Newslinks for Sunday 28th February 2021

28 Feb

Budget 1) Sunak “plotting” tax raids on online deliveries and the self-employed

“Rishi Sunak is plotting a new tax on online deliveries next month and a raid on the self-employed later this year, The Telegraph can reveal. The Chancellor will use Wednesday’s Budget to announce a £5 billion fund to help high street pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops that have remained closed as a result of the Covid lockdown. On March 23 – dubbed “tax day” in Whitehall – he will then unveil a series of consultations on further tax increases to start paying for the £300 billion cost of dealing with the virus crisis. The Telegraph has learnt that this will include options to tax online retail more heavily, including the possibility of a new green tax on every internet delivery, alongside other online tax ideas. However, it is understood that he has turned his back on a mooted windfall tax on the “excess profits” of internet companies.” – Sunday Telegraph

  • Conservatives poll lead increases to seven points – The Observer

>Yesterday:

Budget 2) £5 billion “rescue plan for the high street

“The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is to offer 700,000 shops, pubs, restaurants, hotels and other businesses, grants of up to £18,000 each as part of a £5bn rescue scheme to prevent mass bankruptcies. News of the plan – to be announced in Wednesday’s budget – comes as Sunak faces increasing pressure to avoid or postpone significant corporation tax rises, as companies struggle to weather the latest Covid-19 lockdown in a strong enough state to reopen. While there were questions last night over the extent to which the grants were extensions to schemes due to finish at the end of March or new beefed-up initiatives, the move reflects growing panic in government that many small firms on the high streets and elsewhere are now on the brink of extinction.” – The Observer

Budget 3) “Stealth” tax rises on income in a “pathway” to plug black hole

“Rishi Sunak is to set out plans to raise income tax by £6 billion as he outlines a “pathway” to finding an extra £43 billion a year to plug a black hole in the nation’s finances. The chancellor will announce in the budget on Wednesday that he is freezing for at least three years the point at which people start paying the basic rate of income tax —£12,500 — and the £50,000 threshold at which they begin paying the higher 40p rate. That will mean 1.6 million people are pushed into a higher tax bracket before the next general election, due in 2024. The chancellor will say he needs to raise more than £40 billion to tackle the budget deficit and protect the economy from rising rates of interest on government borrowing.” –  Sunday Times

  • Billions for new infrastructure bank – Sunday Express
  • Filling the fiscal black hole may have to wait as the real target is already the next election – Sunday Times

Budget 4) Starmer accused of “betrayal” for opposing Corporation Tax rise

“Sir Keir Starmer will be guilty of a ‘shameful betrayal’ of Labour values if he forces his MPs to vote against Tory tax rises in Wednesday’s Budget, it was claimed last night. Left-wing MP Jon Trickett launched the scathing attack after his party leader declared that this was not the time to increase the burden on families and businesses. The Yorkshire MP, a frontbencher under ex-leader Jeremy Corbyn, said: ‘Voting against tax rises on some of our largest companies would be a shameful betrayal of Labour’s time-honoured principles.” – Mail on Sunday

  • What is the point of this vacuous and confused Labour Party? – Janet Daley, Sunday Telegraph
  • Starmer showed great promise, but Labour won’t win without some policies – Michael Chessum, The Observer

Budget 5) Redwood: Lower tax rates mean higher tax revenues

“When Ireland taxed company profits at the very low rate of 12.5 per cent, it collected much more tax from companies as a proportion of its economy and total revenues than we do. This was because large and profitable companies – and billionaires – are able to rebase parts of their business, such as where they book global revenues, in low-tax countries. George Osborne, as Chancellor, reduced the UK’s corporation tax rate progressively. Each time he cut, he collected more tax. The fact is that putting up tax rates can actually lead to less revenue…What business needs now is full order books. What people need is confidence in the future and the offer of well-paid jobs. This requires tax cuts – not tax rises.” – John Redwood, Mail on Sunday

