Politics Summary: Tuesday, March 23rd

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The Financial Times front page details that Alistair Darling is “to get tough on offshore tax evasion” by announcing “punitive fines for taxpayers who hide money offshore”. The crackdown in tomorrow’s Budget is designed to protect at least £1 billion of revenue under threat from evasion schemes, according to government officials. According to the paper, Labour intends to use the clampdown to underscore its political message that the burden of tackling the £170 billion deficit has to be shared widely.

Meanwhile, Bank of England Governor Mervyn King has said that economic policymakers could learn lessons from avalanche prevention and forest firefighting as they seek to rebuild the global financial system after the crash: “The key is for policymakers to focus on making the structure of the underlying system more robust to shocks.”

The front page of the Guardian and most other papers report that three former cabinet ministers, Geoff Hoon, Stephen Byers and Patricia Hewitt were suspended from the Parliamentary Labour party last night in an unprecedented crack down on sleaze. Margaret Moran, the MP for Luton South who was implicated in the expenses scandal, was also suspended. The decision was taken by Number 10 after party officials watched a Channel 4 Dispatches programme on lobbying which secretly recorded the former ministers expressing a desire to work for a consultancy firm at a fee of up to £5,000 a day. Both Lord Adonis, the transport secretary, and Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, denied suggestions made by Mr Byers that he had persuaded them to change key decisions. In another sleaze scandal, the BBC claimed last night that more than 20 MPs broke Commons rules by failing fully to declare overseas trips paid for by foreign governments.

The Conservative party have suffered once again at the hands of Internet jokers. The Times reports that, “the Tories’ latest attempt to engage the web backfired spectacularly” as a new website intended to highlight the 100 year link between the Labour party and the trade unions was “flooded with mocking and abusive messages.” Interest in the site, which had only attracted a few hundred users since its launch over the weekend, was sparked by Political Scrapbook which revealed that the web campaign was “designed by US anti-healthcare lobbyists”. Yesterday morning, Left Foot Forward highlighted some of the negative messages appearing on the Conservative website and by mid-afternoon the site had been taken down. According to the Guardian, “mischief-makers discovered not only that Tweets were unmoderated but the page was accepting code that let the page be hacked and redirected” to porn sites among others. Worth a look this morning is Flickr which has a hilarious picture of the “anatomy of a hashtag” uploaded by the Guardian’s head of social media, Meg Pickard.

The proportion of state school pupils at Oxford university has fallen by 1.5 per cent, according to the Guardian. The number of UK undergraduates who started at Oxford last autumn from state schools or colleges was 53.9 per cent, down from 55.4 per cent. But Oxford revealed that 56.4% of the offers it made for this autumn have gone to UK state school students. In 2007-08 the number of state school pupils at Cambridge rose to 59 per cent, compared with 55 per cent the year before. The figures for 2009 will be released next month. Mike Nicholson, Oxford’s director of undergraduate admissions, said: “We are now in a position where our offers to state school students is roughly in line with the latest government figures showing what proportion of students achieving three As at A-level came from state schools.

The Independent reports that Gordon Brown may be prepared to give up the Prime Minister’s right to set the election date in exchange for Liberal Democrat support in a hung parliament. A switch to fixed-term parliaments is thought to enjoy the backing of a majority of the Cabinet. The plan was revealed in an interview with Peter Hain, the Welsh Secretary, who said: “Labour being prepared to deliver fixed-term parliaments as part of a negotiation to sustain a government in power is attractive, whether we have a majority or are just short of a majority.” A Brown aide confirmed the idea was “in play” with other ministers said to support the proposal including the Miliband brothers, Alan Johnson, and John Denham.

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