Wednesday, 27 March 2013

David Miliband is go..

Good morning. In my office I have one of those life-sized cut outs of David Miliband holding a banana that I borrowed from the Tory press office in Manchester back in 2008. He's followed me from the Burma Road to Telegraph Towers and I'm quite attached to him. What do I do now? Mili D's decision to chuck it in and head for New York is a blow to his followers in the Labour party who nurtured a diminishing hope that he might yet find a place in Labour's high command and maybe even the top job that he tried and failed to win. There will be plenty of analysis of what his departure says about the state of his brother's credibility. In hisover-long letter announcing his plan to resign at some unspecified point, he says keeping the Coalition to one term is "achievable", hardly a sure bet. He doesn't say Labour will win or his brother will be PM.
David M has confirmed what Westminster knew the minute the leadership result was announced: that he was finished as a leadership contender. Losers don't get a second chance in our politics. It was his misfortune to be beaten by his brother, which excluded any possibility of an elder statesman role that might otherwise have been available to him. Peter Mandelson tried to keep the comeback option open last night, but that's fantasy. He's gone and free. Rather than "what if", we should be asking "what now" for his brother. At one level, it will be a relief to EdMil and those around him. Was he consulted in advance I wonder? But the likely impact is bound to be negative: it will be taken as a vote of no confidence not just in the chances of a Labour victory, but in the capacity of the Ed Mil project to accommodate the Labour modernisers of the Blairite wing. That should worry the party.
Labour are putting a brave face on Mili D's decision to accept a position at the International Rescue Committee.  Tessa Jowell has told the Today programme that "this is not any old job. This will be a channel for all his passion". She added that "this is a way of moving on from what is the legitimate fascination of [the brothers'] relationship." Ed is also being quotes as saying that British politics is a "poorer place" without his brother. "As for us, we went through a difficult leadership contest but time has helped to heal that. I will miss him. But although he is moving to America, I know he will always be there to offer support and advice when I need it," he said. In a Guardian blog, Nicholas Watt adds that David's connections insist that "he is not going to be the prince over the water. He is not going to come back to run Labour. That has gone." Meanwhile, over at the New Statesman, Rafael Behr puts it most starkly of all:
"Whatever happens, it has been clear for some time that the next act in the Labour drama was being written without a starring role for David Miliband and he knew it. Since he had no lines in the script, no rousing soliloquies to deliver, he has sensibly chosen to leave the stage."
Boris' hagiography on BBC2 earlier this week overlooked one significant talent - his singing. Bo-Jo treated Michael Deacon to a stirring rendition of Bob Marley's Three Little Birds while launching a busking competition yesterday. On this evidence, perhaps he shouldn't give up the day job. Then again, perhaps he should. Michael Gove's wife is certainly of that view. Writing in the Times (£), Sarah Vine writes that while Boris is not a nasty piece of work, "his bluff exterior belies a single-minded ambition: succeed at everything and anything. As someone close to him once remarked as we watched him thrashing our seven-year-old sons at football, he does hate to lose". However, "Johnson's real enemy is not himself but the way others perceive him...Tories who erroneouslybelieve that a) all the party needs to do to get a majority at the next election is be more like Ukip (they tried that in 2005 and look how well that went) and b) that Johnson would be the man to make this happen (he lives in Islington, remember?)". The verdict? "He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy." Biting. After Michael raged at Theresa May in Cabinet and now Sarah has taken down Boris, it must be reassuring for Dave to know that however bad things get, he'll always have the Goves.
"Political suicide - or a passport to the top of the Tory party?" asks theIndependent on news that Theresa May has ordered the scrapping of the UK Borders Agency in the same week that it emerged there was now a 24 year backlog of cases. As we report, the former UKBA will be split in two, with one part dealing with immigration and visas, the other with immigration law enforcement. It's certainly an audacious move, although as James Kirkup argues on Telegraph Blogs, it could also be seen as having the Home Office's new permanent secretary Mark Sedwill's fingerprints all over it.
The stakes are high. Succeed, and Mrs May will have shown an ability to oversee radical and complex institutional change in an area which matters to voters. Fail, and she will be seen as too ambitious, too insubstantial in her planning. One way or another, this will form a large part of her legacy. Speaking of Mrs May's legacy, another piece of that particular puzzle is due at 11:30 this morning in the Royal Courts of Justice. Abu Qatada, should he stay or should he go? The electorate's view is pretty plain. Now let's see what the judges think.
The ongoing digital war of words between Tim Loughton and the ToryEducation Twitter account believed to be controlled by Michael Gove's advisers continued unabated yesterday (unless anything is deleted this morning, you can see the latest exchange here). The brinkmanship on both sides is brave, but is it wise? It's difficult to see who benefits from the mutual determination to air dirty washing in public. Until the identity of the ToryEducation tweeters is formally disclosed, it's also an unfair fight. The Independent reports that the latest spat has increased the pressure on the Cabinet Office to launch an investigation, but they are unwilling to do so without evidence that someone connected with DfE has broken the Special Advisers Code, evidence which wouldn't be forthcoming without an initial investigation...
Mike Hancock has said that he "vigorously denies" allegations that he sexually assaulted a constituent, the Mirror reports. Both the Lib Dems and Portsmouth Council have launched investigations following allegations that a female constituent was subjected to "upsetting sexual treatment". Given Lib Dem sensitivities following accusations of internal failures to act over Lord Rennard, expect them to come down hard if they do detect wrong-doing. And you know what that would mean. Another Lib Dem v Tory by-election battle, albeit in a reasonably safe Lib Dem seat with a majority of 5,200 or 12.6pc.
Half of Lib Dem party activists are dissatisfied with Nick Clegg's leadership, a rise of 9pts since December, according to a Lib Dem Voice poll reported in the Independent. Mr Clegg satisfies only 46pc with his leadership, with an approval rating of +2pts, by contrast Vince Cable's personal rating stands at +70pts. It's not all bad news though, 78pc still back the Coalition. Whether the Tories feel the same after watching Mr Clegg ring in the Easter recess at DPMQs yesterday is a moot point.Quentin Letts felt they must have been rather agog: "the world watched in marvel. So useless, yet so pleased with himself!"
This morning Nick Clegg will announce tax breaks for bosses who sell a portion of their companies to their workforce, the Independent reports. Funding will be provided from a £50m pot which will be used to offset some of the capital gains tax liability. The tax payer will not be liable for losses suffered by depositors in UK branches of Cyprus Popular Bank, though, the FT (£) reports. Speaking yesterday at the Treasury Select Committee, the Chancellor suggested that the four UK branches of the bank may be taken over instead.
Not only are Britain's new nuclear power stations now going to arrive five years late (16GW of production now due 2030, not 2025), but Hinkley is already £4bn or 40pc over-budget, we reveal this morning. The Nuclear Industrial Strategy report launched by Vince Cable yesterday means that Britain will be reliant on gas imports for most of the decade prior to the nuclear plants coming on-stream. However, without a strike price for electricity agreed, or any partners on-board for EDF, even these timings are prone to slippage. If they do, we really could be staring at black-out Britain. As the Energy Select Committee warned last year, there is no Plan B.
To a large extent, this is an entirely self-inflicted problem. Environmental targets have dictated energy policy and led to the mothballing of productive, but Carbon heavy, plants. As we report, the Government's green energy savings offered in recompense are not all they appear to be. Unless households have both the money and inclination to buy substantial amounts of new kit, they are likely to be net losers thanks to higher energy prices. At a time of squeezed living standards, that is not perhaps the help on energy which households are looking for. As Christopher Booker writes in the Mail:
"Nothing better illustrates the insanity of the shambles our politicians have led us into than the fact that, just when we are closing down our coal-fired power stations in the hope of saving the planet, the Chinese are building 363 more of them, the Indians a further 455 and even the Germans another 20 - adding far more CO² to the world's atmosphere every week than Britain puts out in a year."
Jeremy Hunt confirmed yesterday that, in a bid to avoid anotheroccurrence of the dreadful neglect at Mid Staffs, there would be a new "whistleblower-in-chief", a culture of "zero harm", and nurses would need to spend a year as healthcare assistants before qualifying. As Michael Deacon explains, the Health Secretary believes this will make them more compassionate, although "it’s not yet clear how this increase in compassion will be measured, or how the Government will update the House. ('Mr Speaker, figures show that NHS wards are 12 per cent kinder year-on-year. The average nurse became 10.2 per cent more sympathetic in the second quarter of 2013, and a further six per cent rise in human decency is forecast by Christmas.')"
Are today's planning reforms the end of England's green and pleasant land? Not at all, writes Eric Pickles. "Our reforms safeguard our glorious green spaces and countryside. They protect the Green Belt," he argues, adding, "no-one who loves our idyllic and precious English countryside wants to see the sword of Damocles hanging over it. Myself included." 
The fight goes on. Writing for us, Jacob Rees-Mogg identifies the reasons to worry about the Royal Charter solution to press regulation following a Lords amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill last week. Firstly, " it could protect an unreasonable regulator from being removed". Secondly, "it bolsters a royal charter that is already a powerful instrument". Don't worry, Rees-Mogg fans, we're soon into a discussion of seditious libel in 1764. It's well worth a read here.
Talk last year that benefits recipients may be given handouts in a form which they are unable to spend on products such as tobacco and alcohol seems to have led to action at  a local level. The Guardian reports that from next month many councils will replace emergency cash loans with a one-off voucher redeemable for approved goods like food and nappies. Plans at other councils include a shift to in-kind support such as food parcels.

