Thursday, 14 February 2013

Ed attacks on standard of living..

Good morning. Ed Miliband took the Reagan route yesterday. His PMQ's question to the Prime Minister - will voters be better off in 2015 than they were in 2010 - sets out his stall for the years ahead. As I argued earlier this week, weak economic performance means that standards of living will be the issue of the next election. Today he will make his big economy speech, although as Dave gleefully noted at the despatch box yesterday, it will contain "no new policies" as such. The timing is right. Yesterday's combination of Bank of England forecasts suggesting that inflation will remain above target until 2016 (as it has been for 40 consecutive quarters), and the ONS's review of living standards which concluded we are back in 2003 in terms of real wages, point to an atmosphere of gloom on the high street. Contrasting that with Dave auctioning off a portrait of himself for £100,000 at the Tory Winter Ball might have been a cheap jibe, but it resonated yesterday. Michael Deacon might not have been convinced by Ed Miliband: Working-Class Hero, but if the Labour leader can appear somewhat more grounded than Dave, he will feel he is winning half the battle.
Ed's speech has not been heavily trailed, but clues abound. His chief strategist Stewart Wood has an article in the Huffington Post. His focus is on the "plight of the Middle" which he conceives in terms of competitiveness internationally, solidarity at home and the questionable sustainability of the welfare state in its current form. His boss, meanwhile, gives an interview to the Guardian promising that 2015 will be a "living standards election" and promises to ask the "are you better off than five years ago" question relentlessly over the course of the campaign. 
So far, so strivers. But convincing people that they are worse off than they were is only half the battle. The Tory attack line that Labour is both responsible for the sins of the past and a blank slate on policy needs to be addressed if Ed is to provoke a switch to Labour based on the economy. As Steve Richards argues in the Independent, his big speeches tend to pose more questions than they answer. Now it is time for the policy. 
10P OR NOT 10P?
Ed may not be the only man with a plan for the economy. As we report, Dave's PMQs comments were interpreted in some quarters as hinting that he prepared to back the backbench campaign led by Robert Halfon for the reintroduction of the 10p band for low income taxpayers. David Laws rubbished the idea later in the afternoon when he said that raising the income tax threshold would be a "far more effective" way of achieving the same end. Tory malcontents casting around for a cause ahead of the Budget may have just found one. Poor George. It isn't just Dave writing his Budgets for him, given that the 10p campaign is the follow-on to the fuel duty freeze, it's Mr Halfon as well.
Companies providing goods and services to Whitehall will need to demonstrate that their tax affairs are arranged in a way "acceptable" to the British public, Danny Alexander will announce today. Firms which have been penalised under tax avoidance rules at any point in the past decade will be forbidden from pitching for contracts worth £2m or over, the FT (£) reports.
Dave is headed to India next month on a student-gathering drive. As we report, his message will be that there is "no limit at all" to Indian immigration on student visas. There will be a limit on what immigrants from Europe and elsewhere can expect once they arrive, however. TheIndependent has additional details from Dave's Bulgarian/Romanian migrant control meeting earlier this week - he has asked ministers to find ways of cutting welfare payments, limiting access to legal aid and addressing health tourism. At present, EU rules appear to make it all but impossible for him to do this for European nationals. Fertile ground for renegotiation, perhaps?
The Sun reports that the Lib Dems are pushing for a blackout on the details of Cabinet discussions ahead of the next election. The paper reasons that "they fear their crusades for tax hikes and softer immigration curbs could be used against them". Writing for us, Peter Oborne argues that the party has bigger problems that verbally incontinent Tory Cabinet members:
"One needs a heart of stone not to empathise with the Lib Dem problem. For almost half a century, the party has become accustomed to launching opportunistic assaults on government. During this period it has never troubled itself with consistency and coherence, allowing it to seize on local grievances with great skill and ferocious passion. This is the only language it knows, and it is starting to pose a real threat to sound government." 
The Prime Minister breaks with convention to campaign in Eastleigh today, with Boris due to visit later in the week. The Conservative campaign needs all the help it can get. In the betting markets, the Lib Dems are firming up. Mike Smithson's read across from Betfair gives the Tories a 37pc chance, as opposed to a 53.5pc chance for the Lib Dems. Meanwhile, as Eastleigh News reports, the by-election is now closed to entrants. A field of 13 will go to post on the 28th. They include representatives from the Wessex Regionalists, the Monster Raving Loony Party, the Elvis Loves Pets Party, and the splendidly named Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party.
The man who won the single currency opt-out at Maastricht will back David Cameron's approach to European renegotiation in a speech made at Chatham House at noon. He will say that the step is a "gamble which can't be avoided" and add that it will appeal to voters with "Tory heads but Ukip hearts". There is a live-stream of the event available here.
"The man without shame" as he is known to Mail readers, Sir David Nicholson to the rest of us, is under more pressure this morning after a former employee of United Lincolnshire Hospital Trusts claimed to have been paid £500,000 to remain quiet about his belief that "target culture" in the hospitals was costing lives. Quite aside from the allegations themselves, the sum paid on condition of silence is extraordinary. The best use of public funds? Apparently so.
Ministers had been warned that a ban last year on cheap British beef and lamb made it "inevitable" that unlawful meat would start arriving from Europe, the Times (£) reports. MPs on the environment select committee will also warn today that it is "improbable" food hygeine standards were rigrously adhered to when the meat was imported, and that some of it may have been contaminated with a painkiller linked to cancer, we add
Ed's speech is not the only game in town today so far as Labour policy making goes. The Independent reports that Jim Murphy will endorse earlier "preventative action" through Nato, but will add that "threats overseas may necessitate the use of military force" and criticise Douglas Hurd for his reticence to intervene in Bosnia. The paper adds that Mr Murphy is a "Blairite". Who'd have thought?
The Education Secretary has been asked by the Commons' education select committee to clarify remarks he made in Parliament to the effect that he was not aware of claims that his SpAds had been accused of bullying civil servants in his department , according to the FT (£). Labour claim that he must have been aware of a long-standing grievance procedure which resulted in a £25,000 compensation payment to a senior civil servant. Quite unnecessary to call for evidence, you would have thought. Could the committee not just have tweeted @toryeducation?
Discrimination over mental health makes it too difficult for MPs to talk to doctors in their own constituencies, the Commons Members' Estimate Committee believes. As the Times (£) reports, it has agreed to set aside £25,000 to provide specialist facilities at Westminster to help members cope with the stresses and strains of the role. 
Oh dear. Whatever the intention, Keith Vaz's tweet on the topic of Theresa May's weight - "a bit worried about Home Secretary, she is looking a bit thin these days. A new diet or pressure of work?" - seems to have caused considerable upset on the Tory benches. The Mail huffs that this was "not a comment you're likely to hear about him!" and quotes a Tory MP telling Mr Vaz to "concentrate on his own waistline". Catty.

