Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Morning brief..


News from the eurozone proves it will be far from a quiet summer for its political leaders. Moody’s has lowered its outlook for triple A-rated Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg to negative from stable because a Greek exit is looking more likely (you can read more here  or follow our live blog throughout the day here).

Meanwhile,  Spain’s borrowing costs rose dramatically as the likelihood of the country’s regional governments needing bailouts increased yesterday. Spain is now struggling to avert a fully-fledged sovereign rescue. The event has affected us here, too - yesterday £30 billion was wiped from the value of Britain’s biggest firms.

In dramatic timing, officials from the so-called "Troika" of the ECB, European Commission and IMF arrive in Greece today to determine whether the country will receive fresh loans in  September under the bailout agreed last year. The problem, as ever, is Greece hasn’t met the bailout conditions. Yesterday, German newspapers were reporting that this time the Bundestag has reached the limit of its patience and will not provide further funding. This isn’t the first time Greece has faced crunch talks - but could it be its last? (For more analysis every day sign up for  the Telegraph’s City briefing.)

Interesting then that Ed Miliband is on the Continent today. He’s due to meet Francois Hollande in Paris at 9.45am today (10.45am local time). Ed’s beaten David Cameron to the Elysée palace - in fact, he’s the first senior UK politician to greet the French President there. The pair plan to discuss youth unemployment - and generally cement their image as Europe’s “growth seekers”. Dave will no doubt be annoyed. Ed’s keenness to meet Mr Hollande only draws more attention to their frosty relationship.

Ed’s international meet-and-greets don’t end there. The Times  reports that he will try to find common cause with his polar political opposite Mitt Romney when the Republican presidential candidate arrives in London to meet Dave on Thursday. The meeting is taking place at Mr Romney’s invitation. Is this a jibe at Dave who didn’t extend a similar invitation to Mr Romney when he was in Washington visiting President Obama earlier this year?


“It is ‘morally wrong’ to pay tradesmen cash in hand” reads our splash today. Treasury Minister David Gauke told us (the Mail reports here) that:

“Getting a discount with your plumber by paying cash in hand is something that is a big cost to the Revenue and means others have to pay more in tax. I think it is morally wrong.”

Public Accounts Select Committee member and Labour MP Austin Mitchell has said: “This is petty stuff” and warned that “There would have to be large-scale surveillance to stop it.” So much for rolling back the surveillance state, right?

But fear not, privacy campaigners, the Treasury are already rolling back on the comment, arguing that he was answering a specific question not outlining government policy. Not a bad plan - not least because a laughable string of “Minister in cash-in-hand scandal” stories would be sure to follow.

Our leader suggests the government should lay off the  “sententious moral judgments” and consider why people are so keen on paying the plumber or the builder in cash: “Could it have anything to do with the fact that they are fed up with the way the Exchequer digs ever deeper into their pockets while simultaneously wasting much of the proceeds through ill-targeted and unnecessary public spending?”


In  an interview with Charles Moore in today’s Telegraph, Tony Blair defends the free market and liberal economic rules established by the Thatcher government.

''We must regain the basic values of what society is about,’’ he says. ''We’re not against wealth, but we are in favour of social responsibility.’’ We must not start thinking that society will be better off ''if we hang 20 bankers at the end of the street’’. He approaches it from the other way: ''Don’t take 30 years of liberalisation, beginning under Mrs Thatcher, and say this is what caused the financial crisis... Wrong!’’

The lesson is that... “We didn’t understand properly the true implications of the financial instruments involved, and so we didn’t supervise and regulate them properly. But we mustn’t go back to the state running everything.’’

Is this a veiled warning to Ed Miliband? If it is, he might ignore it after seeing this polling in  the Guardian. It reports that “if Blair were to return as leader... the party's standing would sink by three points, from the 39% vote share under Ed Miliband, down to just 36%.” Ouch.


Following on from yesterday’s Coalition wind farm war story. The Mail  reports that George is planning new powers to allow communities to block wind turbines.

That looks like George is raising the stakes on the deal he offered Ed Davey (reported in the FT yesterday  here). Will Mr Davey hit back?


It wouldn’t be a normal news day this month without an Olympic shambles story. Today the Guardian leads on news that Olympic G4S security staff are “cheating” on X-ray scanner training tests. Jeremy Hunt must be praying these stories come to an end soon.  

As ever, Boris doesn’t seem fazed. We report  that he recited an Olympic ode in ancient Greek at an Olympics Gala on Monday evening. Good to hear he’s still finding uses for that degree of his.
But Westminster geeks might enjoy this snippet from  Rachel Sylvester’s column more interesting:

“When Danny Boyle first presented his plans for the Olympic opening ceremony to the Government there was some concern... the director mentioned his desire to include a parade of nurses. Jeremy Hunt looked worried. Was it really necessary, he asked, to include this tribute to the NHS — the subject of the Government’s most controversial reforms — in a show that will be watched by a billion people worldwide? The matter was referred up to No 10 and David Cameron decided that the angels of mercy should be allowed in, so they will troop through the stadium in Stratford this week complete with hospital beds.”

Perhaps they could also include a search party out looking for an NHS dentist?


And finally, Dave will not be pleased to read Judge Vivian Manning-Davies’ comments  to Aysiea Mahroof, the mother who was recently arrested for neglect after leaving her daughter at home while she took her older children to school. The judge spared the woman a jail sentence, saying that every parent makes mistakes - even “the Prime Minister left his own daughter in a pub”. Oh dear.


Denis MacShane tweets:  ‏

“@DenisMacShane: Spelman seeks to impose price control on milk. Webb tells pension firms what to charge. These guys believe in free markets any more?”

Dave’s backbenchers have been asking this for a while, Denis.


Latest YouGov/The Sun results: Conservatives 33%, Labour 43%, Lib Dems 9%, UKIP 8%

Overall government approval rating: -35


In The Telegraph

Charles Moore interviews Tony Blair:  'The West is asleep on the issue of Islamist extremism'

Terry Leahy: Britain unleashed: Truth and courage can power an economic recovery

Iain Martin: President Mitt Romney is just what the Tories need

Leader: There’s a better way to reduce tax avoidance

Best of the rest

Andrew Adonis in the FT:  A plan for a government apprentice programme

Polly Toynbee in the Guardian:  The poll tax is back from the dead – it's Cameron localism

Rachel Sylvester in the Times:  Olympic bandwagon jumping is poor sport

Steve Richards in the Independent:  Vince Cable is now a plausible leader-in-waiting


Today: Nick Clegg attends the opening of the Olympic Village and meets Team GB

Today: Caroline Spelman sets out new plans to measure sustainable long-term economic growth and social wellbeing

Today: Europe Minister David Liddington is at the General Affairs Councils in Brussels

Today: Vince Cable and Mark Prisk attend the Make it in Great Britain Showcase, celebrating British manufacturing success

Today: Nick Clegg and Health Minister Paul Burstow launch guidance for employers to help improve employees' mental health

9.45am: Ed Miliband in Paris for talks with Francois Hollande

10am: The Leveson Inquiry hears closing submissions from Northern and Shell, Guardian News and Media and News International. The Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London

12.15pm: David Cameron hosts a lunch for the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, and former prime ministers, Sir John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. 10 Downing Street, London

1.30pm: Jeremy Hunt, Security Minister James Brokenshire, Assistant Commissioner Metropolitan Police Chris Allison, TfL Commissioner Peter Hendy host a Olympic security briefing. 1 Great George Street, London

5.30pm: Tony Blair and Rowan Williams debate Religion in Public Life