Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Eyes on Threadneedle Street as growth forecasts are due..

Good morning. The Bank of England publishes its latest growth and inflation forecasts at 10:30 this morning with a demob happy Sir Mervyn King then being subject to a Q&A at, where else, Bloomberg. All eyes will be on the growth forecast and the potential for a triple dip recession. In the plus column, headwinds from the eurozone have subsided a little, the stock markets are up and US GDP looks like it may have grown after all in Q4.  On the negative side of the has snowed a bit. The CBI stuck their neck out yesterday and said that, while the Government would miss next year's original borrowing projection by £75bn, there would be good news in Q1 and no triple dip, we report.
The good news would be welcome. The weekly Sun/YouGov poll published this morning echoes yesterday's Guardian/ICM effort giving Labour 42pc of the vote and an 11pt lead over Team Dave. Moreover theResolution Foundation report published yesterday holds out little hope for the squeezed middle. As I wrote in this week's column, the cost of living will be one of the key battles of the next election, and if voters are worse off now, this needs to balanced by the realistic hope of jam tomorrow. With spending so far off its original path, there are questions to be asked about the credibility of deficit reduction claims after the next election. Certainly, the corporate tax avoidance crackdown announced in today's FT (£) (happy 125th birthday, by the way) won't cover the distance alone. Tory succour, of course, comes from the fact that this is even more of a problem for Ed. It isn't his only one, as Mary Riddell writes for us today:
"Mr Miliband has had rather little to say about foreign affairs, deferring largely to Douglas Alexander and the shadow defence secretary, Jim Murphy... Mr Miliband, who is finally planning to outline his foreign policy priorities in a major speech expected after the Budget, cannot afford for Labour to be made insular by recession or by the party’s newfound worship of tradition."

