Tuesday, 6 November 2012

America decides..

The US election is finally here. After what seems like an eternity of campaigning, Americans will go to the polls in an election which will also impact upon British economic and foreign policy.
The Government, with the exception of Iain Duncan Smith, is studiously impartial, of course (in public, not in private, as Rachel Sylvester points out in the Times (£) today). For those of you who are partial, or just interested in one of the closest races since the last one, the Telegraph's brilliant live blog can be found here, and you can read polling day reports as they come in here. The best of the coverage elsewhere includes the Huffington Post's guide of what to watch and when as the results roll in.
David Cameron's sales trip to the Arabian peninsula has been dogged by yet more media mismanagement. What could have been a story about British manufacturing and a Prime Minister personally leading the export drive has become lost in reverberations from a paedophile scandal. As the Telegraph reports, Mr Cameron yesterday announced an inquiry which will examine whether a judicial inquiry ordered in 1996 by William Hague, the then secretary of state for Wales, was "properly constituted and properly did its job".
What is remarkable is that Downing Street have decided to make headlines in this area when it was not under any pressure to do so. The fact that claims about individuals within the BBC swiftly became claims about the BBC itself and the culture there may have influenced the leadership, but this route is scarcely likely to be any gentler.
Then there is the exclusion of the lobby from this trip, barring a tiny retinue of pool reporters. The cloak and daggers approach has gone down particularly badly at the Times (£) which has devoted its leader column to demanding Number 10 explain its inability to charter a plane to carry the press pack to the Gulf. It also furthers the impression that the Prime Minister is doing something furtive and wrong from a human rights standpoint. The Telegraph leader supports British arms trade with the Gulf states, pointing out that the deals are defensible in their own right. The frustration for Downing Street will be that another potential good news story has already become a defensive battle.
Nick Clegg has told Dave he will lead his MPs to vote against the government on boundaries, leaving the PM facing an immediate threat to his credibility and the future of the Coalition.As I note in my column, Mr Cameron now needs to decide whether this is Nick being Nick, or a threat to the continuation of the Coalition. It's more dangerous than it sounds, as I write:
"If Mr Clegg’s plan goes through, any pretence of collegiality between Tories and Lib Dems will end. Party discipline will collapse. Mr Cameron will be powerless to sanction his own rebels when the Lib Dems are allowed to defeat the Government – and Labour will look for other ways to tempt them across the floor."
Eric Pickles will announce plans to double the proportion of their holdings council pension funds are allowed to put into local infrastructure projects, the FT (£) reports. At the moment, councils can invest 15 per cent of their holdings in limited partnerships. If that limit were moved to 30 per cent, Mr Pickles hopes that £22bn of additional infrastructure investment would take place. This would be helpful, of course, given that infrastructure spending has been hit hardest of all by the Treasury's austerity measures, with spending falling by 25pc between 2010-11 and 2013-14.
The Chancellor signalled a crackdown on multinationals paying little or no tax in the UK, the FT (£) reports. In a joint statement with his German counterpart, George Osborne called for tax loop-holes to be tightened through international cooperation. Easier said than done, given the cordial reception British financial proposals are being received with in Brussels at present. Tax doesn't have to be taxing, but legislating for it usually is.
Philippa Stroud, IDS's longest-serving advisor, is being paid by the thinktank which he set up and which lobbied his department , theGuardian reveals. The Centre for Social Justice pays Ms Stroud to act as its co-chair. The Cabinet Office says that the position was fully disclosed and is "content" with the arrangement.
Nadine Dorries will appear on I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Herehaving accepted "no more than £40,000" for the role, according to theSun. Mad Nad will be away for almost a month, missing the Chancellor's Autumn Statement and possibly offering David Cameron an excuse for withdrawing the whip from one of his most trenchant critics. Mrs Dorries hopes to raise support for her political agenda with her trip to the jungle. Well, it certainly worked out well for Lembit Opik...
Child benefit could be limited to two children for all families, the Mailreports this morning. Still, it's not just parents who will be bearing the brunt of it, drunks and drug addicts face losing their benefits as well. We're all in it together, after all.
Francis Maude will launch the Government's digital plan today. Online access to government services could save up to £1.7bn a year by 2015, the FT (£) reports. Not only will services be migrating online, but the scope of the Government's online presence is already being pulled back, with those devoted to topics as absorbing as the British mosquito relegated to smaller sub-pages elsewhere. Writing in the Telegraph, Philip Johnston is sceptical:
"One of the aims of 'digital by default' is to reduce personal interaction between citizen and state even further. Any remaining contact centres will use voice recognition technology to nudge callers back to the web.'We will end up with people being excluded by default from public services,' says David Moss, a computer expert who has been following the unfolding strategy with growing alarm."
Nadine Dorries will never live up to the standards set by the king of parliamentary reality television, says Alistair Carmichael:
@acarmichaelmp: "Nadine Dorries, I served with Lembit Opik, I knew Lembit Opik, Let me tell you, Nadine Dorries, you are no Lembit Opik."
In the Telegraph
Best of the rest
Janan Ganesh in the FT (£) - Britain and Germany are growing apart
Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) - Support for Obama: the Tories' guilty secret
Today: Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude to launch the Government Digital Strategy. Culture Secretary Maria Miller speech on tourism and the Olympic legacy at Mansion House.
09:30 am: Commons Energy Committee takes evidence from minister John Hayes and officials on nuclear power station new-build.
02:30 pm: Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick gives evidence to MPs on youth justice. Wilson Room, Portcullis House, Westminster.
02:45 pm: MPs hear evidence in two inquiries into localised child grooming in Rochdale, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Committee room 8.