Friday, 14 December 2012

Triple A rating in doubt..

The man the FT calls G-Dawg had some more bad news overnight. Standard & Poor's joined Fitch in putting the UK's AAA rating under review with a negative outlook (Telegraph story here). Just as well the Chancellor appeared before the Treasury Select Committee to explain why ratings were only part of the picture given that "my job is to maintain credibility".
Mr Osborne's quest for credibility is taking to him to increasingly radical places. As the FT (£) reports, he has made a point of praising Mark Carney's suggestion that central banks avoid interest rate targeting and look to improve GDP instead, although he will leave public leadership of the debate to Mr Carney when he takes on his new role. George's earlier innovations come in for some uglier assessments today. The Telegraphreports that top-earners will be £1,000 a year worse off thanks to single tier pension reforms. By contrast, those relying on state working age benefits will be a cumulative £6bn worse off thanks to the cap on the rate of increase, according to the Mirror.
While George is battling the headwinds at home, Dave is helping Europe save its economy in Brussels. The Prime Minister is enthusiastically pushing the idea of a two tier Europe on the grounds that a tightly wound core will give him the freedom to extract concessions at the fringe of the wider grouping. It will be tough work, argues Jeremy Warner in today'sTelegraph. He believes the Euro, and hence the current form of the EU, is doomed:
"No one can admit failure, so they trumpet the mere fact of the euro’s survival as evidence of success. Once upon a time, the single currency was meant to be about mutual economic advancement and cooperation; today, merely getting through the next year seems purpose enough."
Ed Miliband will apologise for the ghettoisation caused in some cities by uncontrolled immigration under the Blair and Brown governments in a speech today in south London. According to the BBC, Mr Miliband will say that Labour did "too little " to discourage segregation in cities, and insist that universal proficiency in English is vital to the realisation of his "One Nation" ideal. Councils should be able to cut spending on translation rather than front-line services he will add. 
The speech has already been attacked for failing to go far enough. Sir Andrew Green appeared on this morning's Today programme to argue for an outright apology. Even so, Ed's political antennae is proving sounder than many Tories first supposed. Relying on an implosion in 2015 appears an increasingly risky strategy on its own.
The Prime Minister is under pressure to give Alan Turing a posthumous official pardon following a letter to the Telegraph signed by Prof. Stephen Hawking and ten other signatories. Mr Turing died from cyanide poisoning in 1954 after being convicted of gross indecency at a time when homosexuality was still illegal, and an inquest found he had committed suicide. There is currently a Private Members' Bill going through parliament, however the Coalition turned down a request for a pardon in February and may be loath to grant it sufficient time to pass.
The Sun carries a mischief making interview with Nick Clegg on the subject of drug reform this morning. The Deputy Prime Minister argues that the war on drugs has failed and and says that "I'm anti-drugs - it's for that reason that I'm pro reform". He also implies a row with Dave over policy, adding:
"I told the Prime Minister that this was a missed opportunity. He knows my views on this. He and I don’t agree on this. For too long, people in politics have worried that saying something differently can somehow look like you’re being soft. It’s important now to pluck up the courage to speak out."
Although Mr Clegg's position is pro-liberalisation, not blanket legalisation, he has sent Jeremy Browne on a fact-finding mission to Portugal, Amsterdam, several US states and Latin America in an attempt to find sufficient evidence to persuade the Prime Minister to give way to calls for a Royal Commission on drugs. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.
Maria Miller will be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards following our revelation that she claimed over £90,000 in taxpayer-funded expenses for a second home in which her parents lived. The Telegraph reports that John Lyon's inquiry will decide whether there is a case to answer for the minister. We have also published a timeline of the interactions between the paper and Mrs Miller and those representing her.
The Government is going all-in on its fracking drive. Yesterday's announcement that the Government would lift the temporary ban on fracking, imposed after minor tremors in the Blackpool area following a frack last year, signals the resumption of the search for commercial deposits after an 18-month hiatus. As a sign of it's commitment to Dave's shale "revolution", the Coalition may remove control over planning permission for major shale projects from local councils, the Independentreports. The move is being considered as part of the forthcoming Growth and Energy Bill. The Telegraph's leader calls for the Government to "confront the scare stories being peddled by opponents of shale gas", although cartoonist Adams has a different take. Countryside campaigners probably don't know whether to laugh or cry. The wind turbine is dead. Long live the hydraulic fracking drill tower.
Eric Pickles has lost his appetite for 26ft extensions exempt from planning permission, one of the Treasury's bright ideas, the Telegraphreports. Mr Pickles was known to have doubts about the change pressed by the Treasury in part because there had already been a Whitehall settlement on planning reform.
New regulations may limit single story extensions to "considerably less" than 19ft or 26ft, depending on the property, he told House magazine. "We haven't come to a final decision about how far we will allow the permitted development to go out. The [distances] we were suggesting were pretty much a maximum," he added. Unless, of course, your extension houses fracking machinery.
Relations between the state and the established church are already strained owing to the clash between theological and political imperatives on the topic of women bishops. Now they have become further heated as it has emerged that the Government did not warn Lambeth Palace before announcing its "quadruple lock" on gay marriage. As one of the locks specifically forbade the established church from offering gay marriage, this seems an odd oversight. Maria Miller was due to meet with Church of England representatives last Thursday, but cancelled at late notice. TheGuardian insists that churchmen are in "complete shock" and would have preferred the Government not to have offered its protection without a consultation.
With wedges springing up everywhere, Fraser Nelson argues in today'sTelegraph that the crazy world of American culture wars has arrived on these shores:
"Some of his party say they will not rise to Cameron’s bait, believing this to be a ploy to make them go on national television and sound like lunatics. Some are past caring, and are doing it anyway."

Television's Chris Bryant finds Question Time can sometimes overwhelm a man:

@ChrisBryantMP: "Oh god. Drugs with hitchens and self. Might have to go to bed." 


In the Telegraph

Fraser Nelson - Britain is getting a glimpse of the crazy world of culture wars
Best of the rest

Philip Collins in The Times (£) - Disraeli was wrong. Coalition has worked
Simon Jenkins in The Guardian - North Korea's toys are not a threat - but our reaction is
Mary Dejevsky in The Independent - Wake up: these new sources of energy will change the world
TODAY: European Council summit.
12:00 pm: Lord Hunt, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, to outline steps being taken following the Leveson report. Briefing off-camera, on the record for specialist correspondents. DAC Beachcroft, 100 Fetter Lane.