Media Digest 31/3/15

By Rowan Williams

Britain’s political parties have begun a second day of dedicated election campaigning, with taxation, employment and government cuts the key issues for debate so far. Prime Minister David Cameron joined Chancellor George Osborne in defending the Conservative Party’s proposed £12 billion of welfare cuts, and refused to rule out taxing disability benefits. British media have been keen to point out the current lack of details in the Conservatives’ proposed cuts. The Conservative Party has said it will create two million jobs over the course of the next parliament – 1,000 a day – if elected, while Labour has offered tax cuts for small businesses. The Liberal Democrats have reiterated their commitment to mental health spending, meanwhile, with an extra £3.5 billion pledged for mental health services. Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg     has stressed a higher level of detail in his party’s proposed tax rises before the election. Wales’ Plaid Cymru is also to launch its election manifesto on Tuesday, and will pledge to secure an extra £1.2 billion in annual funding. Four major polls carried out over the past few days continue to show no clear winner.

In Malaysia, a local man has been found guilty of the murder of two British medical students on the island of Borneo. Newcastle University Students Aidan Brunger and Neil Dalton were stabbed in a bar in Kuching, Sarawak, in August 2014. Zulkipli Abdullah, a 23-year-old fishmonger, had admitted to getting into a fight with the two Britons but denies murdering them or carrying a knife. Abdullah faces the death penalty for the crime, the mandatory sentence for murder in Malaysia. The families of the two victims welcomed the verdict. Abdullah is expected to appeal the verdict.

Stocks in China hit fresh seven-year highs on Tuesday morning, fuelled by a rise in housing and banking stocks after Beijing moved to ease lending policies and bolster the country’s flagging real estate market. Real estate stocks surged on Monday over rumours that China would ease housing policies – this rumour has since been confirmed by the People’s Bank of China, China’s central bank, who said the downpayment ratio for second homes would be eased from 60 percent to 40 percent. In a separate ruling, China’s Ministry of Finance reduced the minimum holding period of a property to be exempt from sales tax from five years to two years. Some banks have reacted with unease to the news, feeling that the policy relaxation has been at their expense. The real estate market accounts for 15 percent of China’s economy.

The Papers

With Britain’s political parties launching their election campaigns in earnest on Monday, a host of political stories make the headlines today. The Guardian marks Britain’s parties’ efforts with the headline “They’re off: with row over tax and a personal attack”, after the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) questioned Conservative “arithmetic” over Labour’s tax policies. The IFS criticised the party’s claim that a Labour election win would cost families £3,000 more in tax as “unhelpful”. The Independent leads with news that both Labour and the Conservatives have been “accused of hiding their cuts” by coalition poverty adviser Alan Milburn. Both Ed Miliband and David Cameron were accused of “deceiving the public” over their proposed levels of spending cuts. Cuts also make the headlines in The Times, which leads with news that Ed Miliband “faces threat of mutiny” from Labour’s more left-wing politicians should he propose more cuts. The Party’s Socialist Campaign Group has threatened to ally itself with the Scottish National Party to oppose such cuts. The Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, writes that Miliband has been “stung by business backlash”. Labour’s credibility has been “undermined”, the paper writes, after four business leaders whose comments on the EU were used in a Labour advert stressed they had not wished for their comments to be used in a party political context. Others stressed their political neutrality. The Financial Times leads with news of a surge in company takeovers and mergers, with £547 billion worth taking place in the first quarter of 2015, with cheaper access to finance fuelling the surge.

British Media on China

On human rights in China: A few stories related to human rights have appeared in British media. The Guardian writes that NGOs in China “fear clampdown” after newly proposed security controls. The new law against overseas NGOs “could lead to harassment and arrest of local workers, restrictions or expulsion for foreigners, and funding difficulties”, the paper writes. The Independent, meanwhile, reports that a Muslim man in Xinjiang province has been handed a six-year prison sentence “for growing a beard”. The man’s wife was also “reportedly handed a two-year sentence for wearing a veil”, the paper reports.

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