Thursday, 13 September 2012

Osborne's productivity puzzle..


After waking up to headlines suggesting he would have to abandon his economic strategy, George would have had reason to smile yesterday as employment grew by 236,000 in the three months to July. The number employed is now the highest since 2008.

Yesterday's buoyant employment figures have intensified what the FT (£) calls the 'productivity puzzle', and more generally the debate over the economy's strange positive negativity. 

Privately the Treasury likes to point to the good news apparent around us, from healthy order books to healthy - relatively - retail sales. The Sun has done a 'green shoots' analysis, and the FT tries to unpick the phenomenon. At which point everyone shouts 'Norman Lamont' - but the point being that he turned out to be right. One Cabinet minister I spoke to said the economy was in better shape than people realised, but there was no point in saying it out loud because things could still go wrong.

SHOCK AND AWE v. A+++

The Times (£) carries an interview with Dr Liam Fox in which he calls for a “totemic shock” from the Chancellor in order to revive the economy.

Dr Fox calls for capital gains tax to be suspended for three years, employment reforms making it easier to fire workers, an end to paternity leave, and an axe for the TV licences and winter fuel payments of the wealthy elderly. He told the paper:

“If we don’t take some risks we’ll not get growth and if we don’t get growth, we’ll not get re-election.... We need to do something that ricochets around the world.”

Dr Fox may be fighting in a losing cause. The Daily Mail reports that Dave and George have agreed to go with “Plan A plus plus plus” in the autumn. The paper cites sources close to Number 10 who claim that yesterday’s talk of abandoning the deficit reduction target was the result of mischievous briefing by the Lib Dems. Instead, a modest stimulus is said to be planned for this autumn, probably a tax cut for business.

Tory confusion means they still feel vulnerable to Labour attacks on the economy. Ed was audacious yesterday in bringing up rising debt levels as a line of attack at PMQ’s. He is also prepared to play rough in contrasting Dave’s financial circumstances with the man on the street, as I wroteyesterday:

“The only moment [Cameron] wavered was when he came under pressure from Ed Miliband to talk about his tax affairs and specifically whether he is a beneficiary of the reduction in the top rate from 50 to 45p. It was down and dirty stuff, the kind of low-rent politics that we have become used to, but it was effective. “

PICKLES DOES GOD
Eric Pickles writes that Britain is “a Christian nation” in this morning’sTelegraph. Mr Pickles is on rumbustious form and the article is the latest evidence that, unlike its predecessors, this government ‘does’ God. He said:

“Banning discreet religious symbols for reasons of political correctness is not acceptable... We should not be bashful about asserting that the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church have a greater role to play in the public life of our nation than the Church of Elvis or the Church of Scientology.”

EVER CLOSER UNION, BUT NOT WITH SCOTLAND

Mr Barroso ‘s used the ‘f-word’ again. Following yesterday’s qualified assent to the European bailout fund by the German Constitutional Court,we report that European Commission President, JosĂ© Manuel Barroso has big plans for a new European constitution, a move which would trigger a British referendum. He told the European parliament:

"We will need to move towards a federation of nation states.  This is what we need. This is our political horizon.”

The membership of this federation will not include an independent Scotland. Not initially at least. The Guardian reports that sources in Brussels have dampened hopes that Scotland would inherit its membership from Britain.

Deliciously, Scotland’s referendum on its future in Britain might now feature the pro-federalist SNP fighting in a ticket which would see them ejected from the EU, while UKIP battle to save the union and, er, keep Scotland in Europe. 

MODESTY BECOMES HIM

Matthew Hancock has not let his ministerial appointments to the Department for Business and the Department for Education go to his head. Quizzed in the Spectator about public antipathy towards younger career politicians, the 33-year-old reminded us that he was in good company:

“Well, I remind people that Winston Churchill is widely regarded as one of the finest statesmen our country has ever seen .
.. likewise, William Pittbecame prime minister in his 20s, and both of these men achieved great heights over their careers...I have a huge affinity for Disraeli...”

Pitt, Disraeli, Churchill....and Hancock, a natural fit.

