Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Pressure mounts on Osborne to take radical action..

Good morning. The advice keeps flooding in for George Osborne. We've already had pleas for fuel duty freezes, air passenger duty scrappage, new runways, welfare cuts and now today's Mail reports that Vince Cable is back on the mansion tax trail. At least Kwasi Kwarteng's advice at a Free Enterprise Group panel discussion yesterday was straight-forward. What the Chancellor needs to do is to "man up", he explained. Or perhaps Amber Rudd is right and what needs to happen is that the Tory backbenches "calm down". If only it was that easy. If the Coalition are going to stick with their ring fences in health, schools and aid, then meaningful cuts would have to come from welfare, a point Philip Hammond has been pushing. George's hands are bound where welfare is concerned because not only have the Lib Dems just blocked an attempt to find another £6.5bn of savings, as the Times (£) notes, but theIndependent also has Dave instructing "NIMBY" ministers to give up on the idea of benefits cuts at all.
Today's YouGov polling in the Sun tells a familiar story, with the Tories lagging Labour by nine points, stuck around 31pc. For as long as the economy remains in the doldrums, so will the polls. That's bad news for the Prime Minister as much as the Chancellor, and Paul Goodman writes on ConservativeHome this morning that the next leadership campaign is already under way. The situation is not helped by the fact that many of the growth initiatives the Chancellor has launched are yet to get off the ground. The FT's (£) forensic examination of the 'build to victory' campaign notes that neither garden cities (remember them?) nor public sector land release has got off the ground, despite the relative success of initiatives like NewBuy. The paper reports that the Chancellor's focus will now be on reviving stalled capital projects, with a possible extension of NewBuy to old homes. We do at least have one new policy to chew on in advance of the Budget, though. It is (drumroll) a tax break for amateur sports clubs, as we report. Crisis over.
Of course, it isn't only George feeling the heat, Steve Richards writes in the Independent that Ed Balls's failure to find the right words has put his position in jeopardy. The shadow chancellor will speak today on a report by Sir George Cox, former director general of the IoD, on overcoming short-termism in British business at an EEF conference (see the agenda for details), and will recommend that executive directors' pay be deferred for up to five years, according to the Independent. As I write inmy column, however, it is the Chancellor in need of new thinking:
"Senior Tories say attacking the Chancellor is a sign of weakness among the Prime Minister’s enemies. That, I fear, is delusional. Mr Osborne is a target because the only thing that matters is the economy, he is in charge, and he is running out of time and excuses faster than Britain is recovering."
Despite real terms rises in spending for over a decade, Britain's health service still lags those of its European neighbours according to the Lancet. As we report, life expectancy for women is 14th of the 19 nations surveyed. The report is timely given that Jeremy Hunt will today claim that 30,000 Britons a year die too early thanks to the lack of comprehensive preventative care on the NHS. The Times (£) has him promising regular health checks for the middle aged. It sounds expensive. But when your budget's ring fenced, why worry?
While Mr Hunt plans his future, Sir David Nicholson will be attempting to save his. He appears at 9:30 in front of the Health Select Committee in the Grimond Room in Portcullis House. Five former health secretaries, ranging from Patricia Hewitt to Andrew Lansley, have backed Sir David in the Independent today. Their enthusiasm is not shared by Dr Sarah Wollaston, who writes for us:
"How can anyone be said to have 'command of the detail' yet overlook more than a thousand deaths at one of the hospitals for which they were responsible? When he faces the health select committee today, Sir David will have some explaining to do."

