Monday, 3 December 2012

Pre-autumn statement gloom..

Good morning. It's autumn statement week, but there's no Sunday for Monday belter in the papers to take us further forward. Beyond what George Osborne told Marr - that it was all looking worse than he had hoped - we aren't much further forward. Welfare will be cut, the rich will pay more by whacking their pensions (taxing the future to pay for the present), some extra cash will go to infrastructure. It is worth noting that so far the secrecy around the Autumn Statement has held. Mr Osborne vowed to press the Lib Dems for greater self-discipline after they allowed the main contents of the Budget to leak, leaving the Chancellor's strategy in a mess, and it appears to have worked. It may also be, of course, that there isn't much good news to share. Unlike the Budget run-up, when he jetted off to the US to meet Barack Obama, Mr Osborne is said this time to be scrutinising the detail of the statement to check for booby traps. He will need to have convincing answers to hand - when even the Guardianis attacking you for having "deficit-reduction [which is] off-track" in Larry Elliott's front page op-ed, it's a fair sign that performance is lagging aspiration. What has emerged so far is not promising - lower tax-free pension thresholds, a fresh assault on tax-dodging multi-nationals, nothing transformative. As Jeremy Warner points out, it is the lack of growth which is overshadowing all the Chancellor's other plans. The Mailasserts that austerity will be with us until 2018 at the earliest, it will be here rather longer unless either spending moves down or tax revenues improve. The Telegraph's leader column questions whether the Chancellor is focusing on the right side of the equation:
"For all the talk of austerity and savage cuts, the Treasury is still expecting to spend £756 billion in 2016–17, compared with £683 billion this year. While the Coalition aims to reduce the proportion of GDP taken by the state to around 40 per cent, in many of our competitor nations outside Europe it is closer to 30 per cent. Mr Osborne's main task in his Autumn Statement is less to cut debt to a particular point by a specific date than to demonstrate that he has not lost sight of his central goal – to spend less of our money."
The headlines this morning are all about tax collection. George believes that £10bn is up for grabs in Swiss bank accounts belonging to "fat cats", multi-national businesses and other bogey-men, the Sun reports. The Chancellor will spend £154m buying more tax investigators, the paper adds, but the point remains that multi-national businesses like Google are entitled to structure their holding operations in whichever way they wish. Extra tax collectors will have a hard job claiming £10bn in revenue when much of the total moved off-shore has been moved legally.
George's other wheeze is cutting the threshold for tax free pension contributions. Cut to £50,000 when he came to office, today's Telegraphconfirms last month's FT (£) story that the limit may in fact be slashed to £30,000. All part of the Chancellor's plan to improve personal responsibility.
Following an appalling by-election showing, Nick Clegg might be forgiven for wondering who his party's natural constituency is. Fortunately, Theresa May is on hand in this morning's Sun to point out that "criminals, terrorists and paedophiles" will be applauding his opposition to her Communications Data Bill. Relations between the pair, already frosty, are hardly likely to be improved by Mrs May's comment that "the people who say they’re against this bill need to look victims of serious crime, terrorism and child sex offences in the eye and tell them why they’re not prepared to give the police the powers they need to protect the public." She has certainly convinced the Sun, whose leader takes up the Clegg-bashing with some enthusiasm, calling him a "danger man" who is "overwhelmed by civil liberties angst". Oh well, Nick may have lost the Sun, but now he has the criminal vote sown up, votes for prisoners must be looking a lot more appealing.
