Good morning. Dave's Davos speech, in which he told the world's businesses to "wake up and smell the coffee" over tax avoidance, has drawn hurt looks and withering words from business leaders in today's papers. Our report that FTSE 100 chief executives are against greater transparency in their tax affairs is indicative of a wider point made byJeremy Warner: does the Government really understand business? If the directors of listed firms have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders, should they make that subservient to the "moral obligation" the Government places on them to account in an inefficient way? More importantly, Mr Cameron's critique of the EU was partly based on a lack of competitiveness which extends into the tax system. He wants tax competition between nations. He doesn't like the results. You can't have your organic Starbucks carrot cake and eat it, you know.
The focus remains on the economy today when the Q4 GDP figure is announced at 9:30. The market view is that we will see a small decline...though there were rumours yesterday of a leak - denied by the ONS - suggesting the final figure is in fact positive (that may just be people in Davos over-interpreting a cheery George Osborne spotted enjoying pizza with Dave). So what's the Chancellor to do? The IMF wants Plan B, Tory MPs have been calling for Plan A+ in recent months, and FT(£) thinks we are due more of the same.
Pre-emptive criticism of the Chancellor arrives in this morning's papers from two old adversaries. His style is criticised by Boris Johnson, whose Davos speech today will urge the Government to "junk the rhetoric of austerity", we report. His substance is criticised by Nick Clegg, who appears to have decided that it would have been better to keep on spending after all. The Sun picks up on an interview Mr Clegg gave to House magazine in which he said that he regrets the Coalition's crunch on capital spending. He now believes "you actually need, in order to foster a recovery, to try and mobilise as much public and private capital into infrastructure as possible". The centre ground can be a lonely place.
EU MANOEUVRES ARE GO
Like a dog chasing its tail, Conservative manoeuvres on Europe already have a rather circuitous feel to them. We report that Boris and other senior Tories will vote "out" if they are not happy with the concessions Dave wins from Brussels. Fine, says Number 10 in the Independent, but anyone voting against the Prime Minister can kiss goodbye to their Cabinet post. The best case scenario, of course, is a negotiation which delivers on what are now high expectations, although as Fraser Nelsonwrites, Dave the speaker and Dave the do'er are often different people (even if he may be losing his modernising zeal, as I note in my blog).
With impeccable timing, Brussels announced yesterday that it wanted to fine Britain €300,000 a day for failing to liberalise its energy industry, the FT (£) reports. As Britain won't be further liberalising its energy industry any time soon, it's effectively a demand to be given €109.5m every year. A public relations master-stroke. It isn't only Brussels playing up, the Lib Dems are sulkily referring to a "so-called referendum", the Independent reports. Still, at least we have Germany on-side. With Frau Merkel now our best friend in Europe, theSun has celebrated with 10 things it loves about the Germans. It really has been a funny old week.
ICE CREAM WOMAN MELTING HEARTS AT THE MAIL
One of the less anticipated consequences of Dave's Europe speech is the sudden crush the Mail seems to have developed on one of its chiefarchitects, Clare Foges. The "raven-haired poet" and former ice cream van driver who "like Home Secretary Theresa May, Clare is well-known for her love of leopard-print shoes." If only all the Number 10 family could garner such rave reviews.
NEW CHILDCARE PLAN, AGAIN
Well, they have to be commended for persistence if nothing else. After the leaking and subsequent shelving of the plan to give working mothers tax credits, the FT (£) reports that the Coalition is now working on a £1.5bn scheme which would give families with young children around £1,000 a year in vouchers to spend on childcare. The new scheme will be universal...except if you're on tax credits. So we may get a new allowance available to wealthy workers but not poor ones. Oh dear, I don't know about you, but I can see a problem they may run into with this.
