It is simple: we cannot allow the offensive and malicious Ken Livingstone back into City Hall

Craig Barrett 11.39am

Polls polls polls! "Boris lead narrows!" "Ken less popular than his party!" "Boris more popular than Tories!" "Only 12% of people believe that Ken is honest!"

While opinion polling has become much more sophisticated, anyone who watched the 1992 general election coverage on Easter Monday would know that only one poll matters: when you enter your booth and wield your pencil (unless you live in Tower Hamlets, of course).

With just one week to go until the election for London’s mayor, the current polling serves only to allow campaigners to twist and spin to whatever advantage possible and to remind people (like me) that we should be doing more to help.

I feel a bit sorry in some ways for the London Labour party. They have had a candidate forced on them who seems to owe no loyalty to them barring the right to campaign under their banner and deploy their activists for his own ends.

Had Labour picked someone else, Mr Livingstone, who believes the mayoralty his divine right, would have run as an independent candidate as he did in 2000.

Mr Livingstone’s campaign is a goulash of undeliverable policies, bold but inaccurate pronouncements about his Tory opponent, and craft attempts to shift the media’s focus away from his own activities. It is not so much that Mr Livingstone is a stranger to the truth, it is more that lying and smoke-screens come easier to him.

To Mr Livingstone, it matters not that he has no power to restore the EMA, or that the TfL ‘cash mountain’ is intended for investment rather than fare giveaways. To Mr Livingstone, it matters not that the only experience he has to validate his comments on Boris Johnson’s tax affairs comes from his own hypocritical tax avoidance. To Mr Livingstone, it matters not that what spews from his mouth is offensive to one group of Londoners or another.

Mr Livingstone has given us no compelling reasons to vote for him; no policies on which any Londoner can be certain of his delivering. His crony-aplenty, wasteful record in City Hall speaks for itself.

Contrast that figure with Boris Johnson, who has actually delivered on his promises - whether policing, sustainable housing, tax freezes and others - and whose plans are both costed and practical.

But above all else, consider two vital points. First, I am not old enough to remember Mr Livingstone’s reign as leader of the Greater London Council but I know enough to understand it for what it was: a publicly funded one man crusade of self-justification, with money poured down the drain to embarrass Mrs Thatcher’s government or to challenge its actions in the courts.

The Mayor of London must speak for the city with an independent voice, but they must also be able to co-operate with central government to ensure the best for the city. For at least the first three years of the next mayor’s tenure there will be a Conservative politician in 10 Downing Street and while Mr Johnson and Mr Cameron may not be close personally, they do at least have a mutual understanding and interest.

Boris Johnson is a doughty fighter who has regularly exercised his inherent independence to seek the best for London. Mr Livingstone’s egomania and pathological hatred of the Tories will mean that were he to be elected next week, it would be the start of at least three years of pitched battles on meaningless fronts, all paid for by London’s rate payers.

Second, and perhaps most important, Mr Livingstone’s public utterances over the past few months demonstrate the type of man he is.

Whether suggesting that a councillor in Hammersmith & Fulham ought to “burn in hell…and…flesh be flayed for demons for all eternity”; whether suggesting that gay bankers in the Middle East could be mutilated; whether suggesting that London’s Jewish population is too rich to vote Labour; or whether simply another cheap insult at a critic, Mr Livingstone appears oblivious to the effect of his own words.

It is not good enough for the Labour party to say “Ken is just being Ken”, or words to that effect. Mr Livingstone is no Jed Bartlet, and the fact that many in the Labour party are doing their best to distance themselves from their own candidate shows the whole strategy is a farce.

In a few months, the eyes of the world will be on London and other cities around the country as Britain hosts the Olympic & Paralympic Games. Boris Johnson may be gaffe-prone but unlike Mr Livingstone his gaffes are rarely offensive and certainly not malicious. We in this great and historic capital city cannot afford to have as our mayor a man who appears to set his stall deliberately to offend others.

For this reason, above all others, I urge you to back Boris Johnson as Mayor of London.

Follow Craig on Twitter @mrsteeduk

Progressive Conservatives should support a Land Value Tax

David Cowan 9.51am

In this year’s Macmillan Lecture, the Conservative MP Nick Boles proposed a series of ideas to improve Britain’s economic competitiveness. By far the most fascinating idea was a land value tax.

