Monday, 18 March 2013

Agreement on Leveson..

BREAKING NEWS: There will be a Royal Charter to regulate the press. Harriet Harman has confirmed that a new press regulator would be created with its details published this morning and put to MPs this afternoon. Peers will then be asked to agree a "small piece of legislation" which would effectively prevent the charter being watered down. So a charter solution with a legislative underpinning - something for both sides to take back to the base. Mrs Harman told ITV's Daybreak:
"I think we have got an agreement which protects the freedom of the press, that is incredibly important in a democracy, but also protects the rights of people not to have their lives turned upside down.
"You don't have to choose should you have a free press or should you protect people from abuse by the press. You can actually have both, and I think that is the agreement that we have reached and we will put it to the House of Commons this afternoon and I hope that we won't have a vote because I hope that everybody will be agreed."
Good morning. The blame-shifting game is going on in the eurozone. Today is reporting that European officials are briefing that they would have been content for a "bail-in" from only those with high deposits, and there are rumours that the country's bank holiday may be extended so that the banding can be changed in order to make it more sympathetic to those with small savings. The Times (£) reports that while the British taxpayer will pick up the tab for soldiers stationed on the island, up to 60,000 Britons may lose money from their deposit accounts without a refund - taxes are not covered under deposit guarantee schemes. The markets are worried. Futures trading implies that the FTSE 100 will open down by over 120 points, or 2pc. Fear of deposit taxes being extended to Spain has led to the euro being driven down in the Asian markets overnight. After a placid start to 2013, uncertainty is back with a bang. You can follow the key measures on our live blog here.
The domestic consequences, particularly in Budget week, are profound. Domestic savers will be praying that arbitrary deductions from deposit accounts don't become another part of the unconventional "tool kits" beloved of policymakers (don't worry - things aren't that bad here). Politically, this is a fillip for the Tory Right. Daniel Hannan, writing in the Mail, writes that "the dream of political union matters more to Europe's governing caste that the well-being of the people they represent. Shame on them." Expect the calls for an early referendum on a Brexit to become considerably louder. And what for George? Well, rebalancing is not going to be helped by yet another funk in a key export market. As I argue in my blog, all bets may now be off so far as growth is concerned:
"Mr Osborne has long said that the glimmers of recovery and the hopes of a return to growth later this year are predicated in part on avoiding another external shock to the British economy from the eurozone... He was praying for not another crisis from across the Channel. The news from a small island may force him to revise what he has to say yet further, and could blow apart what recovery there might have been, with political consequences for the Tories, David Cameron, and him."
It looks like Dave may have won a triumph on the Leveson proposals. Harriet Harman's remarks on Daybreak suggest that both sides have given a little, but Labour have given the most. While there will be a statutory provision preventing ministers from meddling with the terms of the Royal Charter, the fact that the regulator will not itself be established by statute allows the Prime Minister to claim that his hardball approach at the end of last week has paid dividends.
This arrangement should leave Dave with a happy conservative press. While Harriet Harman denied at the weekend that Labour was simply Hugh Grant's political arm, Trevor Kavanagh argues in the Sun that the cult of victimhood is being used to surrender press freedoms which will never be regained. The Sun's front page is adorned with a portrait of a picture of Churchill arguing for a free press, leaving little doubt where they stand. Likewise, the Mail's leader asks whether MPs are really ready to "betray that proud legacy to kow-tow to the hectoring zealots of Hacked Off", while we argue that "a muzzled media will make victims of us all". As Boris Johnson points out in his column, only a gutter press can sweep the gutters of public life:
"But if Parliament agrees to anything remotely approaching legislation, it will be handing politicians the tools they need to begin the job of cowing and even silencing the press; and what began by seeming in the public interest will end up eroding the freedoms of everyone in this country. It is a completely retrograde step, and will be viewed with bemusement by human rights organisations around the world."