Nick Clegg will tomorrow chair a committee attempting to find ways of limiting access to the benefits system to new immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria without breaching EU discrimination laws, the Guardianreports. The front-runner seems to be the introduction of a "contributory element" to benefit payments meaning only those with a record of tax contributions in the UK could claim. Of course, ending universality for immigrants would mean ending it for those born here, too. As the Mail asks, "why should a crackdown on migrants mean a crackdown on everyone in Britain?" As always, European law seems to have lent itself to some very unexpected consequences. The Times (£) backs the moves, however, arguing that "getting out what you put in is a basic and popular idea of fairness."
Labour's contribution to the immigration debate? A Yvette Cooper speech coming on Thursday and trailed in today's Guardian in which she promises tougher enforcement of the minimum wage "designed to create a fair framework that benefits domestic workers, prevents exploitation of foreign labour and reduces the demand for it." That's the problem with the immigration debate - marred by the language of reckless populism.
Joined by several former Labour ministers, the Coalition comfortably won yesterday's vote on the Justice and Security Bill which provides for "closed material procedures" at judicial discretion. The Mail, whose line yesterday on the cost of the courts exceeding the cost of paying off claimants was rejected by Cabinet Office sources, today laments "ministers trampling on tradition of open justice". Lugging the Bill through the Commons certainly appears to have taken its toll on Ken Clarke's debating technique, as Simon Hoggart reports:
"Mr Clarke sounds as if he is in the pub, having a heated debate about whether that goal was offside. Sometimes when he disagrees with someone he doesn't have time to rebut what they say. Instead, he makes a noise I can only transcribe as 'Wurgghhh!' Which seems to be just as effective."

Theresa May argues against violence towards women in a Sun op-ed today, but it's verbal violence towards home secretaries which will keep her busy this morning. Her most prominent row is with Lord Neuberger who has said that her legal aid reforms could "undermine the rule of law"by pricing justice out of the reach of many, her criticism of the judiciarywas "inappropriate, unhelpful and worrying", and that deporting terrorism suspects could mean withdrawing from the UN and ECHR (the latter of which was robustly defended by Ken Clarke yesterday). It isn't only judges who are upset, it's colleagues too. Mrs May's stance on visas for the boys (and girls) from Brazil has also drawn fire this morning. TheFT (£) notes that her plan to tighten the visa regime for Brazilian visitors flies in the face of the growth through trade agenda pushed by Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg on their visits to the country.
Philip Hammond will announce an acceleration of the withdrawal of the British Army from Germany today. The Guardian reports that a further 11,000 troops and their families will return home by 2016, generating a £1bn bill for new forces housing in the UK. The Defence Secretary will also announce the closure of several smaller bases in order to concentrate the army in several major regional hubs.
Plans to opt out of several EU justice measures could be blocked by Nick Clegg if the Conservatives do not agree to keep the European Arrest Warrant, we report. Theresa May has been pushing for the scrapping of the EAW, one of 130 measures under the axe.
An avowed atheist, Nick Clegg will send his eldest son Antonio to the Catholic London Oratory School, we report. Of course, Tony Blair did the same thing while in his "don't do God" phase. Perhaps, as with Mr Blair, this is the first step towards a Damascene conversion for Mr Clegg once he has left office.
Chris Heaton-Harris with a joke for the younger generation:

chhcalling: "New physics - The Gaga Law: (RAH)² (AH)³ + RO (MA + MAMA) + (GA)² + OOH(LA)² = Bad Romance." 

The Sun/YouGov: Con 31pc, Lab 40pc, Lib Dem 12pc, Ukip 12pc

In the Telegraph

Benedict Brogan - Osborne's in the crosshairs, and the trigger finger is twitching
Best of the rest
Steve Richards in the Independent - As Osborne reels, why is Balls feeling the heat?
Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) - Tories must see the conservative in Cameron

TODAY: EU finance ministers to discuss banking bonus cap proposals at Ecofin meeting in Brussels. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is to make an announcement by press release on legal aid.
09:00 am: Norman Lamb speech to Reform conference on social care. Conference opens at 09:00, Mr Lamb speaking at 09:30. Chartered Insurance Institute, 20 Aldermanbury.
09:30 am: Sir David Nicholson to give evidence to the Health Select Committee. Sir David will be quizzed on the report of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust public inquiry; Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
10:00 am: EEF National Manufacturing Conference, with speakers including Ed Balls and Lord Heseltine. Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Broad Sanctuary.
12:30 pm: Philip Hammond oral statement on military bases. House of Commons.
03:00 pm: Evidence on the contamination of beef products given to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
05:00 pm: Lord Chief Justice gives evidence to the Joint Select Committee on parliamentary privilege. Lord Judge, Lord Chief Justice will be followed by Rt Hon Tom Brake MP, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons from 6pm Committee Room 2A, House of Lords.
06:30 pm: Royal reception for MPs and MEPs. Buckingham Palace, Buckingham Gate, London.