Other comment

  • Sunak must not become another Mr Butskell – Leader, Sunday Telegraph
  • Look after the recovery — we can balance the books later – Leader, Sunday Times
  • The Tories will be the party of big spending so long as new MPs kowtow to their inboxes – Robert Colville, Sunday Times
  • The Magic Money Tree can’t go on for ever – Liam Halligan, Sun on Sunday
  • Don’t let pandemic losers slide further in a K-shaped recovery – Will Hutton, The Observer

Coronavirus 1) Vaccine cuts risk of being hospitalised by more than 90 per cent

“Just one vaccine shot reduces the risk of being hospitalised by Covid-19 by more than 90 per cent, according to stunning new findings. Public health officials have told Ministers that the remarkable results apply for both the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, with the British jab proving slightly more effective. It represents another huge boost to Britain’s world-beating vaccine rollout, which has now achieved nearly 20 million first injections. The hugely successful inoculation programme is threatened only by the small minority who are still refusing to have the jab. Yesterday Prince William urged Britons to ignore conspiracy theories about the supposed dangers of the vaccine, warning of ‘rumours and misinformation’ on social media. The Duke of Cambridge issued the warning during a video call with his wife Kate to two clinically vulnerable women who have been shielding with their families since March.” –  Mail on Sunday

  • I’ve had the Covid jab – and all it cost me was my freedom – Peter Hitchens, Mail on Sunday
  • Half of voters want vaccine to be compulsory – Mail on Sunday
  • I hate to say it, but Britain’s doing OK. Even Germany envies us… – Ed Cumming, The Observer

Coronavirus 2) US approval for Johnson & Johnson single-shot jab

“US regulators have formally approved the single-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, the third jab to be authorised in the country. The vaccine is set to be a cost-effective alternative to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and can be stored in a refrigerator instead of a freezer. Trials found it prevented serious illness but was 66% effective overall when moderate cases were included. The vaccine is made by the Belgian firm Janssen. The company has agreed to provide the US with 100 million doses by the end of June. The first doses could be available to the US public as early as next week.” – BBC

  • While no one can be required by law to have an immunisation, anyone who refuses must accept the consequences – Liam Fox, Mail on Sunday

Coronavirus 3) Unions threaten to disrupt school reopening

“Militant teachers are hatching a last-minute strike plot to disrupt the full re-opening of schools, we can reveal. Hard-line union activist Martin Powell-Davies is backing industrial action ballots on the eve of all kids returning to class. In a rallying call, he says school chiefs will be “failing in their responsibilities” on health and safety grounds by opening their doors if Covid cases don’t drop dramatically. The executive body of the 450,000-strong National Education Union has been called on to back his plans.” – Sun on Sunday

  • 32m Covid tests by post to reopen schools – Sunday Times

Coronavirus 4) Flexible season tickets “to be offered” to help back to offices effort

“Commuters are to be offered flexible season tickets by June at the latest as part of the Government’s plan to get workers back to offices. The new flexi-tickets – which will save workers hundreds of pounds – will be introduced in time for June 21, when the Government is due to relax its “work from home” message. The tickets can be used for two or three days a week and will be designed to fit in with the new expectations of millions of new home workers. A Department for Transport (DfT) source told The Telegraph that the flexible rail season tickets will be available to buy at stations in England “in the first half” of this year.” – Sunday Telegraph

Donelan warns universities against “dangerous” censorship

“Universities which allow books to be censored on reading lists are risking a Soviet-style fictionalisation of history, the Government has warned in the latest front in the so-called culture wars. Michelle Donelan, the Universities Minister, said that removing key texts from reading lists was “a very dangerous and odd road to go down, and certainly it has no place in our universities”. Last year Oxford University students warned that reading lists should come with ‘trigger warnings’ and called on the university to publish guidance for faculties to consider whether articles on reading lists amount to ‘hate speech’.” – Sunday Telegraph

Sarwar wins Scottish Labour leadership race

“Anas Sarwar has been announced as the new Scottish Labour leader. Glasgow MSP Mr Sarwar defeated Monica Lennon, the only other candidate in the race. The contest was triggered after Richard Leonard resigned as leader, saying it was in the best interests of the party for him to stand down. Mr Sarwar takes charge of the party ahead of the Scottish Parliament election, which is scheduled to be held on 6 May. Mr Sarwar, who is the first non-white leader of a major political party in the UK, got 57.6% of the vote, while Ms Lennon got 42.4%.” – BBC