The number of Tory MPs willing to defy the party leadership over Leveson and votes for statutory regulation of the press is "thinning" according to the Times (£). Both Chris Skidmore and Bob Stewart have joined a list which the Sunday Telegraph revealed already included Jackie Doyle-Price and George Freeman. Parliament will debate the findings of the Leveson Inquiry this afternoon at around 3pm, but it will not vote. In a bid to postpone that vote indefinitely, Dave will join editors in their meeting with Maria Miller this week and urge them to implement self-regulation 2.0 in time to head off Ed Miliband's push to divide the House on Leveson in January. Laying the groundwork for that vote, this morning's Telegraph reports that Harriet Harman will use today's cross-party talks with Maria Miller and Simon Hughes to unveil Labour's plans to draft its own legislation covering statutory regulation. There is a sense that the tide has turned against legislation. As the Sun's Trevor Kavanagh attests, Ed Miliband's "heart isn't really in [government regulation of the press] he just wants to make trouble for the Tories. That's his job."  Making trouble for the Tory leadership is also the Boris Johnson's job, and he is against a statutory solution, too. As he writes in this morning's Telegraph:
"[Lord Justice Leveson] seems to want to make the British press as earnest as the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, whose front-page splash was once about '100 years of Electric Light in Switzerland'. He wants above all to create a system whereby newspapers would be compulsorily regulated by law – licensed – for the first time since the 17th century. He must be resisted... We want a vital and exuberant media that reports the foibles of the rulers, without fear or favour but also without lying and cheating and cruelty. If the papers get it right, and act fast, they can rebuild trust, and they may also be able to rebuild some of that lost circulation."
Coalition with the Conservatives is going so well that Vince Cable believes that it might be time to invite Ukip to the party. The Business Secretary's interview on Radio 4 is quoted in today's Telegraph, and finds him expressing his hope that the Coalition would be able to "engage with them on the big issues". He added it would be an "insult" to the electorate if the party was not "taken seriously" following last week's by-election results. Of course, there is one senior Cabinet member who refuses to take a party stacked with "loonies, fruitcakes and closet racists" seriously. Perhaps Vince could have a word.
Two amusing items from Andrew Pierce's diary in today's Mail. The first is on Ed Miliband's latest intellectual crush. Professor Marc Stears will certainly be handy when Ed is in need of a soundbite. "The distinctive advantage of resource egalitarianism over its leading egalitarian rivals lies in its ability to combine a commitment to an ideal of equality with a dedication to a fully non-perfectionist account of the human good," Prof. Stears comments wryly in a tub-thumping article on equality. It isn't going much better in the blue corner. Nick Boles received a gift this week - a thesaurus sent to him by former Tory darling Phillip Blond after the former criticised the latter's love of "big words".
Working at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can be bad for your health, according to the Mail. Junior staff at the department took an average of 24.4 sick days off a year last year, against a private sector average of 5.8. Proximity to the private sector work ethic obviously failed to improve immunity levels at BIS either. The department came in second with 19.6 sick days per employee last financial year.
Lord Prescott has threatened Channel 4 with an injunction over a Dispatches programme investigating his links with officials in the country, the Mail reports. He is not the only senior politician with a Dispatches problem. The Prime Minister banned ministers from meeting the Dalai Lama during the G20's crisis talks on the eurozone, theTelegraph notes. Tim Loughton and Norman Barker were barred from a lunch held for the Tibetan spiritual leader at the Speaker's apartment, and later wrote to the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary in protest. There is no record of a response. 

The unjustly self-depreciating Pat McFadden:

@patmacfaddenmp: "Photo has disappeared from my Twitter account. Not a loss to anyone else I admit."

In the Telegraph
Best of the rest
Leo McKinstry in the Daily Express - Don't write off the coalition...look at its vital successes
Tim Montgomeries in The Times (£) - Hunt turns his guns on shameful hospitals
Edward Luce in the FT (£) - America's Thelma and Louise moment
TODAY: General debate on the Leveson Inquiry (around 3:00pm).
09:30 am: Cabinet Office publishes updated cyber security strategy.
12:40 pm: Photocall with Boris Johnson and England Rugby 2015 ambassador Lawrence Dallaglio. Boris Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio will be with the Webb Ellis Cup ahead of the Pool Allocation Draw. Potters Field, City Hall.
05:30 pm: Downing Street Christmas Tree lights to be switched on.