Nicky Morgan. Photo: Getty
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Nicky Morgan appears to agree that non-doms should pay tax. What?

But she’s a Conservative minister! This mole is confused.

Nicky Morgan, Conservative education minister, was the sole Tory spokesperson on the Today programme this morning, so she was the unlucky enough to have to respond to Labour’s “non-doms should pay tax” policy announcement. (An actual policy being announced during a general election campaign, I hear you say? Try not to be too surprised, they slip out sometimes.)

Jim Naughtie naughtily tacked it onto an otherwise unremarkable interview about primary education. That’s when it all got confusing.

The key part is here, at about 2hrs40mins.

Morgan says:

Labour had 13 years in which to tackle this and they’ve haven’t done this. I don’t think anyone would disagree that people should be paying taxes here, because those taxes are essential for what we’ve just been discussing, education.

She makes it sound as if all reasonable people would, of course, agree that people living in this country should pay tax on their earnings. Except that hasn’t been her government’s policy up until now, and she’s currently supposed to be rebutting exactly this proposal from the opposition party. Naughtie pounces:

Well hang on, you’re saying that no one would disagree that people living here with non-dom status should be paying taxes on their overseas earnings?

She responds:

Yes, well that’s exactly what we’ve said, both individuals and corporates, and that’s why we’ve increased the non-dom levy...

They go back and forth a few more times on the levy, and then Naughtie gently reminds her that this “isn’t your government’s policy”. At which point she staggers backwards and attempts to walk to party line for the rest of the interview.

This mole is confused. What should reasonable people be agreeing with about non-doms paying tax, Minister Morgan?

Here’s a transcript of the whole exchange:

NM My reaction is that once you look at the detail, actually they’re not proposing to abolish non-dom status. They’re talking about potentially changing the length of time someone will be able to be here...

JN ...they’re tightening the rules, no argument about that, they’re tightening the rules. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

NM Well, we have already tightened the rules in this parliament. And we are very clear, the Conservative Party and George Osborne in the Treasury has been very clear that people who are based here should pay taxes here, we’ve introduced from last week a tax on companies...

JN ...Well hang on, a lot of them don’t...

NM But we have absolutely cracked down. We’ve increased the non-dom levy in this parliament, non-doms are paying more than they’ve ever paid before. Labour had 13 years in which to tackle this and they’ve haven’t done this. I don’t think anyone would disagree that people should be paying taxes here, because those taxes are essential for what we’ve just been discussing, education.

JN Well hang on, you’re saying that no one would disagree that people living here with non-dom status should be paying taxes on their overseas earnings?

NM Yes, well that’s exactly what we’ve said, both individuals and corporates, and that’s why we’ve increased the non-dom levy...

JN Well why aren’t they?

NM We have increased the non-dom levy...

JN No, the levy is one thing, and the level at which it is set is one thing, paying the tax is another. Are you saying they should pay the tax? Because that’s not your government’s policy.

NM I’m saying that we have at the Treasury clawed back £5bn in this parliament, a crack down on aggressive tax avoidance and evasion and I think that’s exactly what we should do. They’re now paying more in stamp duty...

JN That’s a different issue...

NM I think it’s overall the same issue, that people who are based here should pay their taxes here, and that’s exactly why the diverted profit tax which we saw come into force last week is exactly what we have done in this parliament, because those taxes are essential to pay for those essential services, like education, health and other critical public services which people expect to be fully funded.

JN Are you saying that you, personally, from what you’ve just said, would like to see people with non-dom status paying tax in this country on their overseas earnings?

NM Well, I think we can have the debate about it. I think what the Labour Party are...

JN No, I’m just asking you. Would you like that to happen?

NM What the Labour Party are not being clear about today is on whether they are intending to abolish non-dom status, or simply change or consult on the length of time people would be here to before they have to pay their taxes...

JN Well, that’s fine. John talked to Ed Balls about that earlier. But I’m asking you: would you like to see non-doms paying tax on their overseas earnings or not?

NM Well, we certainly...As I say, that’s why we’ve increased the non-dom levy in this parliament. Non-doms are now paying more in this parliament thanks to the Conseravtive-led government policies over the course of the past five years, I think that’s the right thing to happen.

JN Nicky Morgan, thank you very much.

I'm a mole, innit.

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Europe’s last Blairite: Can Manuel Valls win the French presidency?

He first made a name for himself protesting against halal supermarkets. Now, he could be the man to take down François Hollande.

