David Cameron and Nick Clegg hold a press conference on anti-terror laws at No.10 Downing Street on 10 July, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Lib Dems steal a march on the Tories by pledging to cut National Insurance

Nick Clegg has pre-empted an expected Tory manifesto commitment. 

When the Lib Dems pledged to raise the income tax threshold to £10,000 in their 2010 general election manifesto many Tories questioned why they hadn't got their first. The answer was provided by David Cameron during the first TV leaders' debate: "I would love to take everyone out of their first £10,000 of income tax, Nick. It's a beautiful idea, it's a lovely idea - we cannot afford it." 

It turned out, though, that we could. The policy was included in the Coalition Agreement and the Tories, with some chutzpah, now present it as their greatest achievement in government. In his most recent Budget, George Osborne announced that the threshold would rise to £10,500 next year, exceeding Clegg's original target. 

The Lib Dems, however, have long made it clear that they want to go further by increasing the personal allowance to £12,500 by the end of the next parliament. Labour, meanwhile, has pledged to reinstate the 10p tax rate (a policy championed by Tory MP Robert Halfon) disastrously abolished by Gordon Brown in his final Budget in 2007. 

These announcements have left the Tories, many of whom, like Milton Friedman, are in favour of cutting taxes "under any circumstances and for any excuse", asking what their offer will be. One policy long rumoured for inclusion in the party's manifesto is a cut in the National Insurance threshold. At present, this stands at £7,956, far below the income tax threshold of £10,000. Cutting NI would ensure that the 1.2 million workers who earn too little to gain from another increase in the personal allowance (or from a 10p tax rate) would benefit. The Tories, still viewed as "the party of the rich", would be able to boast of a tax policy more progressive than that of their rivals. 

But as in 2010, the Lib Dems have got there first. Danny Alexander announced today that after achieving a personal allowance of £12,500, the party would "seek to raise the level that people start paying employee National Insurance". He added: "The Liberal Democrats are the only party in British politics with a long-term commitment to cutting taxes for the working people of Britain. We've delivered the largest programme of tax cuts for a generation over the last four years, despite all of the other financial pressures.

"These manifesto commitments will mean nothing less than a generational shift to a fairer tax system that rewards work and helps working people. That's the way to build a stronger economy and a fairer society and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to get on in life."

It sounds good, but the Chief Secretary to the Treasury notably avoided the question of how the move would be paid for. With the IFS warning that the next government will need to raise taxes (or cut welfare) by £12bn merely to keep departmental spending cuts at their current pace, all parties should be more focused on raising money than giving it away.

But nine months away from a general election, politics is trumping policy. That means the pressure is now on Cameron to deliver a conference-dazzling tax cut pledge this autumn. How he will do that while pledging to eliminate the deficit by the end of the next parliament, and to avoid any further tax rises, is another question

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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As crime moves online, the police need the investment in technology to follow

Technology offers solutions, not just threats.

It’s perhaps inevitable that as the world becomes more digital, so does crime. This week Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions, recognised that online crime is as serious as face-to-face crime. “Hate is hate,” Saunders wrote referring to internet abuse, and the police should protect people from it wherever they are. This will add demand to under-pressure police forces. And it is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Forty-seven per cent of crime involves an online element. Police recorded 30,000 instances of online stalking and harassment last year. People are 20 times more likely to be a victim of fraud than robbery, costing businesses an estimated £144bn a year. On a conservative estimate, 2,500 UK citizens use the anonymous dark web browser, Tor, for illegal purposes such as drug dealing, revenge porn and child sexual exploitation.

The police need new technology to meet demand, a Reform report published today finds. Some progress has been made in recent years. West Midlands Police uses an online portal for people to report incidents. Durham uses evidence-gathering software to collect social media information on suspects, and then instantly compile a report that can be shared with courts. Police have benefited from smartphones to share information, and body-worn cameras, which have reduced complaints against police by 93 per cent.

Yet, Theresa May’s 2016 remarks that police use “technology that lags woefully behind what they use as consumers” still stand. Officers interviewed for Reform’s research implored: “Give us the tools to do our job”.

Online evidence portals should be upgraded to accept CCTV footage. Apps should be developed to allow officers to learn about new digital threats, following the US army’s library of knowledge-sharing apps. Augmented-reality glasses are being used in the Netherlands to help officers identify evidence at digital crime scenes. Officers would save a trip back to the station if they could collect fingerprints on smartphones and statements on body-worn cameras.

New technology requires investment, but forces are reducing the resources put into IT as reserves have dried up. Durham plans to cut spend by 60 per cent between 2015-16 and 2019-20. The government should help fund equipment which can meet demand and return future productivity savings. If the Home Office invested the same as the Department of Health, another department pushing “transformative” technology, it would invest an extra £450m a year. This funding should come from administrative savings delivered through accelerating the Government’s automation agenda, which the think tank Reform has previously calculated would save Whitehall £2.6bn a year.

As crime moves online, police must follow. Saunders is right to point to the importance of meeting it. But technology offers solutions, not just threats. Installing the next generation of equipment will give police the tools to do their jobs, addressing online hate and more. 

Alexander Hitchcock is a senior researcher at reform