Ed Balls speaks at the CBI conference in London last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Balls promises protection for those who can't afford mansion tax

Shadow chancellor seeks to reassure the asset rich but cash poor.

Labour threw its weight behind the idea of a mansion tax last year, promising to use the revenue it would generate to reinstate a 10p rate of income tax. In an article for today's Evening Standard, Ed Balls has offered the most detailed outline yet of how the policy would operate.

First, he confirms that it would only apply to property values over £2m, with the threshold raised annually in line with average increases in house prices, rather than general inflation. This, Balls writes, would "ensure that more modest properties are not brought into the scope of the tax".

Second, he promises that there will be "protections in place" for those who are asset rich but cash poor (an issue of particular concern to Londoners). This would take the form of a relief scheme, or allowing those on low incomes to defer payment until the property is sold.

Third, Balls announces that Labour has abandoned the original idea of a 1 per cent charge on property values over £2m in favour of a banded system — £2-£5m, £5-10m, £10-20m and over £20m — that eliminates the need for detailed annual valuations and ensures the very wealthiest pay more. This brings Labour into line with the new position recently outlined by Danny Alexander, who pledged to implement the policy through the existing council tax system. The aim, a Balls spokesman told me, is to reassure people to that the tax would be introduced in "a fair and proportionate way".

With both the Lib Dems and Labour unambiguously committed to the policy, the Tories are left as the only party that believes that a family in a three-bedroom house in Tower Hamlets should pay the same rate of property tax as an oligarch in a Kensington palace. Those voters who select what James O’Shaughnessy, David Cam­eron’s former director of policy, calls the "dreaded posh family in front of a mansion" when asked to choose the picture that best represents the Tories have had all their prejudices confirmed. The irony is that it was George Osborne – who is now leading the charge against a new property tax – who agreed to introduce two higher council tax bands on houses worth more than £1m ahead of the 2012 Autumn Statement before being overruled by Cam­eron. It later emerged that the Tories had surreptitiously written to their wealthy donors soliciting funds to campaign against a “homes tax”, a fact that Miliband gleefully cites as proof that the Prime Minister “stands up for the wrong people”.

In the early months of the coalition, Labour MPs frequently complained of the "two-against-one" dynamic that allowed the Conservatives and the Lib Dems to trash the party's economic credibility, but on a mansion tax, and many other issues, it is now the Tories who are the odd ones out.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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