Taxing times, and a high-profile guest

Clegg was supportive of the idea of accelerating the move to a £10,000 personal allowance.

Today marked the real start of conference, with a full day's worth of debates and speeches in the auditorium, and a packed schedule of fringe events.

Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was one of those who made a speech, announcing the government's plan to employ an additional 2,000 tax inspectors to tackle tax evasion and raise revenues.

He also announced that the party is considering going into the next general election with a pledge to increase the threshold at which people begin to pay income tax even higher than the £10,000 which the party promised last year and which the government is currently implementing.

Coincidentally, it was on the topic of the income tax threshold that I questioned Nick Clegg when I joined three fellow bloggers to take part in an interview earlier today. Given the squeeze on living standards that is currently taking place, it strikes me as an excellent idea for the coalition to move faster on this policy than was originally planned.

Not only would such a move assist those on low incomes who feel the effects of inflation most acutely, but it would also help the economy by stimulating demand. Clegg was sympathetic to the idea: "In an ideal world we would accelerate the shift to £10,000, for economic reasons [and because] it is socially the right thing to do".

However, he cautioned that this is something that the government is not currently planning, though I think that's undoubtedly more to do with the naturally conservative nature of the Treasury - particularly in times of fiscal crisis - than a lack of desire on the part of Liberal Democrats in government to make such a change. I wouldn't rule it out altogether, though, particularly if inflation remains high.

I also managed to get a seat in an excellent fringe event on the topic of phone-hacking and other related privacy and media issues, at which the star guest was Hugh Grant. Last time we held our conference in Birmingham in March 2010, the most high-profile guest I spotted was Clare Short - how times change.

Nick Thornsby is a Liberal Democrat member and activist. His own blog can be found here.

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It's Gary Lineker 1, the Sun 0

The football hero has found himself at the heart of a Twitter storm over the refugee children debate.

The Mole wonders what sort of topsy-turvy universe we now live in where Gary Lineker is suddenly being called a “political activist” by a Conservative MP? Our favourite big-eared football pundit has found himself in a war of words with the Sun newspaper after wading into the controversy over the age of the refugee children granted entry into Britain from Calais.

Pictures published earlier this week in the right-wing press prompted speculation over the migrants' “true age”, and a Tory MP even went as far as suggesting that these children should have their age verified by dental X-rays. All of which leaves your poor Mole with a deeply furrowed brow. But luckily the British Dental Association was on hand to condemn the idea as unethical, inaccurate and inappropriate. Phew. Thank God for dentists.

Back to old Big Ears, sorry, Saint Gary, who on Wednesday tweeted his outrage over the Murdoch-owned newspaper’s scaremongering coverage of the story. He smacked down the ex-English Defence League leader, Tommy Robinson, in a single tweet, calling him a “racist idiot”, and went on to defend his right to express his opinions freely on his feed.

The Sun hit back in traditional form, calling for Lineker to be ousted from his job as host of the BBC’s Match of the Day. The headline they chose? “Out on his ears”, of course, referring to the sporting hero’s most notable assets. In the article, the tabloid lays into Lineker, branding him a “leftie luvvie” and “jug-eared”. The article attacked him for describing those querying the age of the young migrants as “hideously racist” and suggested he had breached BBC guidelines on impartiality.

All of which has prompted calls for a boycott of the Sun and an outpouring of support for Lineker on Twitter. His fellow football hero Stan Collymore waded in, tweeting that he was on “Team Lineker”. Leading the charge against the Murdoch-owned title was the close ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Channel 4 News economics editor, Paul Mason, who tweeted:

Lineker, who is not accustomed to finding himself at the centre of such highly politicised arguments on social media, responded with typical good humour, saying he had received a bit of a “spanking”.

All of which leaves the Mole with renewed respect for Lineker and an uncharacteristic desire to watch this weekend’s Match of the Day to see if any trace of his new activist persona might surface.


I'm a mole, innit.