Politics Summary: Tuesday, February 2nd

Electoral reform, Tory cuts, tax dodgers, the Pope and Northern Ireland.

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The Prime Minister will today announce plans to hold a Commons vote on whether a post-election referendum should be held on a switch the Alternative Vote system. The vote, reports the Standard, could be held before the House rises next Wednesday, with the referendum itself taking place as early as autumn 2011. He will make the announcement in a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research, adds The Guardian, along with action to clamp down on nom-domiciled MPs and peers – a policy supported by the Conservatives. The AV system allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, rather than simply placing an X next to their favoured candidate; candidates with fewest votes are eliminated and their votes redistributed until a winner emerges with an overall majority.

The Guardian also reports on the Conservatives’ retreat on their pledge to “tear up Labour spending plans” after the election, conceding that they had only found £1.5 billion of their £80bn deficit-reduction target. The Tories will today seek to move the debate on with the Shadow Chacellor announcing plans for a “Green Investment Bank”, claiming 70 per cent of Britain’s growth over the past decade is based on housing, the public sector and financial services and insisting the balance must change. The Independent, meanwhile, has a new poll showing support for David Cameron down to a lead of seven points. The headline voting intentions are: Conservatives (38 per cent, unchanged), Labour (31%, up 2), Liberal Democrats (19%, unchanged) and others (12%, down 2). Other figures include: 82 per cent want Cameron to be clearer about what he would do on the economy, and only 24 per cent believe the recession would have ended sooner under the Tories.

The Times reports that tax dodgers are costing the public “hundreds of millions of pounds” by seeking out ways to avoid paying the new 50p rate of income tax, with the Treasury being forced to downgrade its forecasts of an additional £1.13bn for 2010 and and extra £2.5bn for 2011. The four main ways the wealthiest two per cent of the workforce are avoiding the 50 per cent rate, adds the report, are: bumping up this year’s pay; storing up pay in their firm to be drawn down at a later date; leaving the country; or choosing to pay it to charity rather than the taxman.

The Telegraph leads on the Pope’s attack on the Government’s Equality Bill, claiming legislation to outlaw discrimination “violates natural law”. His remarks have been condemned by gay rights activists, with Peter Tatchell saying: “He seems to be defending discrimination by religious institutions and demanding they should be above the law. Benedict is likely to make highly partisan political criticisms during his visit. Most British people will not welcome a meddlesome pontiff who opposes our equality laws.” The Telegraph also reports on clashes between the Roman Catholic Church and Labour over “gay adoption, faith schools, embryo research and abortion”.

And the Guardian reports the latest news from the Northern Ireland power-sharing talks, which stalled last night after the Democratic Unionist Party asked for more time to examine the proposed deal. Hopes had been raised of a successful conclusion, with the assembly postponing its weekly question time and the Prime Ministers of Britain and Ireland on hand to fly in to Hillsborough Castle. If the parties do agree a deal today, adds the report, “the justice ministry will be headed by David Ford, the leader of the centrist, liberal non-sectarian Alliance Party, an appointment that will offend no one”.

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