The vouchers scheme would expire when a child started school full-time. Hopefully, there will be some teachers left by then. The Bill introducing gay marriage is being published this afternoon, and Michael Gove has been at pains to reassure teachers that they will not have to teach the validity of gay marriage against their will. As we report, though, a senior source in his department concedes that there is no way to prevent the ECHR taking the ultimate decision on this point. The Pandora's Box Bill will be debated in the Commons on the 5th of February,and the Times (£) reports that as much as half of the Conservative parliamentary party will vote against it. That would be humiliating for Mr Cameron, but he can't say he wasn't warned.
CLEGG MULLING PUBLIC SCHOOL FOR CHILDREN
Nick Clegg is considering following in Diane Abbott's footsteps and sending his children to public school, it emerged in yesday's edition of Call Clegg (despite David Cameron committing to sendin his eldest daughter to a state school, as the Mail notes). We back him in our editorial, arguing children should come before politics: "Good for him. On a day when league tables reveal the abject failure of many state schools to equip their pupils with basic qualifications, it is natural that he should be concerned about the education his children will receive."
The "Rivers of Blood" speech made by Enoch Powell still haunts the Conservatives, according to Treasury minister Sajid Javid. The Mailreports a Spectator interview in which Mr Javid claimed a public apology from Mr Cameron would be necessary to shake the "nasty party" image he believes persists.
HARPER REFUSES TO PREDICT ROMANIAN IMMIGRATION LEVELS
Mark Harper, the immigration minister, believes it is "not sensible" to predict the number of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants once controls lapse at the end of the year, we report. It wouldn't be sensible because "there are too many variables". In other words, it's a bit like an immigration version of guessing the number of marbles in the jar. Good to know they're on top of things.
ALL STOPS TO BEECHING
Our report that Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin is considering rebuilding stations closed as a result of the Beeching Report in the 1960s raises an interesting question: would the routes now be economic because the population is sprawled so widely in the South East, or would it simply be a reflection of recent ticket prices?
"Industrial users" of FOI requests are imposing such a burden on official time that it should be made easier for officials to refuse to answer requests. We report that justice minister Helen Grant is concerned that eight per cent of requests take up 32 per cent of civil servants' time to answer.
FREE RANGE LORDS
An intriguing blog post by Lord Tyler raises the point that there is a shooting range directly underneath the House of Lords which seems not to cost anything to run and maintain, its share of the electricity bill aside. Lord Tyler speculates that the lack of spending on ammunition and rifles might indicate members simply wander around the parliamentary estate with them. A less sensational explanation is probably simply that nobody uses it any more. Angry Birds took the place of practicing for a grouse shoot in the relaxation stakes long ago.
ONE MEMBER NOW SEVERAL BANANAS SHORT OF A PICNIC
Of course, if one of their Lordships is wandering around with a rifle, there's always the risk he may mislay it after a good lunch. Fear not, for the parliamentary lost property office is on hand. Items handed in to the lost propert office shared by both Lords and Commons have included two jars of marmalade, a rucksack full of bananas and some peppers in a plastic bag, we report.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Another historical epic ruined by Hollywood's lack of accuracy, Tom Harris reports:
@TomHarrisMP: "Really disappointed by "Lincoln". Contrary to pre-publicity, it has *no* vampires in it. None."
In the Telegraph
In the Telegraph
Fraser Nelson - Labour will do anything for the workers - except trust them
Jeremy Warner - Does Cameron really understand business
Judith Woods - No place for a woman?
Telegraph View - The debate over healthcare is long overdue
Simon Jenkins in The Guardian - A speech that told Europe's emperors to get dressed
Philip Collins in The Times (£) - Orwell endures because his nightmares do too
John Kampfner in The Independent - Now Clegg and Miliband can bury the hatchet
Paul Goodman in the FT (£) - Cameron's speech on Europe was a big leap in to the unknown
TODAY: Justice Minister Helen Grant to set out plans to clamp down on rogue bailiffs.
09:30 am: First estimate of Q4 GDP is published by the Office for National Statistics. Convocation Hall, Church House Conference Centre, Westminster, SW1P 3NZ.