Wednesday, 20 February 2013

4G auction disappoints..

BREAKING NEWS: Hello, black hole. Ofcom announced this morning that it raised only £2.34bn from its auction of the 4G spectrum, undershooting the OBR's estimate of £3.5bn by a third. Given that pricing in the Irish and Dutch auctions led many commentators to expect a £4bn windfall, the result is a great disappointment - for George, for the Treasury and for the OBR (savaged for its forecasting inaccuracy by Andrew Alexander in the Mail this morning). There was a time when a shortfall of over £1bn would be a headline event. Those days are long gone - the CBI sees the Government needing to spend £75bn more than was originally planned next financial year - but at a time when good economic news is still at a premium, the Chancellor will hope that today's job numbers (out at 9:30am) dig him out of a hole yet again.
Dave's Indian adventure continues apace. Today's mea-culpa is for the Amritsar massacre, a "monstrous" event which the Prime Minister feels a sense of "shame" over, a sentiment seen as a cynical ploy to lure ethnic minority voters at home by the Independent, and as historical illiteracy by the Mail. Note Dave is not issuing an official apology, just setting out the grounds on which one might offer an apology, if they were that way inclined. While the trip has not been the boon to arms manufacturers that might have been imagined (India suspended it order for 21 Westland helicopters yesterday over bribery worries) it has at least furnished Fleet Street's photographic archives with a number of future favorites. Today's trip to the Golden Temple has both a spectacular backdrop and Dave gamely wearing a hat (honouring his hosts's religious convictions). Winning hearts and minds has also gone well. The FT (£) carries a thoughtful comment from the editor of one of India's leading business papers: "Most people have forgotten they even ruled here, and probably suspect it was the Americans, they don’t have anything to give us, so why should we care?"
Lest the Indians be upset further, Gavin Barwell interceded on his bosses behalf to ask whether people at home would mind shutting up about immigration yesterday, as we report. Dave, of course, had said something to the opposite effect a couple of hours earlier. At least he wasof one mind with the Chancellor, backing his Monday night warning over the mansion tax and telling Nick not to side with any Labour motion on the topic.
But on with the important news. Dave sprang to the defence of "Princess Kate" upon hearing of Hilary Mantel's remarks in a speech on Royalty reprinted in the London Review of Books. "What she said about Kate Middleton is completely misguided and completely wrong," he thundered, taking the opportunity to mis-name the Duchess of Cambridge twice in two sentences. From the icy wastes of Scandinavia came an equally affronted response from Ed. "These are pretty offensive remarks," he told an expectant nation. Nothing as yet from Nick Clegg. And he wonders why they trail in the polls...
Alistair Buchanan, the outgoing head of Ofgem, did not mince his words yesterday. The UK will face a "near-crisis" level energy gap between 2015 and 2018 leading to "the horror" of dependence on gas imports and soaring bills, we report. He placed the blame on both ministerial myopia and power plant closures which have occurred as a result of green energy laws. The Independent has spreads detailing how close the UK will come to a revival of 1970's style blackouts - possible, but not likely, according to Mr Buchanan. Meanwhile the Express notes that some power stations owned by Drax are getting around EU laws by converting to run on wood chips imported from Canada, rather than coal. Burning trees to save the planet - energy policy in a microcosm.
"The Education Secretary has been a very naughty boy" we learn in the latest instalment of the 50 Shades of Grey series an interview with theDaily Mail. As a self-professed "Marmite person" who people either love or hate, Mr Gove is not inclined to harbour designs on Number 10. "I am not the team captain...I just think it would be intolerable to be the Prime Minister," he insists, adding "I'm a bit of a Mr Blurt" as further evidence of unsuitability. When it comes to home life, his relationship with his wife is "a bit like my relationship with the Prime Minister...she is the boss...she gives me the instructions". Dave as a Mrs Gove substitute. The mind boggles. But the minister doth protest too much, particularly given that he claims not to remember being called "donkey" on account of "certain physical attributes" while at university. A leadership candidate and hung like an ancestral relative of the horse. The Mail going for a subtlesubliminal message there, you'd think.
A new breed of "expert adviser" from outside Whitehall employed on short-term contracts and working closely with the Cabinet represents the first step towards a politicised Civil Service, the Times (£) reports, adding in its leader that it is "highly desirable" that ministers be able to choose their own help, provided the new roles are well defined. As a cure for policy stagnation and the slow pace of change it has a certain appeal - but how many of the big reverses in policy have been bad organisation from Whitehall, rather than bad politics from Westminster? Bad workmen, but new tools.
What is it with Dave and visits? He goes to India, suddenly they don't want our helicopters. He goes to Eastleigh, suddenly the Lib Dem lead looks unassailable. If there's one man you don't want visiting your hospital ward... The Independent reports that with a week until polling, the mood in the Tory camp is dark, not helped by the crash earlier this week of the Merlin canvassing system. The Lib Dems, in contrast, have been pouring volunteers in. Whether Ukip receive a polling boost from the Times's report of the party's endorsement of the French nationalist Marine Le Pen at the Cambridge Union last night remains to be seen. But at least if Michael Deacon's sketch from the stump is anything to go by, no side has much to fear from Labour's John O'Farrell:
"Some teenage boys were slouching on a bench. 'You 18?' asked Mr O’Farrell. One of the boys shook his head but said nothing. 'You think we’re boring politicians in suits, don’t you!' joshed Mr O’Farrell, in the manner of a jovial uncle. The boy remained silent. Another of the boys quietly confessed to being 18. 'Vote for me!' cried Mr O’Farrell, shaking the boy’s hand vigorously. 'You’ve met me!' And off he strode, his balloon-wielders scampering to keep up."
"We only have five days to save free speech" the Sun warns this morning, with Lord Lester Q.C. arguing that the if his Defamation Bill fails to win support in the Commons on Monday the courts will be inundated with spurious claims. Wrecking amendements to the Bill, which would introduce a Serious Harm Test, would need to be defeated in the Commons when it returns from the Lords on Monday. The Mail reports that ministers are determined to force a Lords vote on the amendments at the third reading stage, with Number 10 convinced that putting pressure on Nick and Ed to back free speech will force them to climb down. It's an ambitious plan. As one crossbencher tells the paper: "third Readings are for tidying up Bills – not reopening the[m]...even if all the Lib Dems who voted for Puttnam came across the Government would still lose. Both procedure and voting arithmetic are against them."  
Having lain low since his ignominious fall and subsequent exonerationby documentary, Andrew Mitchell pitches in with an op-ed in today's FT(£) praising Dave's European strategy. Evidenced based policy making and improved diplomatic ties (he suggests an Anglo-Dutch joint Cabinet meeting) should be at the heart of the UK's strategy in the future, he argues. The article is titled "Europe needs Cameron's tough love". If anyone is well positioned to know how tough that love can be... 

Dave's rush to pass comment on the big issue of the day won praise from Michael Fabricant:

@Mike_Fabricant: "'Cameron defends Kate over Mantel comments'. I love how we get our priorities right..... Even in India. Still Ms Mantel was a bit mean." 


In the Telegraph

Mary Riddell - Who'll be left standing when the Tories' secret weapon goes bang?
Best of the rest

Daniel Finkelstein in The Times (£) - Real Conservatives cut spending before taxes
Andrew Alexander in the Daily Mail - How Osborne is muzzled by his watchdog
Ian Birrell in The Independent - More capitalism, not less of it, is the answer

09:00 am: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's weekly radio phone-in on LBC 97.3. Brought forward from Thursday.
09:30 am: Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) releases its lending estimate for January.
09:30 am: Unemployment figures. Latest unemployment figures published by Office for National Statistics.
02:00 pm: Cabinet minister Danny Alexander visits Cornwall. Headland Hotel, Newquay.