Another week, another new Audi. Two new Audis, in fact. The German car maker has announced a couple more additions to its Q line up of SUVs. The Q4 is a coupe-SUV hybrid that will go up against the BMW X4 and Mercedes GLC Coupe. As its name suggests, it’ll be positioned between the compact Q3 and bigger Q5. At the other end of the scale is the Q8, which will go head to head against the Range Rover. It’s lower and sleeker than the Q7 Audi is also producing. In concept form, it sat only four people, although it seems likely the production version will be a five seater. There’s a 630 litre boot as well. Eagle eyed Audi followers will notice the only SUV slots left to fill are the Q1 and Q6. Watch this space...
Ed Miliband's first act as prime minister would be to release cash to make up the shortfall in benefit payments for tenants hit by the so-called bedroom tax. In a move that is likely to cost around £100 million, funds would be given to councils to hand over to around 464,000 claimants to top up benefit payments until the "cruel" cut, described as the spare room subsidy under the Coalition, is axed. It would be paid for through the party's wider plans to cover the cost of abolishing the measure by closing tax loopholes. Mr Miliband will make the announcement during a whistle-stop tour across Britain which will take in Cardiff, Bristol and Glasgow as he steps up his campaign schedule during the final days of the battle for No 10. More than 360,000 households in England, 31,000 in Wales and 70,000 in Scotland would be affected by the plans. The policy has been a long-running sore between the Conservatives and Labour. It deducts money from housing benefit where a household has more bedrooms than residents, with some exemptions. Under the Labour plans, legislation would be introduced as soon as Parliament is sitting to overturn the reduction in housing benefit. To cover the cost to tenants while the move becomes law, extra cash would be given to local authorities for discretionary housing payments. Mr Miliband announced plans to abolish the bedroom tax two years ago, funded by scrapping a scheme where employees give up certain rights for shares, reversing tax cuts for hedge funds and closing loopholes which allow construction workers to claim falsely to be self-employed. The Labour leader will say: "We're going to abolish the bedroom tax in every corner of the United Kingdom. This bedroom tax is indefensible. It's cruel and it doesn't even work. "It has punished those most in need in our society, causing untold misery for half a million families across the UK, two-thirds of which include a disabled person. "It's a tax that affects 200,000 children and 60,000 carers - people we should be helping, not hurting. "And under the Tories, a million more people could be hit by the tax in the next five years. This is a Government that cuts taxes for millionaires, opposes the mansion tax. It won't abolish non-dom status but will keep the bedroom tax. "I think that tells you everything you need to know about a Tory government - and it tells you everything you need to know about a Labour government that the first thing we'll do is scrap it. "We will legislate straight away to abolish the bedroom tax - in England, in Wales, in Scotland, right across our United Kingdom. "We'll get to work immediately to ensure that families no longer lose out. We'll make new funds available to local authorities to offset the full costs of the tax for all families who currently pay it. "So on day one of a Labour government, we free families from the burden of the bedroom tax."
Labour leader Ed Miliband has insisted his party is more interested in tackling tax dodging by “hedge funds” rather than “hedge trimmers” after Ed Balls came under fire for suggesting people should insist on getting a receipt for the smallest cash-in-hand jobs. The shadow chancellor said he always demanded a written record, even if it was merely for £10 to trim a hedge. Mr Balls’s comments were criticised as “absurd” by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who said it showed Labour’s “complete lack of understanding” about business. Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna dismissed the row as “a storm in a teacup” and insisted Mr Balls was not suggesting that everyone had an obligation to follow his lead by demanding receipts for minor cash-in-hand jobs. The remarks have fuelled the political row about tax avoidance following revelations about HSBC’s Swiss arm and Mr Miliband’s accusations that the Tories were funded by “dodgy donors”. Mr Miliband said: “The point that I would make, that Ed Balls would make, that all of us would make, is what’s important is that people pay their fair share of taxes and that’s what counts.”
Lord Mandelson has criticised Ed Miliband’s energy plans, saying he risks taking the party backwards. The former business secretary, who in 1997 helped mastermind New Labour’s triumphant election campaign, said Mr Miliband’s pledge to freeze energy bills could undo the industrial policy he had worked hard to shape under Tony Blair. He said: “The industrial activism I developed showed that intervention in the economy government doing some of the pump priming of important markets, sectors and technologies was a sensible approach.” And following Mr Miliband’s speech at the party’s annual conference, he added: “I believe that perceptions of Labour policy are in danger of being taken backwards.” But another fellow New Labour architect Alastair Campbell disagreed with Lord Mandelson. The former director of communications said in a tweet: “Peter M wrong re energy policy being shift to left. “It is putting consumer first v anti competitive force. More New Deal than old Labour.”