George Osborne is clearly in accord with Fraser Nelson over the importance of the over-65s to the economy. The Budget details announced over the weekend - a flat rate state pension brought forward to 2016 from 2017, a slightly lower cap on social care costs - are a boost for retiring women in particular, but have led to allegations of myopia when it comes to the unintended consequences for private pensions. Today, the Chancellor will give a qualified backing to Lord Heseltine's growth plan, accepting 81 of his 89 recommendations and pledging billions to regional development. In the Guardian, Nicholas Watt writes that George sees his backbenchers breaking down into three groups - those troubled by the cost of living, those worried by competitiveness, and those wanting unfunded tax cuts. In appealing to the first two, he hopes to be able to disregard the "impossible" demands of the latter, a necessary evil since the FT (£) reports he will be forced to announce that debt levels will not start to fall until 2017/18, two years later than planned originally, and a year later than he announced in December.
But, as Lord Ashcroft has warned, tax cuts are also important to show the public that you are on their side. As Matthew Sinclair points out writing for us, more people believe that the moon landings were faked than believe that the Government taxes or spends too little. The Times(£) suggests that the personal allowance may rise to £10,000 from next year onwards, but the Lib Dems have claimed the credit for that policy.Norman Lamont, writing in the paper, adds that a "boring" Budget would be best as there cannot be tax cuts before spending has fallen. Ben Gummer argues today in City AM that governments cannot create growth and so the focus on short term tax rate changes is a distraction.
That's not the way the public or press think of it, though. Fail to deliver more than tinkering, and George's already toxic reputation may deteriorate to the point where Dave has to consider his position. In theMail, Peter McKay suggests that "Forensic Phil" Hammond has the theoretical and practical knowledge of government accounting to do the job. A promotion would also deprive Theresa May of a useful ally.
Britain's oldest MP is ready to stand aside for Boris Johnson should London's mayor wish to take a run at the leadership, the Sun reports. Sir Peter Tapsell was overheard telling David Cameron that he was "keeping his seat [Louth and Horncastle] warm" for Boris. Meanwhile Adam Afriye (remember him?) told the Sunday Politics that he had "no ambition" to lead the party", but would always act in the party interest. Concerningly for Dave, he also repeatedly refused to say that he had "no doubt" over Mr Cameron's leadership until 2015. The plotting is still alive and well on the backbenches.
More Lib-Lab common ground. Ed Miliband is preparing to ditch his party's commitment to a like-for-like replacement for Trident, the FT (£) reports. While Ed wants to retain a nuclear deterrent, he will seek to either cut back on the number of Vanguard-class submarines from four to three, arm submarines with fewer warheads, or opt for a cheaper design. A final decision is expected after the Cabinet Office completes its Trident review.
Sir David Nicholson is back before a Commons committee today when he answers questions from the Public Accounts Committee on the NHS's IT spending and consultants pay. As the Mail reports, Sir David may have some explaining to do regards his own £50,000 expense account. It's not just money which has irked MPs - Charlotte Leslie writes for us that Sir David should not be allowed to appoint fellow travellers to key NHS positions - but Jeremy Hunt appears to be standing by his man. As we report, he said yesterday that he had not discussed a prospectiveresignation with Sir David.
When a shopper briefly abandons their car to step into a shop, "officious parking wardens move in faster that a Liberal Democrat on the M11," Eric Pickles explained at the Conservative Spring Forum at the weekend. Aswe report, the Local Government Secretary is considering issuing new rules preventing parking wardens issuing  penalties to people briefly visiting their local shops.
An independent study in Romania seen by the Telegraph has found that around 22,000 people, 8pc of the 7pc of the population who wanted to work in the wider EU, want to come to Britain in the next six months.

An evening of Lenny Henry's entertainment proves too much for Jim Sheridan:

@JimSheridanMP: "Watched and contributed to Comic Relief last night what a cruel and unfair world." 


In the Telegraph

Boris Johnson - Only a gutter press can keep clean the gutters of public life
Best of the Rest

Norman Lamont in The Times (£) - I believe in tax cuts. But cut the deficit first
Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun - Hugh hysteria puts our freedom at risk

MPs to vote on amendments to Crime and Courts Bill tabled by David Cameron to allow his Royal Charter response to the Leveson Report to go ahead. Likely to be some time between 10pm and midnight. House of Commons.
03:15 pm: NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson gives evidence to the Commons Public Accounts Committee. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.
03:30 pm: David Cameron statement in the Commons. The Prime Minister will update MPs on the European Council summit. House of Commons.