AFTER BIGOTGATE... APOLOGYGATE

Did he or didn’t he? This morning’s Daily Mail is adamant that Nick made a “grovelling apology” to church leaders yesterday after one of his draft speeches referred to opponents of gay marriage as “bigots”.  The Telegraph, however, insists that Nick disowned the remarks, but didn’t apologise.  The truth, as they say, is out there somewhere.

HILLSBOROUGH SHOWS CAMERON AT HIS BEST

Dave’s critics were reminded yesterday that he retains the gravity and courage of his convictions to rise to the biggest of occasions. An emotionally charged Commons listened to the Prime Minister apologise to the people of Liverpool in stunned silence. 

This morning’s sketches are largely positive for Dave. The general tone was captured by Simon Hoggart in the Guardian:

“Cameron does regret and apology very well, with dignity and sincerity.”

Meanwhile, Quentin Letts in the Mail articulates a thought which many on the Tory benches must have had yesterday:

“Some people are currently bigging up the Mayor’s prospects. They should get real. This overdue, moving speech was one that Boris Johnson could never have given.

“As the exchanges ended, Mr Cameron and Mr Burnham, unseen by most, shook hands behind the Speaker’s Chair before taking their leave.”

GOVE TAKES ON WALES

Michael Gove has continued to scold the Welsh government over their intervention in the marking of English GCSE’s at exam board WJEC. The Times reports that both Kent and Suffolk country councils, both held by the Conservatives, are demanding a re-mark in the wake of the Welsh decision. Mr Gove was not for budging yesterday. He told MP’s:

“I think the decision by Leighton Andrews is irresponsible and mistaken and I think that has undermined confidence in Welsh children’s GCSE’s.”

Punchy, highly unlikely to resonate with irate parents in the wider country.

ENERGY MINISTER CONTINUES TO FEEL THE HEAT

Greg Barker has remained under the spotlight after the Guardian made further allegations about access afforded to lobbyist Miriam Maes. Dave offered Greg his support yesterday at PMQ’s, but the daily drip-feed of revelations is doing him few favours.

CAMPBELL IN A CRECHE

And finally... Alastair Campbell and Peter Capaldi, who plays Malcolm Tucker in In The Thick Of It, were left red-faced after their sponsored swearathon  for a city brokerage was accidentally broadcast into a creche.

Traders offered to sponsor the pair to swear at each other over the office tannoy, before someone pointed out that the broadcast was being streamed into the office creche.

The Telegraph says that Mr Campbell apologised to "the kids and their mums and dads, and anyone else who took offence." 

TWEETS AND TWITS

Newport West MP Paul Flynn would rather the Elizabeth Tower had been named after another mainstay of British public life:

@Paulflynnmp “Act of profound futility in 're-naming' of Big Ben. Could the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal or Empire State Building be re-named? Big Benn better.”

TOP COMMENT

In The Telegraph

Jeremy Warner - The euro’s demise may be the final chapter of the ERM debacle

Sue Cameron - Infighting could scupper welfare reform

Eric Pickles - A Christian ethos strengthens our nation

Con Coughlin - The Arab Spring turns sour for America

Best of the rest

Steve Richards in The Independent - Not Ofqual? Not Gove? Is no one responsible for the exam fiasco? 

Steve Norris in The Times (£) - Expanding Stanstead is the least worst option

Martin Kettle in The Guardian - Adonis has a plan for schools, and you may find you like it

Dan Hannan in the Daily Mail - The Left hates Margaret Thatcher because she reminds them they are wrong about everything

THE AGENDA

Today: International Development Secretary Justine Greening to give regular quarterly update on Afghanistan in House of Commons oral statement.

9:30 am The chairman of the Hillsborough Independent Panel to speak about the report. The Right Reverend James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, speaks at BBC Re:Think 2012. MediaCityUK, Salford Quays.

10:00 am Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin and LGA chair Sir Merrick Cockell speak at launch of Localis report on public service reform. Localis, 10 Storey's Gate.

11:50 am Petition of 100,000 signatures calling for in/out EU referendum to be handed in by Nikki Sinclaire MEP and Apprentice contestant Katie Hopkins. 10 Downing Street, London.

12:45 pm: Robert Halfon motion on oil markets calling for FSA investigation of petrol and diesel pump prices.