“New evidence” that Sturgeon’s team leaked name of Salmond accuser

“Unpublished evidence lodged with an inquiry into the Alex Salmond affair has raised fresh concerns that the SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, misled parliament, in breach of the ministerial code. It indicates that her team was aware of harassment complaints against her former boss and closest friend several weeks before she told parliament she became aware of them. The material from Salmond’s former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, also supports claims made by the former first minister that Sturgeon’s administration leaked the identity of one of the women complaining about him — claims that Sturgeon rejected last week.” – Sunday Times

  • Sturgeon v Salmond round two: what the first minister must do to avoid a knockout – Sunday Times
  • New poll shows there is no longer majority for independence – Sunday Express
  • The Union made us enlightened and wealthy. Why try to destroy it? – Matthew Syed, Sunday Times
  • SNP poison is on display and it could herald the end of toxic nationalism – Douglas Ross, Sunday Express
  • We should remember Charles Kennedy, a good man, cruelly treated, and listen to his like again – Kirsty Strickland, Scotland on Sunday

Hannan: Why did Facebook ban my article?

“Last week, I wrote a piece for the John Locke Institute (JLI), a high-minded organisation that runs summer schools and seminars, mainly for sixth-formers, offering in-depth tuition in the humanities subjects. I advanced the view that the epidemic had made us more collectivist, and that the post-lockdown world would be relatively authoritarian. The JLI bought advertising on Facebook to promote the piece. Facebook first authorised the advertisements, then pulled them without explanation…I take the view that Facebook, as a private company, can run whatever adverts it likes. But let’s be absolutely clear that it is now a publisher – a publisher with an agenda. Any notion that Facebook (or Twitter, or YouTube) is simply a platform has gone.” – Daniel Hannan, Sunday Telegraph

>Today: Maria Miller on Comment: Death and rape threats, abuse, revenge porn. It’s time for Government to get tough with the social media giants.

News in brief

  • Are the Tories about to ditch one of their biggest policy achievements? – Kate Andrews, The Spectator
  • Public backs new taxes on wealthy and business – Independent
  • Mark Carney has some explaining to do – Peter Franklin, Unherd
  • The feud of Sturgeon and Salmond could ruin the SNP’s separatist cause – Daniel Johnson, The Article
  • Denying Shamima Begum’s return is a victory for national security – Matt Dryden, CapX

Our monthly survey will be postponed until after Wednesday’s Budget

28 Feb

Ordinarily, our February monthly survey would go out today, or would have been issued a few days previously.  Occasionally, the survey has gone out a day late; perhaps even more rarely, a few days later.

But this month will mark the first time we’ve deliberately held a survey back.  We will issue it on Thursday, the day after the coming Budget, for the simple reason that undertaking it after the event is more sensible than doing it before.

After all, we can’t ask a question about what members of the ConservativeHome panel think of the Budget before it’s taken place.

Rishi Sunak is evidently concerned about the future trajectory of debt and deficit, and the advance briefing suggests that his first instrument of flattening it will be tax rises rather than spending cuts, though the reality of Wednesday may well be less painful than the prospect.

Downing Street and the Treasury’s plan may be to steer Tory MPs and the public towards the view that “it wasn’t as bad as all that” – as some tax rises are announced but postponed until later in the Parliament, in order to bring them in as the economy grows (at least, such will surely be the plan).

The Chancellor’s first Cabinet League table rating in that post put him at 65 per cent, last February.  He then shot up to 95 per cent, among our the Table’s highest-ever scores, as the pandemic broke cover in March.

Since then, he has come in at 93 per cent, 92 per cent, 92 per cent, 85 per cent, 83 per cent, 82 per cent, 82 per cent, 75 per cent, 80 per cent and 82 per cent.

That’s a picture of a gradual decline from a stupendously high level, though retaining an outstanding score, until the vaccine bounce of the last survey, and the Brexit trade deal one of the poll before, pushed his score back up.  He topped the table from March until November, when Liz Truss took over.