The election of François Hollande as the president of France in 2012 coincided with the high-water mark of Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour Party. That year, Labour posted its best local election results in 17 years, gaining 823 councillors and winning control of 32 councils in a performance that has not yet been surpassed or equalled.

Gazing across the Channel, the Milibandites were given hope. Hollande showed that a wonkish career politician could triumph over a charismatic centre-right incumbent.

The UK’s shattered Blairites looked to a different star rising in French politics: Manuel Valls. At the time of Hollande’s victory, Valls was the mayor of Évry, a small suburb of Paris, where he made a name for himself by campaigning against halal supermarkets.

His father, Xavier, was a Spanish painter and his mother, Luisangela, was Swiss-Italian. They met and married in Paris, and Valls was born in Barcelona while the couple were on holiday.

In 2009 Valls urged the Parti Socialiste (PS) to drop the adjective “socialist” from its name, and he ran for the presidential nomination two years later on what he described as a Blairiste platform. This included scrapping the 35-hour working week, which hardly applies outside of big business and the public sector but carries symbolic weight for the French left. Valls’s programme found few supporters and he came fifth in a field of six, with just 6 per cent of the vote.

Yet this was enough to earn him the post of interior minister under Hollande. While Valls’s boss quickly fell from favour – within six months Hollande’s approval ratings had dropped to 36 per cent, thanks to a budget that combined tax rises with deep spending cuts – his own popularity soared.

He may have run as an heir to Blair but his popularity in France benefited from a series of remarks that were closer in tone to Ukip’s Nigel Farage. When he said that most Romany gypsies should be sent “back to the borders”, he was condemned by both his activists and Amnesty International. Yet it also boosted his approval ratings.

One of the facets of French politics that reliably confuse outsiders is how anti-Islamic sentiment is common across the left-right divide. Direct comparisons with the ideological terrain of Westminster politics are often unhelpful. For instance, Valls supported the attempt to ban the burkini, saying in August, “Marianne [the French symbol] has a naked breast because she is feeding the people! She is not veiled, because she is free! That is the republic!”

By the spring of 2014, he was still frequently topping the charts – at least in terms of personal appeal. A survey for French Elle found that 20 per cent of women would like to have “a torrid affair” with the lantern-jawed minister, something that pleased his second wife, Anne Gravoin, who pronounced herself “delighted” with the poll. (She married Valls in 2010. He also has four children by his first wife, Nathalie Soulié.)

Yet it was a chilly time for the French left, which was sharply repudiated in municipal elections, losing 155 towns. Hollande sacked his incumbent prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, and appointed Valls in his place. He hoped, perhaps, that some of Valls’s popularity would rub off on to him.

And perhaps Valls, a student of “Third Way” politics, hoped that he could emulate the success of Bill Clinton, who turned sharply to the right following Democratic losses in the US 1994 midterm elections and won a great victory in 1996. Under Valls’s premiership, Hollande’s administration swung right, implementing tough policies on law and order and pursuing supply-side reforms in an attempt to revive the French economy. Neither the economic recovery, nor the great victory, emerged.

With the date of the next presidential election set for 2017, Hollande was in trouble. His approval ratings were terrible and he faced a challenge from his former minister Arnaud Montebourg, who resigned from the government over its rightward turn in 2014.

Then, on 27 November, Prime Minister Valls suggested in an interview that he would challenge the incumbent president in the PS primary. After this, Hollande knew that his chances of victory were almost non-existent.

On 1 December, Hollande became the first incumbent French president ever to announce that he would not run for a second term, leaving Valls free to announce his bid. He duly stood down as prime minister on 5 December.

Under the French system, unless a single candidate can secure more than half of the vote in the first round of the presidential election, the top two candidates face a run-off. The current polls rate Marine Le Pen of the Front National as the favourite to win the first round, but she is expected to lose the second.

Few expect a PS candidate to make the run-off. So Hollande’s decision to drop out of his party’s primary turns that contest into an internal struggle for dominance rather than a choice of potential leader for France. The deeper question is: who will rebuild the party from the wreckage?

So although Valls has the highest international profile of the left’s candidates, no one should rule out a repeat of his crushing defeat in 2011.

He once hoped to strike a Blairite bargain with the left: victory in exchange for heresy. Because of the wasting effect of his years in Hollande’s government, however, he now offers only heresy. It would not be a surprise if the Socialists preferred the purity of Arnaud Montebourg. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump