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.

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood