Monday, 18 February 2013

Cameron in India..

Good morning. As Parliament is enjoying a short recess, Dave is in India today with the largest trade delegation ever to leave these shores. Unlike Dave's trade mission to the Gulf, this time the Lobby have been invited, which means we now know that he is pretty bullish on his ability to handle spicy curries as "we have had a Nepalese nanny for three years". Dave dined on a chicken tikka on the plane out, by way of preparation, before retiring saying he needed a "good night's sleep". Today's activities did not get off to a great start - Dave couldn't name a single Unilever product he uses when asked in a Q&A - but he seems to have taken note of  Dean Nelson's piece for us on avoiding endless apologies for colonial crimes. Instead he has spent the morning apologising for not appointing enough women to the Cabinet, as we report. Not to be left out, Ed has also hit Heathrow. He will be on a tour of Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands with Douglas Alexander keeping him company. Cue the Borgen references. Stewart Wood, Ed's chief strategist, has alreadytweeted that he is having "Kasper Jul delusions".
One of Dave's India pledges will be on the visa system, pledging to relax the rules for Indian business leaders, as we report. At the same time, papers at home are dominated by calls for more rigorous controls on immigration and the rights of new arrivals, calls triggered by the Prime Minister and continued by Iain Duncan Smith whose advocacy of a residency requirement for EU citizens in Britain before benefits can be claimed appears to have defined one of Dave's negotiating objectives for him. It's no wonder that the FT (£) finds the CBI reporting a mixed message being broadcast in India when London comes calling.
It isn't just a case of Dave v Europe on immigration, it's also Theresa May v the judiciary. The Home Secretary attacked judges for "subverting" democracy by failing to follow deportation rules at the weekend, as theGuardian reports. The judges strike back in today's Times (£), with former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf claiming that Mrs May has "undermined the rule of law". Why the sudden fuss? It matters in Eastleigh for a start, and as Trevor Kavanagh writes in his Sun column:
"Immigration is the most explosive election issue after the economy. Especially when official figures show demand among British employers for specialist migrant skills is actually falling. Mr Cameron has picked a difficult time to be out of the country, urging Indian students to flock to the UK. Eastleigh is just ten days away. The Tories cannot afford to lose this fight."