Tonight's Question Time comes from Leicester and features Maria Miller, Mary Creagh, Susan Kramer, George Galloway and Fraser Nelson.

It's St Valentine's Day, and romance is alive and well in the De Piero household:

@GloriaDePieroMP: "
Can't quite believe it but I've just given @jamesro47 a revolving spice rack for valentine's day #giftsyoubuywhenyouhit40"

In the Telegraph 
Harry Wallop - Food fraud: If you don't look for it, you can't find it
Best of the rest
John O'Farrell in The Guardian - Why I am standing for Labour in the Eastleigh by-election
Richard Gnoddle and Michael Sherwood in The Times (£) - The City knows an EU exit spells disaster
TODAY: Energy Secretary Ed Davey speech at the Oslo Energy Forum. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to publish a green paper on youth custody. Second reading of Succession to the Crown Bill in the House of Lords. 
0930 am: Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) releases its arrears and repossessions and buy-to-let figures for the fourth quarter of 2012.
10:00 am: Labour MP Jon Cruddas speech to IPPR. Community Links, 105 Barking Road.
11:00 am: Foreign Secretary William Hague to speak about counter-terrorism at the annual RUSI lecture. Royal United Services Institute, Whitehall.
11:00 am: Labour leader Ed Miliband speech and Q&A on "Rebuilding Britain". Bedford Training Group, 59 Brunel Rd, Bedford.
12:00 pm: Sir John Major speech on the EU referendum. Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, 10 St James's Square.
12:30 pm: Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy speech on UK response to terror threat from North Africa. Committee Room 9, House of Commons