Friday, 31 May 2013

Another boost for infrastructure.. Ben Brogan's morning briefing

Good morning. As we report, the Coalition could be stealing Labour's clothes - some would say that the plural is unjustified - by proposing further increases in infrastructure spending. In a speech to the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Danny Alexander said that the coming Spending Review would "show flexibility" and "shift resources wherever we can to support economic growth." Interestingly, one department that could benefit from greater investment in capital projects is the Ministry of Defence, which could be one way of appeasing Philip Hammond, especially amid US fears over the British Army becoming "dependent" on America. The FT (£) reckons that the extra infrastructure spending announced next month could be as high as £15 billion, and that the Coalition is drawing up a league table of infrastructure projects for the 2015-2020 period graded according to their potential economic benefits.
Where this leads Labour is unclear. The lack of infrastructure spending was their most notable economic critique of the Coalition. If that has been neutered, the impression will only grow that Labour has no substantive economic policy of all. The FT (£) has one potential answer: Ed Balls is planning a speech on the economy next week. His "five-point plan" remains in awkward limbo: adopted by him but not by his party.
Meanwhile, Michael Gove has launched another attack on Labour. Writing for us, Mr Gove depicts them as a party in thrall to Balls:
Balls responds to every development in the same way – let’s party like it’s 1929. He wants to enlist us all in sponsoring a revival of his one-man show, "Gordon Brown 2 – Return to the Edge of Bankruptcy"
His critique of Mr Miliband centres on his inability to control his Shadow Chancellor:
Miliband’s passivity in the face of his shadow chancellor’s operating style is of a piece with his wider inertia.
In amongst it all is some praise for a pair of "gifted, fascinating thinkers": Jon Cruddas and Maurice Glasman. Given that Cruddas is responsible for Labour's policy review, this also suggests that Gove thinks his party do have something to fear in 2015.
Gove's comments are given added weight by developments within Labour. John Mills, one of the party's largest donors, has accused Ed of being "policy light" and failing to produce a credible economic plan. Aswe report, Mills said that Labour had failed to develop a "clear idea on how to get the economy growing again at a reasonable speed and how to get the deficit down to a much more sustainable proportion".
Andy Coulson thinks that Number 10 needs to make much more use of Samantha Cameron. In a piece for GQ, Mr Coulson called for Mrs Cameron to play a more public role as "she’s badly needed in the trenches". As we report, Mr Coulson also calls for her involvement in"select small strategy meetings" - rather suggesting a lack of faith in Dave's strategists. As with Sarah Brown in 2010, the PM could be grateful for the media talents of his wife.
Iain Duncan Smith will "fight every step of the way" against the threat of Brussels suing Britain for requiring EU immigrants to pass an extra test before claiming benefits, as we report. The interesting context is that of the rows over the Spending Review: Duncan Smith claims that the EU's stance could cost Britain £155 million a year, so the Right are linking complaints over budgets with those concerning the EU. The reason for Britain's particular trouble on benefits is that, while most EU countries have contributory systems of welfare, Britain's is means-tested, making no requirement of claimants to have paid social insurance during a period of employment, as we explain. This doesn't seem right to ourleader:
The ECJ will not rule on whether Britain is disadvantaged relative to other EU countries, but whether it treats foreign citizens differently. This makes it especially difficult for the UK to prevent the abuse of benefits – and is precisely the sort of area that needs to be renegotiated ahead of a possible referendum.
Against this backdrop, William Hague will today announce Britain's first concrete demand for EU reform ahead of any referendum in 2017. Hague supports the introduction of a new ‘red card’ system allowing national parliaments to block unwelcome EU laws and believes other Northern Europe countries, including Germany, would support it, reports theMail.  
The misuse of statistics has been a common theme of this Government, and the UK Statistics Authority have issued another rebuke. Grant Shapps had said that nearly one million people on disability benefits had dropped their claims rather than face medical checks. But the UK Statistics Authority has found that official figures showed that a rather less eye-watering 19,700 incapacity benefit recipients withdrew their claims before facing tests to see if they were fit to work, as TheTimes (£) reports.
Nick Clegg and Theresa May have a couple of spats to attend to. On yesterday's Call Clegg, the Deputy PM reiterated his opposition to May's "snooper's charter", warning of the dangers of "kneejerk" proposals. The pair are also at odds over a less ambitious measure to make it easier to track who is using a particular computer, notes The Times (not online).
Clegg also has some advice from Mark Littlewood in the Times (£) on how to achieve electoral salvation:
A consistent, clear, genuinely liberal narrative, in which the State plays less of a role in our lives, and individuals have greater freedom to keep their own money, run their own affairs and make their own choices
It's not such a bad time to be filthy rich in Britain after all - Britain has 509,000 millionaire households, an increase of a quarter on last year, reports The Times (£). One man who would be "intensely relaxed" about that is Peter Mandelson - who, notes The Guardian, has accepted nomination to the board of a Russian company with alleged links to organised crime and corruption.  
Denis MacShane sees a bit of history repeating itself:
@DenisMacShaneW Hague to repeat call I first made as Europe minister 10 years ago for "red card" for national Parliaments to block EU legislation.

In the Telegraph
Best of the rest
Mark Littlewood in The Times (£) - The Lib Dems should try being real liberals
Emile Simpson in The Times (£) - Afghanistan isn't war, it's politics with guns
Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin in The Guardian - Now Ukip is gunning for Labour, what's Ed Miliband going to do about it?
Philip Stephens in the FT (£) - A race between growth and populism
Today: Foreign Secretary William Hague speaks to the Konigswinter Conference in Germany.

09:15 am London: Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and Crossrail chief executive Andrew Wolstenholme to give a Crossrail update. North Colonnade, Canary Wharf.