Monday, 11 March 2013

Cable considers Labour's mansion tax..

BREAKING NEWS: Vince Cable has told the Today Programme that he would consider backing tomorrow's Labour motion on a mansion tax. "If it is a real commitment I would certainly welcome that. Nick Clegg and I are very strong supporters of a mansion tax [but] we will have a look at what the opposition motion says," he explained.
Earlier, Mr Cable dismissed the suggestion that his plan for greater infrastructure spending would push up the deficit - "the servicing costs are not an issue because the rates of interest are so low". He also described the ring fencing of budgets as " a long-term approach it isn't very sensible."
Good morning. MayDay is edging closer after Saturday's speech. As James Chapman points out in the Mail, the address set out a platform for power well beyond the scope of the Home Office. She flirted with Michael Gove on the front bench, suggesting that free schools ought to be allowed to operate for a profit, and prominent exponents of Plan A+ on the backbench, like George Freeman whose work on introducing principles of private enterprise in the public sector received a nod. The comments suggest that Mrs May is eyeing up Mr Gove as a running mate. She wouldn't be the only one. Gaby Hinsliff suggests that Boris has exactly the same idea. Tim Montgomerie, who found the speech "almost Heseltinian" in its advocation of state interventionism, argues in theTimes (£) that a lack of personal warmth will prevent Mrs May from winning the leadership, adding that she's a boring dinner companion. That may be so, but neither of those qualities held back Mrs Thatcher. The Tories like their iron ladies.
This morning, however, it's the turn of a ghost of leadership elections past. Dr Liam Fox will give a speech at the IFT at 9:30 in which he calls for an end to ring fencing for the NHS, schools and the aid budget. TheTimes (£) reports that Dr Fox will also call for capital gains tax to be cut to zero on a temporary basis to provide an economic stimulus. Few Tory MPs have been as energetic in their bids to build grass roots support through constituency association visits in the last two years. The Sunday Telegraph put the number of Tory leadership bids in ferment at 25 yesterday. It would be a surprise if Dr Fox's name did not crop up somewhere on that list.
In the short-term, though, Dr Fox's remarks simply serve to highlight the growing gulf between the leadership and the backbenches. Sarah Wollaston, who had warned in a deleted tweet reported in the Guardianthat the Prime Minister was "running out of time", writes for us that Dave's inner circle is "far too posh, male and white". It all sounds ominous, but is it that bad? Well, the parliamentary party seem resigned to defeat. Gaby Hinsliff reports that some have resorted to private polling (it's grim), while for others, it has all become a question of academic interest - "I'm starting to wonder if this could be as bad as 1997 again." The Number 10 machine has hardly become a watch-word for political savvy, but it may need recourse to the dark arts if Dave is to stay in the saddle until the next election. Damian McBride, no stranger to abortive leadership bids, had some timely advice at the weekend:
"Perhaps the hardest question of all is if, despite all your efforts, you are still pushed towards the crisis point – where the media have decided one more bad day, resignation or letter will kill you – how do you save yourself? The only answer is to negotiate, perhaps not with the plotters directly, but with influential Cabinet ministers or party figures, asking them what it will take to reach a deal." 
The Ukip surge (an Opinium put them on 17pc at the weekend, althoughMike Smithson is sceptical of its value) offers the Lib Dems an opportunity to target 25 marginal Tory seats, the Independent reports. While the party expects to lose seats where it competes in a head-to-head with Labour, Tim Farron believes that with Ukip splitting the vote on the Right, a number of Tory marginals, particularly in the South-West, could be up for grabs. George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth), Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) and Zac Goldsmith (Richmond) are all reportedly in the crosshairs.
Of course, another consequence of Ukip's rise is that the Lib Dems are no longer the party of protest. That's fine, Nick Clegg told the Spring Conference yesterday. While the Tories veer to the Right like (over-laboured political analogy alert) a "broken shopping trolley", the Lib Dems are "centrist", he insisted. As the Guardian reports, he not also slapped down Plan V saying "we will not flinch from the deficit", as well as refusing to countenance a British withdrawal from European human rights treaties. It wasn't all "Clegg-nam style" in Brighton, Jo Shaw used her podium speech to resign her party membership over secret courts, but a weekend which could have given rise to some serious blood-letting has seen the party emerge looking surprisingly self-assured and relatively unified. Tories take note.
There may need to be emergency legislation pushed through Parliament to prevent thousands of claims for compensation after IDS's workfare scheme was struck down on a technicality last month. That won't please the Archbishop of Canterbury, who made his first major public policy intervention at the weekend, attacking welfare cuts as a dereliction of duty to the "vulnerable and in need". In retaliation, IDS has doled out what the Sun calls a "Bish slap" this morning, defending his work as "moral and fair".
It's Market day for Labour as both Ed and Chuka Umunna pitch up at Brixton Maket to trail the recommendations in the party's Small Business Taskforce report, published later this week. The main departure with the immediate past is a change of emphasis on regulation. Mr Umunna will say:
"We need a new approach to regulation which demands better quality, as well as reducing the quantity of regulation... Badly drawn up and overly complex regulation impacts disproportionately on smaller firms without armies of employees. We should give firms of all sizes the maximum flexibility on how they meet regulatory demands."
After she opens trading at the LSE today, Justine Greening will give a speech at 8:30 on how the British aid budget stimulates economic growth around the world ("just not at home," the critics will growl). Britain's stance on aid, which Dr Liam Fox will attack in his speech at the IFS beginning an hour later, has also won the backing of 27 FTSE chief executives who have written to the FT (£) calling the 0.7pc of GDP target "a smart inves tment".
Nick de Bois has become the latest MP to argue publicly for the resignation of Sir David Nicholson. On ConservativeHome he argues that NHS reform can only arise "by both replacing Sir David Nicholson and with No. 10 seizing the moment to provide fresh political leadership." His views are shared by Francis Maude who believes that Sir David has mismanaged the NHS budget when it comes to IT projects, according to the Mail. Sir David will be quizzed on these projects - and on his personal expenses bill - by the Public Accounts Committee which is expected to summon him this week.
GM crops should be sold in Europe, the Environment Secretary will argue in a speech which has the backing of George Osborne, the Mailreports. Given entrenched German and French opposition, Mr Paterson's best option is to argue for each nation setting its own rules where "Frankenstein food" is concerned. Given how well the cross-border labelling arrangements have shaped up over the horse meat crisis, that won't be a hard case to make...
The values of loyalty and service which define the armed forces are in danger of being eroded by the Government's tendency to "substitute [troops'] courage for inadequate funding", a report written for the UK National Defence Association has found. We report that with troop levels at their lowest since the 1920's, no aircraft carrier for most of this decade, tank units shortly to be stripped of tanks and the Chancellor pushing for a further £10bn of cuts in 2015/16, morale is low. But then, if you want first-rate equipment provided by the British taxpayer, you have to join the Syrian militia.
Chris Huhne and ex-wife Vicky Pryce will both be sentenced today following the latter's conviction on a charge of perverting the course of justice at the weekend. A tale of our times or simply a personal tragedy? The latter, according to Paddy Ashdown. The Times (£) reports that he told the Lib Dem conference that "I feel sorry for Chris but he has got himself into this position."
The "ordinary worker" dressed as a nurse on the Lib Dem website is in fact a former by-election opponent, the Mirror reveals. Wonderbra model Louise Cole won 91 votes for the Miss Great Britain Party at the 2008 Henley by-election.  
Paddy Ashdown is the main guest on The Agenda this evening. The programme will air on ITV at 10:35pm.
The Women of the World festival doesn't go quite to plan for Diane Abbott:

HackneyAbbott: "Mass hysteria in Queen Elizabeth Hall @southbankcentre People have spotted a mouse. Screaming women probably panicked it. #WOW2013" 


In the Telegraph

Peter Oborne - The Queen's leadership is special
Best of the rest

Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) - Theresa May-nia won't become contagious
Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun - Ed dreams of win...don't let him in

TODAY: Falkland Islands referendum opens. The result is expected 1am on Tuesday GMT.
07:50 am: International Development Secretary Justine Greening speech on how the UK aid budget will boost economic growth across the world. Market open ceremony from 07:50 followed by speech at 08:30. London Stock Exchange, 10 Paternoster Square.
09:30 am: Liam Fox speech on the economy to Institute of Economic Affairs. Institute of Economic Affairs, 2 Lord North Street.
10:30 am: Government's Abu Qatada appeal. Three Court of Appeal judges will hear Home Secretary Theresa May's challenge against the decision to allow radical preacher Abu Qatada to stay in the UK. The Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand.
10:30 am: Launch of report on modern slavery in Britain with Labour MP Frank Field. The National Liberal Club, One Whitehall Place.
11:30 am: Taoiseach Enda Kenny in London visit. Business event Mansion House, City of London 11.30am; Address British Irish Chamber of Commerce Lunch, Savoy Place 1:00pm; Address London School of Economics 3:00pm; Meet David Cameron 5:00pm.
03:15 pm: The Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, to attend the Commonwealth Day Observance at Westminster Abbey and Commonwealth Reception at Marlborough House.
04:10 pm: The Transport Committee holds first oral evidence session on access to transport for people with disabilities.