written to Sharon White, the Chief of Executive of Ofcom, expressing her “serious concern that the referendum campaign has to date been dominated by men.” She says: “Half the population of this country are women and our membership of the EU is important to women’s lives. Yet men are – as usual – pushing women out.”

Research by Labour has revealed that since the start of this year, just 10 women politicians have appeared on the BBC’s Today programme to discuss the referendum, compared to 48 men. On BBC Breakfast over the same time period, there have been 12 male politicians interviewed on the subject compared to only 2 women. On ITV’s Good Morning Britain, 18 men and 6 women have talked about the referendum.

In her letter, Harman says that the dearth of women “fails to reflect the breadth of voices involved with the campaign and as a consequence, a narrow range [of] issues ends up being discussed, leaving many women feeling shut out of the national debate.”

Harman calls on Ofcom “to do what it can amongst broadcasters to help ensure women are properly represented on broadcast media and that serious issues affecting female voters are given adequate media coverage.” 

She says: "women are being excluded and the debate narrowed.  The broadcasters have to keep a balance between those who want remain and those who want to leave. They should have a balance between men and women." 

A report published by Loughborough University yesterday found that women have been “significantly marginalised” in reporting of the referendum, with just 16 per cent of TV appearances on the subject being by women. Additionally, none of the ten individuals who have received the most press coverage on the topic is a woman.

Harman's intervention comes amidst increasing concerns that many if not all of the new “metro mayors” elected from next year will be men. Despite Greater Manchester having an equal number of male and female Labour MPs, the current candidates for the Labour nomination for the new Manchester mayoralty are all men. Luciana Berger, the Shadow Minister for mental health, is reportedly considering running to be Labour’s candidate for mayor of the Liverpool city region, but will face strong competition from incumbent mayor Joe Anderson and fellow MP Steve Rotheram.

Last week, Harriet Harman tweeted her hope that some of the new mayors would be women.  

Henry Zeffman writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2015.