Ed Balls and Ed Miliband on stage at the Labour conference in Manchester. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

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.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Bomb Isil? That's exactly what they want

The government appears not to answer the nature of its enemy, warns Maria Norris.

As MPs are set to vote on further airstrikes in Syria, it is difficult to shake off the feeling that the government does not fully appreciate the complexity of the problem Isil poses. Just a cursory glance at its magazine, the pronouncements of its leaders and its ideology reveals that Isil is desperate for Western bombs to fall out of the sky. As Martin Chulov argues, Isil is fighting a war it believes was preordained since the early days of Islam. Isil’s obsession with the city of Dabiq, in Northern Syria, stems from a hadith which prophesises that the ‘Crusader’ army will land in the city as a precursor to a final battle where Islam will emerge victorious. Dabiq is also the name of its magazine, which starts every issue with the same quote: "The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify -- by Allah's permission -- until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq". Isil wants a war with the West. If we don’t negotiate with terrorists, then we also should not give them what they want.

Further, bombs are indiscriminate and will inevitably lead to the suffering of those trapped in Isil territories. Isil is counting on this suffering to swell their ranks. Civilian suffering from airstrikes only underline the narrative that the West is at war with Islam, which plays directly into Isil’s hands. And despite misleading headlines and the genuine government concern with individuals fleeing to Syria, Isis is supremely unpopular. It is no wonder that its magazine is filled with glossy adds begging people to move to its territories.  You cannot be a state without people. Terrorist attacks such as Paris thus have a two-pronged purpose: they provoke the West to respond with its military, and they act as a recruitment drive. The fact that fake Syrian passports were found around the sites of the Paris attacks is no coincidence as Isil are both seeking to stem the flow of refugees from its territories and hoping to provoke an Islamophobic backlash. They hope that, as more Muslims feel alienated in the West, more will join them, not just as fighters, but as the doctors, nurses and teachers it desperately needs.

In addition to this, airstrikes overlook the fact that Isil is a result of what Fawaz Gerges calls a severe, organic institutional crisis in the Middle East. In a lecture at the London School of Economics earlier this year, Gerges pointed out the dysfunction created when a region that is incredibly resource rich also is also deeply undemocratic, riddled with corruption, food insecurity, unemployment and poverty. This forms an institutional vacuum that is filled by non-state actors as the population does not trust its political structures. Further, the civil war in Syria is also the site of the toxic soup of Middle Eastern state dysfunction. Iran supports Assad, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, fund anti-Shia groups in Syria. Throw in the Kurdish conflict, Turkey’s ambiguous position and Russian bombs, it is difficult to see how airstrikes will solve anything.

Finally, it is crucial that Isil is seen as a direct result of the Iraq war. The American-led invasion destroyed the institutions, giving the Shia majority power almost overnight, creating deep dissatisfaction in the Sunni regions of Iraq. On top of this thousands of foreign fighters flooded Iraq to fight the invaders, attracting disenfranchised and angry Sunnis. The result is that since 2003, Iraq has been embroiled in a sectarian civil war.  It is in civil war, inherently connected to the Iraq War, that you find the roots of Isil. As even the Prime Minister concedes that ground troops are necessary, albeit it regional ground troops with its own set of problems, it is important to consider what further monster can arise from the ashes of another ill-thought out military intervention in the Middle East.
We have had decades of military intervention in the Middle East with disastrous consequences. Airstrikes represent business as usual, when what we actually need is a radically new approach. Who is funding Isil? Who is buying its oil? How to curb Isil’s recruitment drives? What can be done about the refugees? How to end the conflict in Syria? What happens to Assad? These are questions hopefully being addressed in talks recently held in Vienna with Russian, Ira, the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states. Airstrikes do not answer any of these questions. What airstrikes do is give Isil exactly what it is asking for. Surely this is reason enough not to bomb Syria. 

Maria W. Norris is a PhD candidate and a teacher at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her PhD is on the UK counter-terrorism strategy since 9/11 and its relationship with identity. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.