Ed Miliband has launched a high-stakes bid to reform the Labour Party’s relations with the trade unions, setting out changes he said would end the “machine politics” which have prompted allegations of ballot-rigging in Falkirk. Party figures acknowledged Mr Miliband’s proposal to end the automatic affiliation of union members to the party could cost Labour part of its income. Some commentators suggested as much as £5 million of the £8 million received from this source could be at stake. However, the explosive reaction expected from the unions did not materialise. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said he was “very comfortable” with Mr Miliband’s proposals, which he said could result in tens of thousands more union members joining Labour. The measures set out in a speech in London were designed to draw a line under the biggest crisis of Mr Miliband’s leadership, sparked by claims Unite tried to fix the selection of Labour’s general election candidate in Falkirk by packing the constituency with 100 or more of its own members, some of them without their knowledge. An internal party report on the allegations has been handed to police. Mr Miliband said rather than being automatically affiliated to Labour unless they opt out of their union’s political levy, union members should be asked to make an active decision to join the party by opting in, he said. “I do not want any individual to be paying money to the Labour Party in affiliation fees unless they have deliberately chosen to do so,” said Mr Miliband, voicing the hope the move would lead to thousands of working people signing up to join. And he laid down a surprise challenge to the other parties, announcing a Labour government would impose a limit on MPs’ earnings from second jobs and calling for the reopening of stalled talks on the funding of political parties. Downing Street dismissed the second job proposals as “a smokescreen for the fact that, in the Prime Minister’s view, the leader of the opposition hasn’t actually gripped the issues he needs to grip”.
The proportion of voters who think Ed Miliband is doing a good job has slumped over the summer, according to a poll. Research by ICM found just 21% thought the Labour leader was performing well down from 28% in April. More than half said he was doing badly. Mr Miliband’s personal figures were worse than those for David Cameron who was praised by 32% but better than Nick Clegg’s. Only 17% said the Liberal Democrat leader was doing a good job. However, the poll found that most people still believed Labour would win if a general election was held now. Some 32% thought the party would emerge victorious, while 30% backed the Tories and 16% the Lib Dems. ICM director Martin Boon compared Mr Miliband’s leadership to Iain Duncan Smith’s spell in charge of the Conservatives. “Ed Miliband is not in a good place. Only a fifth of voters are satisfied with his performance,” he said. “It’s difficult to imagine that things could be any worse for him, or indeed how he can succeed in turning the public around. “He is becoming Labour’s IDS and if it carries on like this it’s hard not to think that we’ll be seeing Conservative polling leads very soon.”
One of the most closely-contested general elections for decades formally gets under way today, with David Cameron accusing Labour of planning a £3,000 tax hike for every working family. The Prime Minister is expected to warn of a "stark choice" facing the country when he returns to Downing Street after a symbolic final audience of his term in office with the Queen. His Conservative Party entered the first day of campaigning buoyed by an opinion poll giving it a four-point lead over Labour - its biggest advantage since September 2010. But Labour insisted the Tories' tax claim was "totally made up" as it prepared to launch an offensive over Mr Cameron's promised in/out referendum on Britain's membership of the EU. Launching the Opposition's business manifesto, leader Ed Miliband will say a Tory victory poses a "clear and present danger" to jobs and prosperity and make it a Labour commitment to "return Britain to a leadership role" in Brussels. Prerogative to order the dissolution of Parliament no longer rests with the monarch, under new rules fixing each term at five years, but Mr Cameron will nevertheless make the short journey to Buckingham Palace to recommend she issue a proclamation summoning the new parliament on May 18. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will follow Mr Cameron into the Palace for a separate private audience - as Lord President of the Privy Council he has an obligation to do so - before focusing on the NHS at a Midlands seat the Liberal Democrats are fighting to hold. Parties have been sparring in earnest for months but every day from now until the eve of polling on May 7, leaders will be on a final push around the UK in the search for those crucial votes that could swing the result in their favour. Ukip leader Nigel Farage - whose eurosceptic party is hoping to translate being the UK's third party in opinion polls into an influential presence in the Commons in the likely event of another hung parliament - will set out its key election pledges. With the majority of polls still showing the two established Westminster parties running neck-and-neck, increasingly bitter blows are being traded over the implications for public spending and tax in each of their deficit reduction plans. Another poll over the weekend showed Labour in a four-point lead. Mr Cameron - speaking before heading to the south-west of England for a campaign rally - will fuel the argument by unveiling Conservative calculations about potential tax rises if Labour returns to power. It said that if the Opposition sought to balance the books with an equal mix of spending cuts and tax rises - an approach it claims Mr Miliband prefers on the basis of a 2010 magazine interview - it would mean every working household's bill rising by £3,028 a year. Mr Balls has ruled out raising national insurance, the main rate of VAT or the basic or higher rates of income tax, and Tories claim his promised restoration of the top 50p rate on £150,000-plus salaries would raise little. "In 38 days' time you face a stark choice: the next prime minister walking through that door will be me or Ed Milliband," Mr Cameron will say. "You can choose an economy that grows, that creates jobs, that generates the money to ensure a properly funded and improving NHS ... and a government that will cut taxes for thirty million hard-working people. "Or you can choose the economic chaos of Ed Miliband's Britain - over £3,000 in higher taxes for every working family to pay for more welfare and out-of-control spending. Debt will rise and jobs will be lost as a result. "Ed Miliband pays lip service to working people while planning to hike taxes and increase debt. After five years of effort and sacrifice, Britain is on the right track. This election is about moving forward - and as Prime Minister here at Number 10, that's what I will deliver." Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie said: "These are totally made up figures from a desperate David Cameron who has raised taxes on working people. "Under the Tories families have lost over £1,100 a year on average from tax and benefit changes, while millionaires have been given a huge tax cut. "Labour will reverse the Tory tax cut for millionaires and cut taxes for millions on middle and low incomes through a lower 10p starting rate of income tax." Labour yesterday urged the Tories to set out to voters where exactly the axe would fall in £12 billion of benefit cuts central to Chancellor George Osborne's plan to restore the economy to an annual surplus by 2018/19. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) warned that the planned cuts will be "really tough" to achieve, involving "pretty dramatic" reductions in areas such as housing and disability benefits over the next three years. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said a quarter had already been publicly identified but the party may not think it "relevant" to explain where the rest of the cuts will fall before the election. It came as Conservatives accused Labour of "letting the cat out of the bag" on plans to increase state borrowing, after election campaign vice-chairwoman Lucy Powell said the party "may use some investment borrowing". Unlike the Tories, who have committed to balancing the overall budget by 2017/18, Labour has promised only to eliminate the current deficit on day-to-day spending by the end of the next Parliament, leaving open the option of borrowing money to invest in capital projects.
