Thursday, 6 December 2012

Balls blames his stammer..

BREAKING NEWS: The Chancellor has appeared on the Today programme. A fractious interview saw him defend both his accounting methods and the economy's progress:
"The money we get from the 4G receipts enables us, in the round, to help fund capital investments. It's all part of a whole. It's a pretty  desperateattempt this story, being put around by the Labour party.
"There is a big increase in the personal allowance which goes to help people on low incomes. There is also the freeze in fuel duty. We want to help people who work hard and want to get on. We are asking more for working age benefits...there is a general equity in our approach."
Earlier, Ed Balls told the programme that "the Chancellor is borrowing £200bn more than he said he would two years ago". He als0 blamed yesterday's deficit up/deficit down debacle on his stammer which "sometimes gets the better of me in the first minute or two when I speak".
Good morning. George Osborne might be losing the war, but yesterday he won the battle. Given a terrible hand to play, consisting of downgraded growth forecasts and sluggish tax revenues, he produced a mini-budget which will please his party without alienating the wider country (see the Telegraph's exhaustive coverage here). As I wrote in myTelegraph column, he also appears to have avoided any major gaffe while setting up Labour to vote against a cap on the rate of increase in working age benefits.
Coalition unity was another big winner. Scraps over boundary reviews or green energy have taken a backseat to the demands of economic necessity. The Quad are working with renewed vigour and purpose, the common enemy is in disarray over its economic policies. Suddenly Labour's poll lead looks as though it may prove fragile under the glare of an election campaign. Robert Halfon, of course, proved the backbench winner, having successfully fought against the scheduled 3p rise in fuel duty. For his next trick, Mr Halfon will campaign for a 10p flat rate of tax, the Independent's Diary (not online yet) claims.
The fly in the ointment is the dark clouds forming over Britain's triple-A rating. The Telegraph reports that Fitch were already making ominous noises last night, arguing that "missing the target weakens the credibility of the fiscal framework". Those dark clouds now also loom over Ed Balls. The Shadow Chancellor put in a poor display at the dispatch box yesterday, although he made up for it with an assured performance as Father Christmas at the parliamentary children's Christmas party later in the day. The Mail's Quentin Letts took some pleasure in the "most marvellous comic incomprehension" which adorned Mr Miliband's face as disaster unfolded. His party needs to pick its poison, and fast. Being anti-deficit and anti-cuts at the same time just isn't cutting it.
Lead columns have reacted to the Autumn Statement with fortitude andforbearance. The Telegraph thought the Chancellor "commendably grim", and while the Times (£) thought Mr Osborne's strategy "depended on luck", it still praised an "assured performance". The FT's (£) Jonathan Guthrie was less complimentary, likening the display to rap music, "loud but lack[ing] substance". In contrast, the Mail's Max Hastings contrasted the Chancellor's harsh medicine with Mr Balls' "economic poison", while the Guardian's Martin Kettle conceded that the Chancellor experienced an "exhilarating outcome". The real problem, though, might not be the plans but the assumptions on which they rest. As Jeremy Warner notes in the Telegraph:
"The lower growth turns out to be, the higher borrowing will go. Right at the start of this crisis I wrote a long piece explaining why Britain was unlikely to turn out like Japan, with its spiralling public debt and lost decades of growth. We have too dynamic an economy, I wrote, for that to happen. I wish I could still be so confident."
There might be many sat behind him who disagree with spending several million pounds of taxpayers' money building a windfarm in Mexico to power Walmart's local stores, as the Telegraph reports this morning, but Greg Barker is not for turning. The Climate Minister warned colleagues that the nation would "pay the price in British lives" if it stopped providing climate change linked aid, the Times (£) notes. After all, those US corporate types can cut up rough...
Over breakfast at Delaunay yesterday, Fleet Street's finest united in support for almost all of the 47 of Lord Justice Leveson's  recommendations concerning an independent regulatory body for the press. The new system will be able to levy fines of up to £1m and will offer an arbitration process reducing the financial burden imposed by libel actions.
Sticking points, according to the Independent, included Lord Justice Leveson's proposal that lay people, not editors, draft the new standards code, and the involvement of Ofcom in the new system. Overall, though, consensus has formed fast, and it looks as though the industry will justify the Prime Minister's decision to allow it to put its house in order before taking a statutory approach.
The "sinuous figure" of Sir Jeremy Heywood comes in for a trashing from Stephen Glover in this morning's Mail. The mandarin's article in a "low circulation newspaper" (the Independent, to be precise), in which he claims that Britain is the "most open and transparent country in the world", angers Mr Glover who cites Freedom of Information Act exemptions, the  Special Immigration Appeals Commission, Whitehall quangos and Leveson as reasons to be jeer-ful when it comes to that claim. He adds:
"Some transparency! We are still treated like children who have little right to know what is being done on our behalf. The notion that releasing some general statistics about our lives will lead to greater openness is laughable. Or, to put it another way, is the positively mysterious Sir Jeremy Heywood, courtesy of the editor of the Independent, having a very good joke at our expense?"
Michael Gove has been warned that his plan for a system to replace GCSE exams is "unworkable" according to the Guardian. The Education Secretary appeared before the Commons education select committee yesterday, but told members that Ofqual was yet to give a reason for its stance. Mr Gove has said he will press ahead with the reforms anyway if convinced they are in pupils' best interests.
Tonight's Question Time will be broadcast from Liverpool. The panel is Francis Maude, Andy Burnham, Tim Farron, Financial Times editor Lionel Barber and the Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood.

Douglas Carswell delivers his post-Autumn Statement briefing:

@DouglasCarswell: "If you run the economy like Gordon Brown, you end up with the same sort of economic mess. #ContinuityBrownFail"

In the Telegraph
Best of the rest
Patrick O'Flynn in the Daily Express - It's a hard road but we are getting there, slowly
Steve Richards in The Independent - Clegg is a casualty but Balls has no easy options
Today:  Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to make series of Regional Growth Fund visits.
07:30 am: Road Safety Minister Stephen Hammond launches this year's Designated Driver campaign. Mason Arms, Maddox Street.
09:30 am: TaxPayers' Alliance and Institute of Economic Affairs briefing on the Autumn Statement. Speakers include: Andrea Leadsom, Ruth Lea, Matthew Sinclair, Andrew Lilico. The TaxPayers' Alliance, 55 Tufton Street.
09:45 am: The Commons Public Accounts Committee takes evidence on tax avoidance schemes. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.
01:00 pm: Autumn Statement 2012: IFS analysis briefing. The Building Centre, Store Street.