David Cameron chaired a ministerial working group on immigration yesterday and urged colleagues to find a way of deterring Romanian and Bulgarian immigration when controls lapse at the end of this year, theTimes (£) reports. Ideas include limiting access to healthcare for migrants, forcing those without jobs after three months to buy health insurance or leave, and a more concerted effort to claw back NHS costs. Dave's personal intervention is significant - as Nigel Farage has pointed out, European immigration is a key issue in Labour marginals and one the Tories must show themselves to be on top of if they want to carry the 2015 election.
In a Spectator interview, planning minister Nick Boles has also questioned whether Britain's infrastructure could cope with a fresh influx of migrants, particularly considering that 1.7m have already arrived in the last 10 years. If spending over here is becoming too expensive, spending over there isn't working either. Moving farther afield, Ken Clarke conceded yesterday that compensation payments to those claiming to have been mis-treated by the security services have probably gone to fund terrorism in some instances, we report.
The horse meat story has rumbled on for so long that even the Sun has run out of puns, a forlorn "horse meat in kebabs" headline adorning the front page. The news that a slaughterhouse in West Yorkshire and a processing plant in Aberystwyth are being investigated for passing off horse meat as beef has left Owen Paterson "shocked", we report. Perception of grip is important, and at the moment, Mr Paterson has it, aided by the fact that Labour's criticisms of the FSA and its accountability are somewhat muted - they designed and founded it in 2000. There is a meeting of European agriculture ministers in Dublin today which Mr Paterson has been partly responsible for arranging, so we should be clearer on how the meat got here soon, even if where it is now remains something of a mystery.
Workfare was dealt a minor blow yesterday when the Government lost an appeal lodged on behalf of a woman whose benefits were made conditional on her working in a Poundshop. IDS, enthusiasm undimmed, has reacted by demanding  an extension of the back-to-work programme, we report. This is not entirely counter-intuitive. For a start the DWP are likely to appeal the verdict. Secondly, the judges ruled there was no breach of the claimant's human rights - their objection was to a lack of clarity in the documents setting out the penalties for non-compliance. As we argue the fact that the court endorsed the principle of workfare meant the decision was more a blow for the Left than the Government.
The Government's proposal for a new press regulator overseen by Royal Charter was announced yesterday (the Independent has a useful walk through here). It won Mr Cameron a loving embrace from the Mail which termed him a "man of principle [amidst] political pygmies". The Sun is grumpier, headlining their piece "papers to face massive fines", but even so, the reaction on Fleet Street seems cautiously positive, the same as the reaction from Labour. Objections from the Lib Dems are noted in theGuardian. A shame they will not be able to call on one of their leading critics of self-regulation in the press while Chris Huhne is otherwise engaged.
This afternoon is the deadline for registering as a candidate in the Eastleigh by-election (it's also the postal voting registration deadline). Just in time, Labour have officially selected John O'Farrell, a satirist theGuardian describes as "a writer of jokes for Gordon Brown". Ukip's candidate Diane James has kicked off her campaign by accusing the three largest parties of having a vested interest in mass immigration, particularly Labour, as we report. The Tories and Lib Dems, meanwhile,are scrapping over who wants to build the worst carbunkles on Eastleigh's green and pleasant land. For them, the battle is critical. For Labour, too, as I argued yesterday:
"Consider Labour's position in the general election. It may be ahead in the polls, but it is not nearly where it needs to be to be certain of victory. Ed Miliband must prove that he can take votes off the Lib Dems, and can win seats in Lib Dem areas. He must also show that Labour is capable of winning seats beyond Labour's urban and northern heartlands. And he must reassure his troops that he has an appeal that translates his talk of One Nation into votes for Labour in deep Middle England."
The credit for Dave's EU summit bargain belongs to...Nick Clegg, according to no lesser source than the Deputy Prime Minister. Having last year claimed that Conservatives who wanted a budget cut had "absolutely no hope", Mr Clegg revealed to the Commons yesterday that he had "spent months making the case for a tough approach", we report. There was much Tory mirth in Cabinet yesterday apparently when Mr Clegg lavished Mr Cameron with flattery for his triumph in Brussels, when only weeks before he had dismissed his approach as hopeless. Bandwagon jumper.
Michael Gove's team will be waiting nervously on news from the Royal Courts of Justice where a verdict is due to be handed down at 10:30 this morning in the GCSE English marking cases brought by an alliance of schools and campaigners. If that goes badly, there will be far more questions to answer than from the Independent's splash this morning, making a spirited attempt to accuse the Education Secretary of bribery through incentivising schools to choose academy status. 
It isn't just their candidate in Eastleigh whose familiarity with the copy and paste function has proven embarrassing for the Tories. Our reportthis morning describes how senior Conservative MEPs have also been accused of copying and pasting text taken directly from lobbyists from Amazon, Google and other online firms into amendments to EU legislation on consumer data protection.
Following the successful debut of Dave's double parting on Monday, the Guardian has helpfully published "for Cameron - the five rules of baldness" (it lists 10 online). "Wigs are available, if you insist", it advises.One like this, perhaps?
Without a date on Valentines Day? Fear not, the BBC is running a five hour long television special devoted to Harold Wilson on its Parliament channel. The broadcaster has gone out of its way to avoid using any images of Wilson's pipe smoking in its promotional materials and has apparently applied the brush equally strictly in the programme itself. Lord Donoughue, Wilson's right-hand man during his years in power, has called the corporation's censorship "Stalinist", we report. Quite a compliment from the old Left, no?

If Paul Flynn's a betting man, well, he probably shouldn't be:

@Paulflynnmp: "John O'Farrell, an inspired choice for Eastleigh by-election. Voters will love him and shoals of vote will go walkabout. My money is on John"
The Sun/YouGov: Con 31%, Lab 42%, Lib Dem 11%, Ukip 9%

In the Telegraph 

Best of the rest

Daniel Finkelstein in The Times (£) - I'm Jewish, so the next Pope matters to me
Martin Wolf in the FT (£) - The case for helicopter money...
Ian Birrell in the Daily Mail - Why does no one ever take the blame any more?

TODAY: Irish agriculture minister Simon Coveney has called a meeting of EU ministers today to discuss the horse meat issue.
09:30 am: Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw gives evidence to the Commons Education Committee. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
10:00 am: President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, annual evidence session with House of Lords Constitution Committee. Committee Room 1, House of Lords.
10:00 am: Ruling in GCSE High Court case. A decision will be announced in a legal challenge by an alliance of pupils, schools and councils over last summer's GCSE English controversy. The Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand.
10:30 am: Bank of England publishes latest forecasts for growth and inflation. Followed by Q&A with governor Sir Mervyn King. Bloomberg.
10:30 am: Energy Secretary Ed Davey gives evidence to Lords committee on EU energy policy. Committee Room 3A, House of Lords.
12:00 pm: Prime Minister's Questions. House of Commons.
02:00 pm: Home Secretary Theresa May gives evidence to Lords EU sub-committee on UK opt-out decision on home affairs. Committee Room 4A, House of Lords.
04:00 pm: Nominations in the Eastleigh by-election close.