Conservatives rocked by Cash4Cameron crisis

Cameron made the following statement this morning, ahead of a speech in London:

“What Peter Cruddas said was completely unacceptable and wrong … We have a robust and sensible system for raising money in the Conservative party. All donations to the party centrally above £7,500 are declared to the Electoral Commission and must comply with electoral law. No donation is accepted before going through very thorough compliance procedures …

There has been much speculation about dinners in my flat in Number 10 Downing Street. The position is this: in the two years I have been prime minister there have been three occasions on which significant donors have come to my flat. In addition, there was a further post-election dinner which included donors in Downing Street itself shortly after the general election. We will be publishing full details of all these today.

None of these dinners were fundraising dinners. None of these dinners were paid for by the taxpayer. I have known most of those attending for many years. Let me add that Peter Cruddas has never recommended anyone to come to dinner in my flat, nor has he been to dinner there himself.

I already publish details of my external meetings as prime minister – the first prime minister to do so – and I also publish all meetings that I have with media editors and proprietors. From now on the Conservative party will publish details every quarter of any meals attended by any major donors, whether they take place at Downing Street, Chequers or any official residence.

The Conservative party is funded by private citizens. I inherited a party that was tens of millions of pounds in debt and dependent on a tiny number of big donors. Since I have been leader we have significantly broadened the Conservative party’s funding base and many more significant donors …

From now on, the Conservative party will in addition publish a register of those major donors who actually attend these fundraising dinners.

On policy, let me make clear no one in the Number 10 policy unit has met anyone at Peter Cruddas’s request. Peter Cruddas spoke about passing requests to a policy committee at Number 10 Downing Street. There is no such committee. However, to avoid any perception of undue influence, from now on we will put in place new procedures in which if any ministerial contact with a party donor prompts a request for policy advice, the minister will refer this to his or her private office who can then seek guidance from the permanent secretary.

Clearly there is still an urgent need for party funding reform in this country. I have consistently argued this over the last six years. No party is immune from these problems. Indeed, the leader of the Labour party has himself encountered some controversy in recent days. That is why the government has invited Labour to restart the cross-party talks on reforming the current rules.

But today I make this offer once again to the Labour party. I’m ready to impose a cap on individual political donations of £50,000 without any further need for state funding. But to be fair, this must apply equally to trade unions as well as to private citizens or businesses.”

The Guardian (amended)

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DC by MR


Millions of pensioners mugged in pickpocket budget

George Osborne has delivered a £1 billion Budget tax hit to pensioners as he cut the top rate of tax for Britain’s wealthiest earners. The Treasury acknowledged that 4.5 million pensioners would lose out as a result of the decision to phase out their additional age-related allowances.

Age UK said it was “disappointed” with the move warning that it could leave some pensioners up to £259-a-year worse off, with little chance to change their retirement plan. However, Treasury sources pointed to a report by the Office for Tax Simplification which claimed many pensioners did not understand the allowances and found claiming them “burdensome”.

Under the Chancellor’s plans allowances will be withdrawn for new pensioners from April next year while existing pensioners will have their allowances frozen at £10,500 for the over 60s and £10,660 for the over 75s until overall tax thresholds catch up with them. According to the Budget red book, the measure will raise an additional £1.01 billion for the Exchequer by 2015-16.

Although Mr Osborne insisted there would be no cash loss to pensioners, Treasury sources said existing pensioners would be, on average, £63 a year worse off while new pensioners would lose out to the tune of £197 a year on average.

Mr Osborne said of the allowances: “The National Audit Office points out that many pensioners don’t understand them. These allowances require around 150,000 pensioners to fill in self-assessment forms, and as we have real increases in the personal allowances, their value is being eroded all the time.”

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Osborne on Marr: This is a Coalition budget

George Osborne lands the LibDems right in it as he ensures everybody knows they were in on the act – even if they weren’t, which is more likely to be the case

This week’s budget will contain aggressive measures against those avoiding stamp duty, the chancellor said this morning. The comment comes amid reports that up to £1 billion is being lost due to individuals registering their exclusive properties in offshore corporations, a move George Osborne described as “completely unacceptable”. He added: “We are going to come down on that practice like a ton of bricks.”

“People are going to face a very punitive charge. We are going to have new measures in the Budget on this. People have had their warning. They’ve got to pay stamp duty on the homes they live in.” The chancellor said he was intent on preventing high earners avoiding tax. “People should pay their fair contribution,” he said. “It’s not just the tax rate but whether they are actually paying the rate.”

Speaking on the Andrew Marr programme, Mr Osborne stressed the budget was aimed at low to middle income working families. He also stressed the Liberal Democrats’ role in the budget and defended figures in the minority party who had voiced demands for further penalties on the rich.

“This is a Coalition budget, this is not a Conservative budget or a Liberal Democrat budget,” he said. “I sit down with Liberal Democrats to make sure they’re happy with it. It’s perfectly reasonable in coalitions of two parties that you get supporters in those parties stressing the things they want to stress. Because it’s a Coalition budget it will satisfy a broader range of public opinion.”

Recent Land Registry figures showed 94,760 properties have been placed offshore – many of them town houses, mansions and country estates. Buyers avoid tax by transferring ownership of a property to an offshore company and then purchasing the company as a whole when selling. This classifies the deal as a corporate transaction as opposed to a property sale. (amended)

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No let up in austerity measures, says Osborne

The government will not ease austerity in its budget to be presented next week, George Osborne has said in an interview to be aired tomorrow on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS programme.

“We are going to stick with the deficit reduction plan that I set out almost two years ago,” Osborne said, according to a transcript of the interview.

UK  jobless claims rose more than economists forecast in February, and a broader measure of unemployment remained at the highest level in 16 years, according to data released on March 14 by the Office for National Statistics in London.

Keeping austerity measures in place is important “to provide the stability that the British economy needs and the low interest rates the British economy needs to allow the recovery to take hold,” Osborne said.

“The plan we put in place is bringing that deficit down and borrowing is coming down,” he added. “But even with that, we still have one of the highest budget deficits in the world.”


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Time is short to save our NHS

The NHS as we know it faces full-scale privatisation unless MPs and peers see sense and respect the wishes of the British public by throwing out the pro-privatisation Health and Social Care Bill, writes Len McCluskey in today’s Morning Star

The NHS was created in 1948 by Aneurin Bevan and since then has provided unbelievable advances in public health and medical treatment for working people and their families, free at the point of delivery to all those in need, regardless of income – or lack of it. Millions of people have seen their quality of life and longevity dramatically improve because of this state-funded health service.

Today the NHS, the envy of many developed countries, faces comprehensive dismemberment at the hands of the Tories and their Liberal Democrat ministerial allies, in favour of private health-care companies. It is very possible that within the next decade you will have to pay to visit to your GP. That’s why this Bill should be scrapped immediately and a period of stability reintroduced into the health service.

Many commentators and pundits expect this shameful exercise to become law some time in the next six weeks. So time is very short for a final surge of public opinion to force MPs to examine their consciences and – more practicably – examine what may happen to their seats at the next election.

If this Bill passes it would be crystal clear by election time that the NHS had been sacrificed on the altar of the interests of the private health-care companies. And MPs would have to face the anger of the grandmother unable to obtain a hip operation when she needs it and the former miner unable to access adequate social care.

Waiting lists are already rising in the run-up to these “reforms” and the so-called £20 billion of “efficiency savings” demanded by Andrew Lansley to soften the NHS up for privatisation. That’s why today’s Unite Save Our NHS lobby of MPs is so important, as is the TUC-sponsored NHS rally in the evening.

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