In the past it has usually been those on the socialistic Left and the libertarian Right who have advocated a land value tax (LVT). But Mr Boles is a prominent Conservative moderniser, founder of the Policy Exchange think tank, and known to be close to the party leadership.

The introduction of a LVT ought to be viewed as the most legitimate way to raise new revenue.

For too long, landowners and speculators have been able to reap sizeable economic outputs from rising land values, though contributing little economic input. One example being how the construction of the Jubilee line sent surrounding land values shooting up to £10 billion, to the benefit of landowners, while taxpayers still had to foot the bill.

The idea strikes to the heart of David Cameron’s vision of responsible capitalism:

“We need to reconnect the principles of risk, hard work, and success with reward”.

Another benefit of LVT is it would create a more stable and productive land market. There would be no benefit in owning land without utilising it since landowners would have to raise enough income to pay the LVT bill. The reduction in speculative activity would help drive down prices and rent, so ensuring that growth in the land market is based on sustainable and real returns instead of artificial and speculative booms.

LVT would also be a new ‘eco-tax’ that discourages construction on expensive ‘greenfield’ areas in favour of cheaper ‘brownfield sites’, so limiting urban sprawl. This brings the consequent benefits of reduced commuting distances and less costly road works, which contribute to CO2 emissions and atmospheric pollution.

However, Mr Boles’ LVT proposal should go a step further. Properties of all shapes and sizes are already overtaxed by the likes of council tax, business rates, stamp duty land tax, planning charges, and landfill tax. If these taxes were to remain then LVT would be burdening people with further unwelcome costs.

Instead, LVT should replace those property taxes - either entirely or at the very least mostly.

It would still raise sufficient revenue if pitched at the correct rate and included main homes, with exemptions for farmland, national parks, charities and pensioners’ main homes. The fact that LVT would also apply to land which at the moment is not taxed at all goes to show how it would raise more revenue than the current property taxes that place a heavy burden on ordinary homeowners.

This would be simple to implement since land cannot be hidden in an offshore tax haven and calculating the tax bill would be made easier by the fact that land values are already measured by the market, therefore compliance costs could be reduced. The same bureaucratic processes for collecting business rates could readily be translated to the collection of LVT.

The LVT would not harm enterprise. It would boost productivity, discourage urban sprawl, could replace the plethora of punitive property taxes, and would be relatively simple to administer and collect.

The extra revenue raised would be enough to fund a radical package of tax cuts to “put fuel into the tank of the British economy”, as George Osborne promised last year, and would reconnect the link between effort and reward by making sure everyone pays their fair share. This is very much a policy that ought to be part of any modern, progressive Conservative agenda.

Follow David on Twitter @david_cowan

George Osborne is a Man with a Plan

David Cowan 6.00am

Last Wednesday, Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, offered the prize of a bottle of Pol Roger to the person who could best explain George Osborne’s growth strategy. Herein David Cowan’s contribution. If David wins, he’ll get a second bottle of Sir Winston’s favourite bubbly from us at Egremont. Good luck!

George Osborne is a man with a plan. He is also a Conservative Chancellor in a coalition government at a time of financial turmoil not seen since the 1930s.

However, he is also a shrewd political operator, who managed to use his Inheritance Tax pledge to call Gordon Brown’s bluff in 2007 and opposed Alistair Darling’s NIC increase in order to give the Conservatives some momentum in 2010. George Osborne has managed to construct a growth strategy which accommodates the Liberal Democrats, includes political electioneering for a Conservative majority in 2015 and will hopefully rebuild the British economy.

The absolute bedrock of his growth strategy is to keep long-term interest rates low. That is why he is trying to eliminate the structural deficit by 2015 in a way which is fiscally responsible, i.e. through public spending cuts and modest tax increases. Keeping interest rates down will ensure that people can still borrow at German style costs while the country has a Greek style debt, and so the markets will maintain their confidence in Britain as a safe haven.

Dovetailing with his efforts to keep long-term interest rates low George Osborne has been trying to get credit flowing back into the British economy. The Bank of England’s second round of quantitative easing (QE) and holding the bank rate at 0.5 per cent represent a large part of this. However, George Osborne has also managed to contribute by pulling off the major Project Merlin deal with the banks in order to get them lending again.

However, it is not just the deficit which George Osborne has inherited from Labour. After 13 years of Labour misrule Britain has fallen to 22nd in the world ranking of the most competitive countries. The Chancellor is now on a crusade to put Britain back at the front of the pack.

