Ed Balls and Ed Miliband on stage at the Labour conference in Manchester. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Balls refuses to deny plan to use mansion tax to "save NHS"

Ed Miliband is expected to announce the policy in his conference speech tomorrow. 

Ahead of Ed Miliband's speech tomorrow, the BBC's Nick Robinson is reporting that he will pledge to use Labour's proposed mansion tax on properties worth more than £2m to increase NHS spending. Labour sources have described this as "speculation", which isn't a denial, and at a fringe event this evening, Ed Balls refused to reject the story. He told NS columnist and Huffington Post political director Mehdi Hasan that "all the things I wanted to announce in my speech today I did" (leaving the path clear for Miliband) and did not commit to using the revenue it would raise for deficit reduction. 

Labour originally pledged to use a mansion tax to fund the reintroduction of the 10p tax rate, but in his speech today, Balls confirmed that this would now be achieved through the abolition of the Married Couple's Tax Allowance introduced by the coalition. On a mansion tax, he said: 

And we will levy a tax on the highest value properties - a mansion tax on houses worth over £2 million.

But we will do it in a fair, sensible and proportionate way. Raising the limit each year in line with average rises in house prices. Putting in place protections for those who are asset rich but cash poor. And ensuring those with properties worth tens of millions of pounds make a significantly bigger contribution than those in houses just above the limit.

Because how can it be right that the billionaire overseas buyer this year of a £140 million penthouse in Westminster will pay just £26 a week in property tax — the same as the average-value property in that area?

On the NHS, he said: "Conference, we saved our National Health Service from the Tories.

"And next year, after just five years of David Cameron – with waiting times rising, fewer nurses and a crisis in A&E - we will have to save the NHS from the Tories once again. And we will do what it takes." 

Using the revenue that a mansion tax and a super-mansion tax (on properties worth tens of millions) would raise gets Labour round the problem of how to increase NHS spending without a rise in general taxation, which the party regards as unfeasible at a time of falling living standards. 

It would also be a politically potent act of redistribution, with a populist (and popular) tax on the wealthy used to safeguard Britain's most cherished public institution. David Cameron vetoed the introduction of a mansion tax by the coalition on the grounds that "our donors would never put up with it". Expect Miliband to make much of how the PM "stands up for the wrong people" when he speaks tomorrow. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear