Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Coffee House: Evening Blend..

Today in brief

  • The jury in the Vicky Pryce trial was discharged after failing to reach a verdict.
  • The government's deficit reduction plans were dealt a blow by lower-than-expected 4G auction proceeds.
  • Unemployment fell 14,000 in the last quarter of 2012 to 2.5 million.
  • In Eastleigh Boris Johnson accused the Lib Dems of being 'wobbling jellies of indecision and vacillation'.

The Analysis

Breaking gossip: Coffee House understands that as Maria Hutchings is unable to make tomorrow's BBC 5Live hustings, she's going to get empty chaired while all the other candidates answer questions. 

Boris is beastly in Eastleigh

Boris Johnson was meting out his own foppish cruelty in the constituency today, accusing the Lib Dems of being 'wobbling jellies of indecision and vacillation - particularly Clegg', whose 'single contribution to politics has been to do a U-turn on a tuition fees and make a song about it'. 
It will be interesting to see the effects on the by-election of the jury in the Vicky Pryce trial being discharged without reaching a verdict. When Grant Shapps addressed the 1922 committee last week, he told them that the Huhne verdict might well come on polling day itself. You can read the 10 questions from the jury to the judge in the case here.
James examines the Tory and Lib Dem campaign machines in this by-election in his political column in this week's Spectator, predicting that 'it promises to be a cruel spring for David Cameron'. Meanwhile Labour is trying to prod the Lib Dems on their new mansion tax plan, with party sources telling Isabel that if they don't get an Opposition Day debate on the policy, they'll table an amendment to the Finance Bill.

Good jobs news...

Another jobs boost for the Coalition: the number of people in work rose by 154,000 in the last three months of 2012 to a new record high of 29.73 million — surpassing pre-recession peak by 158,000. And unlike other recent rounds of employment growth, this wasn’t driven by a rise in part-time workers (their number actually fell by 43,000). But as Jonathan points out in his graphtastic briefing, ministers need to beware getting too excited: the unemployment rate could well rise again by the summer.

...but bad 4G job by govt

Ministers had got rather too excited about the magic the proceeds of the 4G spectrum auction could do for the government's deficit reduction programme. As our analysis of the £2.3 billion profit (George Osborne was hoping for the £3.5 billion forecast by the OBR) suggests, Osborne's hopes that the deficit would fall this year look rather bleak. 
Some government figures attempted damage limitation: Nick Clegg said 'the sole purpose of this exercise was not simply raising revenue', while Maria Miller said the economy would still get a boost from the network.

Mitch's pitch

Was Andrew Mitchell writing a job application in his piece for the FT today? James examines what the former chief whip might be up to here.

Tomorrow's agenda

  • David Cameron, George Osborne, Ed Llewellyn and Lynton Crosby meet at Chequers to discuss party strategy on immigration and welfare.
  • UN Security Council meeting on North Korea after last week's nuclear test.
  • 09.30: The ONS publishes borrowing figures for January. Citi expects a surplus of £18bn, up from £6.4bn last year – but that includes £11.5bn from the transfer of QE interest income from the Bank of England.
  • 22.35: BBC Question Time from St Paul's Cathedral. Panel: Vince Cable, Michael Heseltine, Diane Abbott, Giles Fraser and Peter Hitchens.

Some vital statistics

  • Latest YouGov: 15pt Labour lead (Lab 44%, Con 29%, LD 11%, Ukip 11%). Implied Labour majority of 146.
  • Next government chances, as implied by bookies: Lab majority 40%, Con majority 22%, Lab-LD coalition 15%, Con-LD coalition 12%, other 11%.
  • Government borrowing cost (10-year bond yield): 2.20% (+0.01pts).
  • Eastleigh by-election chances, as implied by bookies (with changes since yesterday): Lib Dems 72% (+9), Con 20% (-7), Ukip 4% (0), Lab 3% (-1), other 1% (-1).

In tomorrow's Spectator

1. A fight to the death in Eastleigh. By-elections are odd affairs, but few can have been odder than the Eastleigh campaign. James Forsyth reports from the doorstep, where voters are bemused by the spectacle of coalition big-wigs knocking seven bells out of each other. Neither side can afford to lose, so each is going for broke. The Lib Dems have a clear advantage on the ground. The Tories are already preparing excuses. Ukip is coming up fast behind.
And Tristram Hunt warns against discounting Labour: the party is serious about winning in the south.
2. Too many taxes! It’s the modern cure for everything from farting cows to irritatingly grand houses. Now a new tax on sugary drinks is being considered. But however much politicians love them, taxes shouldn’t be used as punishment and they’re no substitute for policy, says our editorial. Let's try to remember what taxes are actually for.
3. Oh how I miss England. Rachel Ward, star of The Thorn Birds, moved to Australia many decades ago with her husband Bryan Brown. Only now as she returns home from a visit to England has she realised how much she misses the countryside, friends and family of her homeland.
4. The Good Life anticipated Thatcher. The sitcom, whose star Richard Briers died earlier this week, was all about self-sufficiency and self-betterment says William Cook. Margo Leadbetter was the ultimate Thatcher woman: proud and patriotic.
PLUS: Charles Moore defends Hilary Mantel from the media and politicians, Steerpike reveals that Prince Philip wishes that the Queen had 'done a Ratzo' after eighy years in the job, and Ferdinand Mount says that, although you may think NYC or London is the place to be, Calcutta is really where it’s at. And there’s much, much more.