This has led to serious efforts at supply side reforms which include cutting corporation tax to the lowest rate in the OECD, introducing the zero-rating of business rates in 21 new enterprise zones and simplifying the longest tax code in the civilised world. The coalition government has also introduced a new ‘Employer’s Charter’ as part of a Whitehall review of employment legislation, the ‘one in, one out’ rule is in place, small businesses are being exempted from domestic regulations for the next three years, and our antiquated planning system is being radically reformed.

Another part of this crusade to create a new ‘enterprise culture’ is to regenerate Britain’s ailing infrastructure and maintain the capital investment which will help sustain small businesses and create jobs. Obvious examples include High Speed Rail 2, Crossrail, and the extension of the broadband network, all of which will help to integrate all of Britain’s regions into a more balanced economy. Human capital is also being nurtured by the 500,000 new apprenticeships, new vocational training centres, more schools and greater science development.

George Osborne’s growth strategy is also ensuring that it is the least well-off who have more money in their pockets and that the rich pay their fair share during this ‘age of austerity’. That is why the personal allowance is being increased, Council Tax is being frozen again and fuel duty was cut, while the 50p tax rate is staying, capital gains tax was increased and new taxes have been slapped onto big banks and oil companies. As for the controversial VAT increase, it is a necessary measure which will raise more revenue, at a minimal cost to the economy, for paying back the debt and protecting the schools budget and real terms increase in NHS spending.

George Osborne’s strategy for growth is a clear and coherent set of policies based on the need to encourage a new competitive ‘enterprise culture’ by providing low long-term interest rates and cheap credit, a vibrant national infrastructure, lower business taxes and less red tape.

The Liberal Democrats have placed serious restraints on the options available to him, but if he successfully manages to deliver a healthy economic recovery in 2015 then he will be able to grant the generous tax cuts which many are calling out for now and gain all the credit in the process. This is a pragmatic and solidly fiscal conservative strategy which will pay off if George Osborne stays the course amid the current financial storm.

And if he is very very lucky.

Follow David on Twitter @david_cowan

Council tax vetoes will make local government more accountable

James Wallis 8.01am

"Coalition plans to cut 450 libraries." This comes on top of similar "plans" to hack NHS trusts, savage school buildings, slash legal aid, sink the Royal Navy, impoverish the universities, decimate the police, silence the BBC World Service and dig up the forests. There is no menace facing modern Britain which has not allegedly been "planned" by David Cameron and George Osborne.

One week ago, the reliably insightful Sir Simon Jenkins articulated a central problem with the Government’s approach - other people (not all of whom are that supportive), have the responsibility for making decisions about what cuts should fall where, while the Government has to take the heat. The Prime Minister acknowledged this yesterday in an interview with Nick Robinson. Nowhere is this problem more apparent than in local government, as illustrated by the furore over library closures, and the politically motivated activities of Liverpool City Council.

It has often been observed that politicians are localists in opposition but not in power. Every decision devolved to anyone with a hostile agenda carries political and practical risk. Hence the centralising instincts of governments of all shades, given ample expression during the 1980s and by New Labour. The stakes are higher for this Government because so much of what has to be done is unpopular. Moreover, localism is a much bigger issue for the Conservatives (and their coalition partners), as it lies as the heart of the communitarian big society project - devolving control of local services away from centralised authority to the people who use them, and creating an environment that will foster independence from central government. This is an honest concept for a better society.

The Localism Bill is currently at committee stage and in spite of the clear conflict between political principle and instinct, it is the principle that holds fast. Local tax vetoes, for instance, will give local people the power to block (via referendum) proposed council tax increases above a centrally imposed ceiling. Jenkins suggested the removal of this ceiling in order to allow councils the freedom of independent fiscal levers. He is correct in the sense that this would immediately decouple councils from central government and create a more direct link between locally elected officials and local voters. Councillors would have to take responsibility for their own budgets instead of pointing fingers at the Government.

A council tax veto should allow for this to happen, as councils will be permitted to propose above-ceiling increases. However, some measure of immediate influence and scrutiny from local people over what is spent locally would be an important step.

The policy should also re-establish the connection between expenditure and the amount of money actually available, a fact that seems to evade critics of the cuts. It is fair and reasonable that local councils take responsibility for their actions and are directly accountable to the people they serve.

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