A pitiless take on his party's intellectual leadership from Austin Mitchell:

@AVMitchell2010: "Millidee.A party where people read essays and call them speeches will miss his brutal brain power."

In the Telegraph

Mary Riddell - Our NHS is in intensive care, and Labour's treatment has to be bold
Jacob Rees-Mogg - The press must resist this assault on liberty
Allister Heath - Stamp duty is bad for jobs and growth and it needs to be abolished
Telegraph View - No sign yet of a health service turning point
Best of the Rest

Simon Jenkins in the Guardian - Unlike most Tory reforms, the impact of this is forever
Daniel Finkelstein in the Times (£) - It's pro-immigrant to control our borders
Christopher Booker in the Daily Mail - What planet are they living on?
Matthew Norman in the Independent - Boris would be a disastrous PM. So why do I quite like the idea?

Today: House of Commons in recess.
09:30 am: Final estimate of Q4 GDP is published by the Office for National Statistics.
09:45 am: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg speech on employee ownership. Law Society, Chancery Lane.
09:45 am: Francis Maude speech on cyber security. venue to be confirmed.
10:00 am: Skills minister Matthew Hancock speech to Resolution Foundation on low pay. Resolution Foundation, 23 Savile Row.
11:30 am: Abu Qatada ruling. Home Secretary Theresa May finds out if she has won her Court of Appeal bid to overturn a decision allowing radical preacher Abu Qatada to stay in the UK. The Royal Courts of Justice.