Labour peer and shadow infrastructure minister Andrew Adonis. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Andrew Adonis: mansion tax is "socially just" and I support it

Labour peer corrects Conservative claims that he has come out against the policy.

Andrew Adonis's recent comments on a mansion tax, reported in today's FT, have attracted much attention this morning. The Labour peer and shadow infrastructure minister told an IPPR/Policy Network event: "The single policy that Labour has which is most unpopular – that every time I meet anybody who is at all well off I get it in the neck with clockwork regularity – is the mansion tax." 

The Tories, who have long opposed the policy ("our donors will never put up with it," said David Cameron) have pounced on his words as evidence of a Labour split. Grant Shapps said: "Lord Adonis is right. Labour's demand for a new tax on the family home would be economic vandalism. It would hurt poorer pensioners the most.

"It would also be the thin end of the wedge. It would quickly become a tax on ordinary homes, hitting families in their pay-packets each month. It would clobber renters too, as the costs would simply be passed on to them."

But when I spoke to Adonis, who has just begun his week-long tour of London's bus routes (riding 50 in total), he was keen to rebut Shapps's claims. He told me: 

I support the mansion tax, it's socially just. The very well off don't support it, as I said, but that's not a surprise since they'd pay it. 

Adonis also emphasised, however, that it was important that the policy, which would take the form of a 1 per cent levy on property values above £2m, was introduced "in a fair way", "particularly in respect of existing homeowners whose houses have appreciated dramatically in value." 

Several of Labour's potential London mayoral candidates, of whom Adonis is one, have recently come out against the policy. Diane Abbott and David Lammy both criticised it as "a tax on London", while Tessa Jowell said she favoured higher council tax bands instead. But Adonis made it clear that he won't be joining them. As he noted, "I was the only person at the Progress event [on London after Boris Johnson] to support it." 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Theresa May can't end speculation of an early general election

Both Conservative and Labour MPs regard a contest next year as the solution to their problems. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as a Conservative leadership candidate was to rule out an early general election. After a tumultuous 2015 contest and the EU referendum, her view was that the country required a period of stability (a view shared by voters). Many newly-elected Tory MPs, fearful of a Brexit-inspired Ukip or Liberal Democrat surge, supported her on this condition.

After entering Downing Street, May reaffirmed her stance. “The Prime Minister could not have been clearer,” a senior source told me. “There won’t be an early election.” Maintaining this pledge is an important part of May’s straight-talking image.

But though No.10 has wisely avoided publicly contemplating an election (unlike Gordon Brown), the question refuses to die. The Conservatives have a majority of just 12 - the smallest of any single-party government since 1974 - and, as David Cameron found, legislative defeats almost inevitably follow. May’s vow to lift the ban on new grammar schools looks to many like an unachievable task. Former education secretary Nicky Morgan and former business minister Anna Soubry are among the Tories leading the charge against the measure (which did not feature in the 2015 Conservative manifesto).  

To this problem, an early election appears to be the solution. The Tories retain a substantial opinion poll lead over Labour, the most divided opposition in recent history. An election victory would give May the mandate for new policies that she presently lacks.

“I don’t believe Theresa May wishes to hold an early election which there is evidence that the country doesn’t want and which, given the current state of the Labour Party, might be seen as opportunistic,” Nigel Lawson told today’s Times“If, however, the government were to find that it couldn’t get its legislation through the House of Commons, then a wholly new situation would arise.”

It is not only Conservatives who are keeping the possibility of an early election alive. Many Labour MPs are pleading for one in the belief that it would end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. An early contest would also pre-empt the boundary changes planned in 2018, which are forecast to cost the party 23 seats.

For Corbyn, the possibility of an election is a vital means of disciplining MPs. Allies also hope that the failed revolt against his leadership, which Labour members blame for the party’s unpopularity, would allow him to remain leader even if defeated.

Unlike her predecessors, May faces the obstacle of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (under which the next election will be on 7 May 2020). Yet it is not an insurmountable one. The legislation can be suspended with the backing of two-thirds of MPs, or through a vote of no confidence in the government. Alternatively, the act could simply be repealed or amended. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have demanded an early election, would struggle to resist May if she called their bluff.

To many, it simply looks like an offer too good to refuse. Which is why, however hard May swats this fly, it will keep coming back. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.