One of Whitehall's troubleshooters-in-chief, Dave Pitchford, executive director of the Major Projects Authority, has been drafted in to take charge of the Universal Credit scheme, the FT (£) reports. Although the DWP strongly denies that there's a problem, I gather there is sudden anxiety about the department's ability to deliver it's promise that from October it will be more worthwhile to work than to claim benefit. It all feels slightly ominous - isn't this a part of the scheme that should and could have been established months ago?
Lib Dems stand ready to back a Labour motion on the introduction of a "Mansion Tax" provided the 10p tax rate is not "dragged in", Vince Cabletold Sky News yesterday. However, as we report, he also disowned the proposals for a jewellery tax and other "wacky" ideas leaked in yesterday's Mail on Sunday as thought experiments which were not party policy. That's a shame because the party's activists are keen - today's Times (£) front page details their demands for a greater tax burden on the wealthy.
Meanwhile the idea of a tax on high value houses attracts two very different Conservative perspectives in today's comment pages. In theTimes (£), Tim Montgomerie (who gets a fisking from Toby Young onTelegraph Blogs for his troubles) argues that all true Tories should back the idea as "the job of a pro-capitalist party isn't to defend the super-rich unquestioningly but to ensure that extra taxes are proportionate, administratively straightforward and not economically counterproductive". Nonsense! says Boris (or rather: Piffle!), this is a wicked idea:
"As for Labour, they have shown their true colours...the message of the Miliband policy is that Labour is once again hostile to one of the deepest instincts of the British people: to show the energy, enterprise and ambition to want to improve your own home and to raise its value."
Peter Oborne argued powerfully on Sunday that neglect in the NHS, not horse meat in burgers, was the big scandal of the age, and this morning campaigners have good news as we reveal that the police are investigating deaths at the hospitals following receipt of "information not in the public domain". The charge is being led by Staffordshire's PCC, Matthew Ellis, proving that introducing them as a public voice holding the police to account was the right policy.
While Dave and Ed are gallivanting around abroad, the leader of the Lib Dems finds himself at Mansion House in the City this evening, where he will give a speech on regional rebalancing. He will say that the economic disparity between the Home Counties and the remainder of the country is an anomaly in the context of British history and that successive governments are responsible for "emasculating" the second-tier cities in the regions.
Being tough with Europe is going well. After the imposition of a financial transactions tax on eurozone originating products traded in London, one of Dave's red lines, on Friday, today's FT (£) reports that London is about to suffer a defeat in its efforts to prevent Brussels imposing a 1:1 bonus to salary ratio, with a 2:1 ratio permissible only in exceptional circumstances. Swapping Canary Wharf for Lake Geneva just became a lot more tempting.
Separately, the paper reports that the offer of an in/out referendum on Europe has failed to dent Britain's euroscepticism. A Harris Interactive poll found that only one in three wanted to remain in Europe with 50pc intending to vote out and 17pc not interested in voting. Only 31pc believe that the economy would be weaker outside the EU, and over a quarter were not aware that there had even been the promise of a referendum. Still, if Dave wants to remain, it looks as if the opposition is deeper than first thought. They can't all be disgruntled bankers, surely?
Dominic Raab. The next Budget requires a radical reduction in red-tape and spending levels, he writes in an FT (£) op-ed. Although tempered by praise for Dave's European renegotiation, Mr Raab's call for further cuts to Whitehall budgets, the abolition of DCMS, removal of DfID to the Foreign Office and early withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan  presents yet another wish--list for the Chancellor to consider when weighing his choices. In the meantime, the question must surely be, is there a Tory backbencher who isn't walking around with a Budget in his pocket at present?
John O'Farrell was not Ed's first choice for the Eastleigh by-election, Andrew Pierce reports in the Mail. Instead, the Labour leader phoned Fiona Phillips, the former GMTV anchor, to see whether she fancied renewing her professional partnership with another GMTV alumnus Gloria De Piero in the Commons. She rejected his offer, which came with the promise of a safe seat in 2015, as "[she]  believes her work in TV is more influential than being on the Labour backbenches," the paper adds. A good judge, clearly.
Obviously emboldened by his deputy's chart success with the remix of his tuition fee apology, Dave has taken his first steps into the world of pop music, starring in One Direction's video for their forthcoming Comic Relief single. A still from the video featured in many of the papers shows him getting in the spirit of things while he also took one of him getting down with the kids for his Twitter account. How does he stay so youthful? With the help of a £5.50 "Brain Boost" smoothie, according to the Mail. "Mr Cameron says he loves coming in here because he can just chill out," says the owner of the Notting Hill juice bar which sells the concoction. He doesn't do enough of that.
John Rentoul in the Independent on how Ed Miliband and Ed Balls cooked up their 10p wheeze: "In fact, the two Eds had been working on this surprise for a while, in typical Brownite fashion, calculating the odds and the angles. But this is the politics of the late Brown era, sluggish and unimaginative, not like the dexterity of the early Brown when he and Blair were working together and always a few steps ahead of the Conservatives...The two Eds are late-period Brownites, right down to their play-acted front-bench chat in the Commons...Even if Miliband showed any sign of wanting to escape his Brownite inheritance, he cannot. Labour has been captured by late-Brown thinking and the Brownite apparatus."

Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer on Miliband and Balls disowning Gordon Brown: "The least convincing bit of Mr Miliband's manoeuvre was the attempt to divorce himself from Gordon Brown. The Labour leader said his old master had made a "mistake" when he abolished the 10p rate. Mr Balls was even more brutal, saying their former boss had "set one group against the other" and even likening him to George Osborne. That must have hurt, up there in Kirkaldy. The way the two Eds have told it, they were down on their hands and knees warning Mr Brown that he was about to commit a catastrophic error and imploring him not to do it. Others who were inside the Treasury at the time don't regard this as an entirely accurate portrayal of events. There were a few people – Frank Field was a distinguished example – who did foresee the trouble it would cause, but the two Eds were not among them and stalwartly defended the decision at the time."

Chris Heaton-Harris, he's here all week:

@chhcalling: "A masked gang just stole ten tonnes of Dove soap from a supermarket warehouse. Police say the thieves made a clean getaway."


In the Telegraph

Boris Johnson - Labour shows its true colours with this spiteful tax on homes
Best of the rest
Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) - All good Tories should support a mansion tax
Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun - Welcome Romania, bye bye by-election
Leo McKinstry in the Daily Express - The state cannot be permitted to intrude this far
Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail - I'd be overjoyed if this was the end of the foreign criminals fiasco - but don't hold your breath


TODAY: David Cameron in India as part of his trade mission to the country.
02:00 pm: Environment Secretary Owen Paterson meeting with supermarkets. Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons are among those confirmed to be attending the meeting along with the Institute of Grocery Distribution and the Food and Drink Federation. Nobel House, 17 Smith Square.