David Cameron “wants the best for this country”, Ed Miliband said as he explained his desire for a more civilised political debate in the wake of the row over a newspaper’s attack on his father. But he said that the prime minister’s policies were “profoundly misguided” and his actions showed he favoured the interests of the rich. “I would never say about David Cameron that he hates Britain,” the Labour leader said in a direct reference to a Daily Mail headline that sparked the dispute. “I would never say about David Cameron that he doesn’t want the best for this country. Of course he wants the best for this country, so what the Mail said about my dad I would never say about David Cameron. “What I would say is that I think his policies are profoundly misguided and I don’t think it’s true that he’s leaving nobody behind.” But pressed on whether he could say the Tory leader was “a good man”, he said: “By his deeds he stands up for the privileged few in this country. You have to judge people by their deeds and not their words.” The Daily Mail printed an article about Mr Miliband’s late father Ralph a noted Marxist academic under the headline “The man who hated Britain”. Mr Miliband has claimed this attack, and the subsequent gatecrashing of a private memorial service for his uncle by the Mail on Sunday, are symptomatic of the culture at the titles.
Outspoken Labour MP Diane Abbott yesterday challenged the party’s leadership over its policies on immigration, nuclear weapons and the economy as Ed Miliband sacked her as a member of his front bench team. Ms Abbott was removed as shadow public health minister a day after a reshuffle which was widely seen as boosting the presence of women in the Labour top team and reducing the influence of the Blairite centre-right. Ms Abbott used an article on The Guardian website to raise concern over Labour’s acceptance of Government cuts, calling on the party to offer “a more far-reaching critique of austerity”. She suggested Mr Miliband should consider scrapping Trident and resist advisers urging him to adopt a tougher stance on immigration. Britain’s first black woman MP added: “I have long despaired of the downward spiral of Labour’s rhetoric on immigration.”
Labour has confirmed up to 500 members across the country have been recruited and had their subs paid by trade unions as Prime Minister David Cameron savaged Ed Miliband over the party’s links with the union Unite. Following allegations Unite tried to stitch up the selection of a general election candidate in Falkirk by cramming the constituency with members, Mr Cameron branded Mr Miliband “too weak to stand up to the Unite union and too weak to run Labour and certainly too weak to run the country”. However, Labour insisted Mr Miliband had moved swiftly and decisively to order an inquiry into Falkirk within hours of allegations being raised. And he had placed the constituency party in “special measures” when the review uncovered cause for concern. The party defended its link with the unions but confirmed a review being conducted by general secretary Ian McNicol is considering whether to scrap a scheme, introduced in the Blair era, which allows unions to recruit members to the party and pay their first year’s subs. Up to 500 members were signed up in this way over the course of a year but there was no evidence outside Falkirk of them being concentrated in particular seats, said a senior party source. In a bruising clash at Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons, Mr Cameron brushed aside Mr Miliband’s attempts to question him on education policy,repeatedly turning attention back on to Labour’s links with Unite, the party’s biggest financial supporter. Brandishing a sheet of paper which he said detailed Unite plans for “a firmly class-based and left-wing general election campaign”, the Prime Minister told Mr Miliband: “You are taking your script from the trade unions, who don’t like choice, don’t like new schools, they don’t like free schools and they want to control everything.” However, Mr Miliband hit back, accusing the Prime Minister of double standards. “Let’s have a debate about ethics,” said the Labour leader. “You are a prime minister who had dinner for donors in Downing Street. You gave a tax cut to your Christmas card list and you brought Andy Coulson into the heart of Downing Street. “The idea you are lecturing us about ethics takes double standards to a whole new level.”