Margaret Hodge MP is a potential mayoral candidate. Photo: Getty
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Labour’s mayoral frontrunners criticise Ed Miliband’s mansion tax

13 per cent of the UK’s population live in the capital, but 90 per cent of the properties that would be affected by the mansion tax are in London. 

For all the focus on what Ed Miliband forgot to say in his speech, his new proposal of a new mansion tax on homes over £2m to fund extra spending on the NHS is extremely popular: a YouGov poll finds that it is supported by 72 per cent of people. But the frontrunners to be Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London in 2016 were not among them.  

A revealing moment in a fringe event yesterday evening during Labour party conference on the future of Labour in London – an ill-disguised early hustings event – concerned attitudes to the mansion tax. The speakers – Andrew Adonis and Margaret Hodge, who are both tipped to stand, as well as David Lammy, who has already declared, and the outsider candidate Christian Walmar – were asked to raise their hands if they were in favour of the idea. None did so.

For Adonis, Hodge and Lammy, a re-evaluation of council tax bands - which has not occurred since 1991 (the rates were subsequently changed in 1993) – represents a preferable option to the mansion tax. “I’m not keen on a mansion tax.” Lammy said. Hodge admitted that “I would rather we did it in a slightly different way.” Diane Abbott and Tessa Jowell, two other probable mayoral candidates, have already spoken out against the mansion tax.

Adonis appropriated the language of the left to defend his opposition to the mansion tax. “Expensive property should be taxed more fairly,” he said. “Equally, people whose houses have been inflated into much higher values and suddenly find themselves therefore facing a much higher tax bill, many of whom will not be people of means – we need to play fair by them too.”

Even Christian Wolmar, perhaps the most left-wing Labour candidate running, only supported the mansion tax with a significant caveat: that it only be applied on properties that were bought for over £2m, thereby preventing the tax affecting those whose houses have hiked in value but may still be cash poor.

It was a significant exchange, for several reasons. It served as a reminder of the exceptionalism of London. While 13 per cent of the UK’s population live in the capital, 90 per cent of the properties that would be affected by the mansion tax are in London. What is good for Labour in London – support for immigration, the EU and opposition to a mansion tax - may not be good for Labour in Liverpool. The party could soon have its own version of the Conservative debates about prioritising winning in Cambridge or Clacton.

Opposition to the mansion tax also encapsulates why all the mayoral candidates are calling for greater powers to be devolved to London. Currently the Mayor and boroughs keep only seven per cent of the taxes they raise. “The money spent on health – 90 per cent of it will not be spent on the health service in London,” Lammy said. “That is the problem.” Speaking earlier in the event, Diane Abbott offered a similar analysis. "London is as big as Scotland and Wales put together," she said. "You cannot debate devolutionary powers to Scotland without devolutionary powers to London." To Adonis, allowing London to keep more tax revenue in return for taking responsibility for infrastructure projects represents a “something for something” deal.

Whichever Labour candidate takes on the Tories – Tessa Jowell is the favourite – will be expected to become Mayor in 2016. But Labour’s weakness in the last two Mayoral elections has been its lack of appeal to outer boroughs. It is a problem that the mansion tax has the potential to exacerbate. The upshot is that an Ed Miliband victory in 2015, if it leads to a mansion tax seen as disproportionately affecting London, may make a Labour victory in the capital in 2016 considerably less likely. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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Like many others, Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba was left in charge of a failing aircraft

Ony when enough hospitals shut down, and do so often, will those with true responsibility properly resource the NHS. 

The day Leicester trainee paediatrician Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba was struck off by the High Court for her involvement in the death of six-year-old Jack Adcock, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt posted a tweet expressing his deep concern about possible unintended consequences of the ruling. He was referring specifically to the impact on patient safety.

At a stroke, efforts to build a culture of open learning – a cause Hunt champions – had been set back decades. You don’t get people to talk honestly about critical mistakes by threatening them with prison and professional ruin.

There may be other consequences that Hunt didn’t anticipate. Comparisons with another safety-critical industry – aviation – are instructive. On the day Jack died, from undiagnosed sepsis, Bawa-Garba was functioning as would a first officer on an aircraft. The plane’s captain was elsewhere, training other pilots on a simulator in a different city. The chief steward had failed to report for duty, so Bawa-Garba was expected to oversee cabin service as well as fly the plane single-handed.

The aircraft’s IT systems had gone down, meaning one of the stewardesses was permanently occupied looking out of the window to ensure they didn’t collide with anything. Another stewardess was off sick, and her replacement was unfamiliar with the type of plane and its safety systems. And Bawa-Garba herself had just returned from a year’s maternity leave. She’d done quite a lot of flying in the past, though, and the airline clearly believed she could slot straight back into action – they arranged no return-to-work programme, dropping her in at the deep end.

Not one of us would agree to be a passenger on that flight, yet that kind of scenario is commonplace in hospitals throughout the country. Critically ill patients have no awareness of how precarious their care is, and would have no choice about it if they knew. Since the Bawa-Garba ruling, doctors have been bombarding the General Medical Council (GMC) for advice as to what they should do when confronted with similarly parlous working conditions.

The GMC’s response has been to issue a flowchart detailing whom medics should tell about concerns. But it has failed to confirm that doing so would protect doctors should a disaster occur. Nor does it support worried doctors simply refusing to work under unsafe conditions. This is akin to telling the first officer they must inform the airline that things are bad, very bad, but that they still have to fly the plane regardless.

Jeremy Hunt has responded to the crisis by announcing an urgent review into gross negligence manslaughter, the offence of which Bawa-Garba was convicted. This is welcome, and long overdue, but it still serves to retain the focus on individuals and their performance, and keeps attention away from the failing systems that let down doctors and patients daily.

An action by the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin is, arguably, more important than Hunt’s review. The organisation has written to Leicestershire police requesting that they investigate Bawa-Garba’s hospital trust for alleged corporate manslaughter. I sincerely hope a prosecution follows. I’m no fan of litigation, but change is only going to come when those who manage the NHS know that they are going to carry the can when things go wrong.

We need clear statements of what constitute minimum acceptable staffing levels, both in terms of numbers, and training and experience. When departments, or even whole hospitals, fall below these – or when unexpected problems such as IT failures occur – managers, faced with the real prospect of corporate lawsuits, will close the unit, rather than keep operating in unsafe conditions, as routinely occurs.

Only when enough hospitals shut down, and do so often, will those with true responsibility – Jeremy Hunt and the rest of the Conservative government – finally act to resource the health service properly. 

This would be an unintended consequence from the Dr Bawa-Garba case that would be welcome indeed. 

This article first appeared in the 15 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The polite extremist