Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Immigration launch falls flat..

Good morning. Downing Street's big immigration announcement went down with a bit of a whimper yesterday. Perhaps it was the fact that it followed major announcements along the same lines by Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, but rather than break new ground, it seemed to nod politely to what the Times (£) leader terms "a political consensus...over immigration". The fact that the numbers involved are getting kicked around this morning won't help. In the Guardian, Nicholas Watt reports that Number 10 have had to scramble to defend the impact of the scheme. Of two million net immigrants to the UK from the eight eastern European countries that joined in 2004, only 13,000 have claimed jobseekers allowance, hardly the endemic culture of "something for nothing" which Dave spoke about. Jeremy Hunt's attempt to help, claiming that hospital accident and emergency rooms were being "clogged up" by foreign nationals, floundered for want of empirical evidence as the FT (£) points out. When an anti-immigrant benefits policy is dismissed by the Mail as "smoke and mirrors", you know something has gone badly wrong with the delivery. It's almost as if the scheme was not submitted to any political scrutiny.
It is not just the launch which could prove problematic, it's the legality. A basic tenent of EU law is that member states may not discriminate against citizens of other member states by giving their own citizens preference. The Express points out that such discrimination is at the heart of these proposals. Whatever formulation has been found to evade them, the government will still need to be prepared to defend its position in a European court system which is not known for its acquiescence to British exceptionalism. As our leader puts it, immigration policy is the art of the possible, and furthermore "as ministers treat immigration as a matter of profit and loss, rather than the cause of often wrenching social change, they will never be able fully to address the grievances it causes."
Any failure to fire from Number 10 inevitably raises leadership talk. As I write in my column today, this talk is now so frequent, so all-pervasive that it has given Dave's premiership a dead-duck feel. The class of 2010 are on his case (also true of the Labour party argues Damian McBride, although he believes they will peak at Cabinet level), and the pressure is now on Dave to fashion a narrative around which he can rebuild his leadership:
"The task of repairing the country demands resilience, imagination, steel and the ability to give a straight answer when asked. Mr Cameron, we should point out, has at times exhibited all those qualities. But he has been eroded by events and poor choices. Unless he can win back his party’s attention, the search for his successor will only intensify."
When all else fails, it's nice to be able to rely on your father. Stanley Johnson comes out swinging in the Sun this morning (not online), arguing that "Eddie Mair's interview with my son was a disgusting piece of journalism and the BBC should be ashamed." Boris himself was magnanimous, telling us that it is the "function of BBC journalists to bash up politicians, particularly people like me." It's a time of saturation coverage for the Mayor. He was the subject of a BBC2 documentary by Michael Cockerell titled "The Irresistible Rise" last night. Our reviewer salutes a man who is "TV gold", adding that "at a time when all other politicians are about as lapel-grabbing as the Emmerdale omnibus, he could make a fortune on pay per view." Boris-gazing abounds elsewhere. Steve Richards writes in the Independent that he will always be the leadership bridesmaid, never the bride thanks to the rule that "a leader-in-waiting will be kept waiting". In the Times (£) Hugo Rifkind argues that "Boris is the direction in which our politics is going, and it's really not all bad. Unless he actually does become Prime Minister, of course. Then it is." As Michael Deacon writes, perhaps the biggest winner from this episode in the present incumbent in Number 10:
"A smile of immense satisfaction spread across Mr Cameron’s face. 'Never underestimate the ability of Boris to get out of a tight spot,' he beamed."
"Nor, he resisted adding, the ability of Boris to get into one."

The principle which the FT (£) sees as having been established in Cyprus - that it is investors not governments who now bear the greatest liability in the eurozone - is still being digested by the markets. As the Mail points out, attempts to suggest that the eurozone had no specific template and was making decisions on an ad-hoc basis by Jeroen Dijsselbloem, head of the eurozone's finance ministers, reassured nobody. Nor did the irony of Germany's Bundestag receiving a vote on the bail-out but not the Cypriot parliament. Writing for us, Nigel Farage argues that the sole bright-spot of the debacle may be a resurgent interest in self-determination in Europe:
"In Cyprus we have a population that would prefer to leave the eurozone than comply with the privations of Germany and Brussels. We have a parliament that has already voted down one scheme, and is thus barred from debating this one. We have a Cypriot archbishop who supports his people rather than the EU. They are not happy and they are pointing to a new reality."
While that new reality takes hold, we are left with what Max Hastings calls "one of the nastiest and most immoral political acts in modern times". A domestic issue raised by the Mail's leader is whether the IMF ought to be encouraging European integration or whether its "purely economic brief" should have forced it to re-examine the case for Cyprus remaining in the single currency. Given our sizable contribution to the IMF, it is also a question which backbench Tories may soon find themselves asking, too. The FT (£) argues that "no other package of policies would be better than this", but with yesterday evening's announcement that all banks would remain closed until Thursday, normality is still nowhere in sight.
The Mail is distinctly unimpressed to learn that William Hague and Angelina Jolie are in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo asking local politicians to campaign against sexual violence at times of war. "The euro is in crisis, so what is our Foreign Secretary doing in Rwanda with Angelina Jolie?" it asks, not unreasonably. On our Wonder Women website, Cathy Newman, who is travelling with the pair, says she will be grilling them over what they can realistically achieve over the coming days. Watch this space.
Jeremy Hunt has insisted that "hands-on caring experience and values need to be equal with academic training" as he announced last night that nurses undergo at least one year's training in basic care. As we report, the Government will formally respond today to the recommendations of the Francis Inquiry, but the pre-announcement of minimum practical training standards suggests that a greater emphasis on practical experience will be at the heart of any new system.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has condemned the Education Secretary and Ofsted's chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw in the first vote of no confidence in its history. As the Mail reports, the general secretary Dr Mary Bousted earlier told the conference that the pair are like "blood brothers, with a pact to suck life and hope out of our educational system". And to think, this is a union at the moderate end of the spectrum.
There's nothing like getting your excuses in early. The never-ending winter may tip the economy into a triple dip recession when the figures for the first three months of the year are published, according to the Guardian. Blizzards in December were blamed for a 0.5pc drop in quarterly output with Samuel Tombs from Capital Economics telling the paper that high street spending may be down as much as 1pc. Expectations are not high this year (as low as 0.6pc to be precise), but beginning 2013 with another recession hardly bodes well. Fortunately for the Chancellor, even Labour voters do not trust his opposite number on the economy. A ComRes poll for the Independent found that 35pc of Labour voters do not trust the Eds on the economy, their overall approval rating on economic affairs is -40pts and only 32pc blame the Coalition for the current mess.
A survey of 81 councils by the Guardian finds that almost half plan cuts to care services for adults, more than half plan cuts to children's services, two-thirds plan cuts to culture and sport and 75pc will cut planning in the year ahead. However, the figures should be qualified by noting that the national spend on adult social care and children's services will rise. Elsewhere in the paper, campaigners argue that cutting planning budgets could lead to a free-for-all for developers. Nick Boles will be delighted.
Tony Blair's former adviser Sir Michael Barber has just returned from a three year stint in Pakistan and sets out his case for aid radicalism and rigour in a paper for Reform published today. In an article on our website, Sir Michael argues that an effective budget spend means ultimately that aid projects can be withdrawn: "The more effectively we spend the current UK budget of around £10 billion per year, the sooner it can diminish for the right reasons. That should be the aim."

A proud Robert Halfon sees his constituency blaze a trail:

@halforn4harlowMP: "Am I dreaming or is BBC Six O Clock News saying that triangle flap jacks have been banned from an Essex school for safety reasons!!!!!!!"


In the Telegraph

Benedict Brogan -
Pity our poor PM - the Tories are now in a post-Dave state of mind
Nigel Farage - This is all about saving the euro, not Cyprus
Tom Rowley & Auslan Cramb - Welcome to blackout Britain
Telegraph View - Immigration and the limits of the possible
Best of the Rest

Steve Richards in The Independent - Boris is leader in waiting. He'll never be leader

Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) - Old Labour rears its rebellious head again
Max Hastings in the Daily Mail - One of the nastiest and most immoral political acts in modern times
Polly Toynbee in The Guardian - Labour needs to recapture the spirit and nerve of 1945

09:30 am: Cabinet. 10 Downing Street, London.

09:30 am: Justice Minister Helen Grant gives evidence to Commons Justice Committee on women offenders. Wilson Room, Portcullis House.
10:00 am: The Office for Budget Responsibility gives evidence to the Commons Treasury Committee on the Budget. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
10:50 am: Boris Johnson and Misha B launch Gigs 2013, an annual busking music competition. London Bridge Tube Station (just inside Tooley Street entrance).
11:30 am: Business Secretary Vince Cable gives evidence to Commons Business Committee on Kay Review of equity markets. Committee Room 8, House of Commons.
02:15 pm: Chancellor George Osborne gives evidence to the Commons Treasury Committee on the Budget. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
02:30 pm: Martha Lane Fox introduced in the Lords. E-commerce pioneer Martha Lane Fox will be introduced as a non-political peer, taking the title Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho. Composer and broadcaster Michael Berkeley will also take his seat. House of Lords.
03:00 pm: Environment Secretary Owen Paterson gives evidence to the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on flood funding. Committee Room 8, House of Commons.
03:00 pm: UK Border Agency gives evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.