Thursday, 24 January 2013

Cameron wakes to warm praise & a daunting challenge..

Good morning. Lynton Crosby shared his tips for winning elections last night with a Conservative audience that was particularly preoccupied with newspaper hostility. The party's new elections chief cautioned that the press was both friend and foe, but like battery hens it was best when fed regularly and kept in its place. To judge by the rapturous reaction to David Cameron's EU speech this morning, the PM has found the winning recipe. No10 will cherish the Daily Mail's splash - "Yes, Prime Minister!", and in particular the spread on pp6-7, "How PM outfoxed his foes": truly one for the scrapbook. It's the same just about everywhere else (though the outer Express leads with the weather). Angela Merkel's cautious welcome last night has given Mr Cameron's critical success an extra sport of turbocharging, although the French have promised to "roll out the red carpet" should we wish to leave. David Lidington, the Europe minister, suggested that Germany, the Netherlands and the Czech Repulic were all on side when he appeared on Newsnight last night. Add to that the support of 56 business leaders through a letter to the Times(£), and it is clear Britian won't have to stand alone if Dave plays his hand well.
It really is one of those mornings when the headlines tell the story. TheSun opts for "Top Merks", and the pick of the pack from the Left is theIndependent's "Handbagged!". The leaders are equally punchy. The Mail's praises Mr Cameron for having "pulled off the seemingly impossible", theTimes (£) salutes a speech that "had not only the wrong people cheering, but the right people too". The Telegraph (we also run an excellent Mattcartoon) is full-throated in its praise, arguing that "Mr Cameron has taken an audacious and momentous step, and one deserving of the highest praise."
Speech duly delivered and acclaimed, Dave must now lay the groundwork for delivery post-2015. James Kirkup points out in theTelegraph that with Frau Merkel on-side, anything's possible. That support has a price, though. A price that may have to be paid with assurances on financial regulation. That may not play well with a wavering business community. The Guardian and the Times (£) call the business vote in different ways. In the FT (£), George Parker is right to contrast the "breezy optimism" of yesterday's speech with the grim diplomatic slog ahead. These will be hard yards for the Prime Minister, even if Peter Oborne's worst-case scenario of a Tory split fails to materialise. But tomorrow's problems are just that. The Prime Minister has earned his jaunt to the Alpine sun.
Key themes to consider then this morning: 1) Mr Cameron's argument that the EU is more willing to have this conversation than the Euro-establishment acknowledge looks to be right 2) the Tories have given themselves an electoral tonic - we can't underestimate the positive impact this will have on the electoral dynamics 3) Labour is in a deep hole, and from the conversations I had last night, recent Westminster speculation about plots might have to be refocused on Ed Miliband.
One of the great mysteries of the British economy - its ability to add jobs despite stagnant growth and shrunken productivity - was in evidence again yesterday. Unemployment is now at its lowest since mid-2011, and almost 30m adults were in employment in the quarter ending in November, the highest ever number, but not percentage, as theTelegraph's graphic makes clear. It isn't all good news - earnings growth is less than half of RPI inflation meaning a squeeze on living standards, but it is a rare bright spot for the British economy which had its growth outlook downgraded again (1pc from 1.1pc this year) by the IMF, as we report. Olivier Blanchard, the IMF's chief economist, told the Today programme that it was time for Britain to "take stock [and] reassess" its austerity programme. Just what the Chancellor needed ahead of Dave's Davos speech.
It isn't simply poverty which makes people fat, it's the "disgusting" habit of eating sandwiches at their desks, Nigella Soubry tells the Telegraphthis morning. The Tories' new kitchen queen has been criticised for her views on the link between poverty and obesity, even though she's fundamentally right. It's not as though she isn't trying for support, though. She also argues that not taking a lunch break prevented people from "chill[ing] out". In that case, I think her views will find at least one advocate in a very high place.
Chief inspector of immigration John Vine has warned that HMRC is agreeing to carry out only 3,000 solvency checks on immigrants each year for the UK border agency, despite around one million applications for entry to Britain. The result is that applicants are, in effect, able to self-certify their incomes and arrive in Britain without resources, the Mailreports. The UKBA did not escape criticism either. Its staff have a backlog of 16,000 applications for residency to consider, 14,000 of which are applications. Some are more than a decade old after a box was mislaid in transit between Croydon and Sheffield.
Former defence secretary Lord Browne of Ladyton argues in a speech today that Britain's 24-hour roaming nuclear deterrent has "less and less of a role in our national security strategy", the FT (£) reports. Lord Browne's intervention is significant because it is so rare for a former office holder to criticise the plans of the incumbent. A decision doesn't need to be made until 2016. Just as well, given the divide apparent at present.
The "robustness" of the protections offered to religious groups by the Bill legalising homosexual marriage has been questioned by Philip Hammond in a letter to a constituent. The Defence Secretary wrote: "I do not believe there is a compelling reason to prioritise legislation to go further at the present time and I have concerns about the robustness of the protections for religious organisations that are being put in place," the Mail reports. Ah, Tory unity. You didn't last long, did you? 
It walks like a sheep, bleats like a sheep, so what is it? A new system of press regulation, of course. Labour's Harriet Harman withdrew her party's demand for a Commons vote of Leveson yesterday. As the Times(£) reports, Ms Harman wants to keep her options open, even when it comes the Coalition's favoured option of a regulator set up by Royal Commission. "It's like Dolly. It might look like a sheep, but we don't know if it can do all a sheep can do," she mused.
From being virtually untouchable at the last election, the NHS has a strong claim to being punchbag of the month this January. Following Jeremy Hunt's remarks on pockets of poor care, Andy Burnham will use a speech this morning (copy on the Telegraph website) to criticise the "production line model" of treatment, adding that "deep" problems need addressing.
The Office of Tax Simplification will send pensioners colour coded letters explaining their tax codes, the Mail reports. The OTS also propose abolishing the 10pc savings rate tax, a lower rate applying to interest on the first £2,710 of savings each year, a c£90 rebate mainly claimed by pensioners. What the one hand giveth.
Eco loans are a "rip-off" with rates on Green Deal home improvement loans almost 5pc higher than for similar schemes in Germany, the Sunreports. Given the 6.9pc interest rate, it's perhaps understandable that the Government's aim for a take-up of 14m families is somewhat short, a mere 13,999,995 short at last count.
Jamie Reed with some football satire:
@jreedmp: "Come on Swansea, play 'Hazard Town' at the final whistle. Followed by 'The Kids Are Alright'. Come on.... "

In the Telegraph
Theodore Dalrymple - It's not poverty that's fattening
Best of the rest
Steve Richards in The Independent - He can retreat toa Thatcherite comfort zone, but he won't be safe
Martin Kettle in The Guardian - Cameron was not brave yesterday, he was reckless
Max Hastings in the Daily Mail - The speech of his life! And if the PM can follow through, he might just seal a historic triumph
Chris Giles in the FT (£) Why Sir Mervyn has taken a walk on the supply side
09:30 am: David Cameron speech to World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Also attending are Chancellor George Osborne and Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude. Speech expected around 10:30 Swiss time.
10:00 am: Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood gives evidence to Commons Public Administration Committee on ministerial reshuffles. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
10:00 am: Chief Constable of Police Service of Northern Ireland gives evidence to Commons Northern Ireland Committee. Committee Room 8.
10:00 am: David Willetts speech on industrial policy and future technologies. Policy Exchange, 10 Storey's Gate, SW1P 3AY.
10:30 am: Andy Burnham speech to King's Fund on "whole-person care". Burdett Room, The King's Fund, 11-13 Cavendish Square, W1G 0AN.