So we will see on Friday how his Budget and has gone down, and how his own score has fared, as the opiate of furlough and other lockdown and restriction subsidies is withdrawn – and we move towards more conventional times.

Maria Miller: Death and rape threats, abuse, revenge porn. It’s time for Government to get tough with the social media giants.

28 Feb

Maria Miller is a former Culture Secretary, and is MP for Basingstoke.

I want 2021 to be the year that we finally grasp the nettle of online abuse – to create a safer, more respectful online environment, that will lead to a kinder politics too.

The need has never been greater. Abuse, bullying, and harassment on social media platforms is ruining lives, undermining our democracy, and splintering society.

As an MP, I have had to become accustomed to a regular bombardment of online verbal abuse, rape, and even death threats. In this I am far from alone. Female colleagues across the House are routinely targeted online with abusive, sexist, threatening comments. As Amnesty has shown, black female MPs are most likely to be subjected to unacceptable and even unlawful abuse.

And while women and people from an ethnic minority background are more likely than most to receive abuse online, they are not alone. Hate-filled trolls and disruptive spammers consider anyone with a social media presence to be fair game: one in four people have experienced some kind of abuse online and online bullying and harassment has been linked to increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

While the personal impact of online abuse is intolerable, we must not underestimate the societal effect it is having. Research by the think-tank Compassion in Politics found that 27 per cent of people are put off posting on social media because of retributive abuse. We cannot have an open, honest, and pluralist political debate online in an atmosphere in which people are scared to speak up.

Which is why I am working cross-party with MPs and Peers to ensure that the upcoming Online Harms Bill is as effective as possible in tackling the scourge of online abuse.

First, the Bill must deal with the problem of anonymous social media accounts. Anonymous accounts generate the majority of the abuse and misinformation spread online and while people should have an option to act incognito on social media, the harm these accounts cause must be addressed.

I support a twin-track system: giving social media users the opportunity to create a “verified” account by supplying a piece of personal identification and the ability to filter out “unverified” accounts. This would give choice to verified users while continuing to offer protection to those, for example whistle blowers, who want to access social media anonymously.

The public back this idea. Polling by Opinium for Compassion in Politics reveals that 81 per cent of social media users would be willing to provide a piece of personal identification (passport, driving license or bank statement most probably) to gain a verified account. Three in four (72 per cent) believe that social media companies need to have a more interventionist role to wipe out the abuse on their platforms.

Of course, this approach would need to be coupled with enforcement ,and I believe that can be achieved by introducing a duty of care on social media companies, along the lines suggested in the Government’s White Paper.

For too long, they have escaped liability for the harm they cause by citing legal loopholes, arguing they are platforms for content not producers or publishers. The legal environment that has facilitated social media companies’ growth is not fit for purpose – it must change to better reflect their previously unimaginable reach and influence. Any company that sells a good to a customer already has to abide by health and safety standards, and there is no reason to exempt social media companies. Any failure by those companies to undertake effective measures to limit the impact of toxic accounts should result in legal sanctions.

Alongside a duty of care, we need more effective laws to give individuals protection, particularly when it comes to posting of images online without consent. Deepfake, revenge pornography and up-skirting are hideous inventions of the online world. I want new laws to make it a crime to post or threaten to post an intimate image without consent, and for victims to be offered the same anonymity as others subjected to a sexual offence, so we stop needing the law to play continuous ‘catch up’ as new forms of online abuse emerge.

Finally, the Government should make good on its promise to invest an independent organisation with the power and resources to regulate social media companies in the UK. All the signs suggest that Ofcom will be asked to undertake that role and I can see no problem with that proposal as long asthe company is given truly wide-ranging and independent powers, and personnel with the knowledge to tackle the social media giants.

In making these recommendations to Government, my intention is not to punish social media companies or to stifle online debate. Far from it. I want a more respectful, representative, and reasonable discourse online. So, let’s work together over the coming 12 months to make this Bill genuinely world-leading in the protection it will create for social media users, in the inclusivity it will foster, and respect it will engender.