Tuesday, 4 June 2013

A small rounding error from Labour.. Ben Brogan's morning briefing

Good morning. Labour's announcement of a challenge to the principle of universalism - and glimpses of a realisation that tough economic decisions have to be made - dominates today's papers. Before anyone gets over-excited, it should be remembered that Ed Balls and Labour could pay a very high price - being seen as the party that takes money away from pensioners and the party that attacks the wealthy - for a measure that would save £100 million: the equivalent of a small rounding error.
Still, if taking tough choices is the mark of effective government, then perhaps it holds equally true for effective opposition? Dan Hodges hears the sound of a penny dropping and hopes Labour has abandoned their strategy of winning the next election by default:
Labour finally gets it. After the years of deflection and denial, Ed Miliband and his shadow chancellor recognise the truth. Labour’s strategy on the economy isn’t working. Labour’s strategy on welfare isn’t working. Labour’s strategy isn’t working, period.
In The Times (£), Rachel Sylvester says, "The difficult task of restoring Labour’s reputation on economic competence is not over yet. But at least after yesterday it has begun." To Chris Giles in the FT (£), yesterday's announcement that Labour would mimic the Government's spending plans within £10 billion in 2015/16 hint that they intend to drag their way back to the centre ground: "Those wanting clear water separating left and right will be disappointed."
Patrick Wintour writes in The Guardian of Labour's "very big week" and has an eye on Mr Miliband's speech on Thursday:
Miliband will promise in some way to cap the structural welfare bill, as opposed to the cyclical bill caused by recession. With luck he will phrase this in a sufficiently populist way that voters can understand it, but without sparking an internal revolt. By the end of the week, it will be clear if he has pulled it all off.
Mr Balls' claims that Labour weren't profligate in their last government are labelled a "delusion" in the Mail, while his promise of "iron discipline" on spending have not convinced us:
Spending more, as we learnt after similar promises of restraint were made in 1997, is what Labour does. Especially this version of Labour, led by two men – Mr Balls and Ed Miliband – who were Gordon Brown’s most prominent acolytes.
If anyone has any illusions that suddenly all is well within the Labour Party, the Labour for a Referendum campaign launches today to put them right. As The Mirror notes, the group warns that Mr Miliband cannot afford to "ignore core supporters" on the European question - and already has the support of 150 Labour councillors and dozens of MPs.
Michael Gove's appetite for reform seems unabated. GCSEs could be replaced with a new 'I level' graded from 1 to 8, reports The Times (£). Opportunities to retake exams would be severely curtailed, and coursework would disappear from all subjects except science.
As I write in my column, it's all another reminder of Mr Gove's energy, ambition and relish for a political fight. He finds a way to avoid the two main criticisms of Tory MPs: that he is insufficiently Conservative or insufficiently modern. And comparisons with Dave are often flattering:
Mr Gove is a man of books who delights in ideas and has shaped a personal outlook that manages to be traditional, modern, liberal – and reassuringly Right-wing to those for whom such things matter. He has thought about what he thinks and why he is in politics in a way that David Cameron hasn’t. He knows who he is against and what he is for.
Nothing like cross-party consensus on how to deal with a political crisis, is there? Lobbygate has now descended into an unseemly political row over the unions. The Government has been accused of inserting  last-minute plans to clamp down on union funding of election campaigns in its new anti-sleaze bill, severely damaging prospects of cross-party consensus, as The Guardian reports. Perhaps, with 2015 in mind, David Cameron is heeding the advice of Barack Obama's former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel: never let a good crisis go to waste.
But while the political tribes row, some action has already been taken. 80 Westminster passes - over half of them held by professional lobbyists -have already been withdrawn. Downing Street has also announced that legislation for a statutory register of lobbyists would be introduced by July. As we report, financial penalties would be imposed on any who refused to take part in the scheme. But separate laws to allow for the recall of MPs who break parliamentary rules will not now be introduced for at least another year. Unsurprisingly, these measures don't go far enough for Nigel Farage, who writes in The Guardian that he wants all lobbying and donations to politicians to be clearly registered, as in the US; and for a recall of 20% of registered electors signed a petition within a six week period.
Douglas Carswell has been on Today this morning criticising the Government's proposed recall system:
It would not lead to vexatious attempts if done properly. Look at California, they’ve had this system in place for over a century, and there’ve been less than half a dozen successful attempts... Unfortunately what the Government has come up with is a scheme where politicians would sit in judgement of politicians.
Despite Francis Maude's boast of above-expected savings made in the machinery of Whitehall, there is scope for it becoming more business-like. That's according to Lord Browne, who will use a government-commissioned report published on Thursday to support more integrated cross-government procurement and say that Whitehall needs to improve its record on delivering major projects, as the FT (£) reports.
Fracking could be much more lucrative than previously thought. It is believed that the north-west could hold 400-500 trillion cubic feet (tcf) worth of shale gas - a figure comparable with some of the richest shale areas in North America. To put these numbers into perspective - maths has never been my strength - the FT (£) points out that Britain currently consumes 3 tcf of gas a year, half of which is imported. So whoever wins the next election should have a very good chance of victory in 2020 too.
The Government's new social mobility tzar has some advice for parents: don't help your children find work. James Caan, of Dragons' Den fame,will say today that parents should "let the child stand on his own two feet" and only help their kids if they are seriously struggling to find work. Meanwhile, Nick Clegg will unveil an initiative this week to persuade companies to take on more people from poorer backgrounds. Conscience v kids: who can guess which will win?
Douglas Carswell is optimistic that legislation allowing for the recall of MPs could pass:
@DouglasCarswell: 3 stages for a new idea to go mainstream 1) its barking 2) good theory but won't work 3) it was my idea all along. Recall now between 2 & 3

In the Telegraph
Philip Johnson - Cutting the legal aid budget
Best of the rest
Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) - Balls uses the ‘d-word’. But it’s just a first step
John Rentoul in The Independent - A free press, not a register, keeps politics honest
Janan Ganesh in the FT (£) - Politics catches up with age of austerity
09:30 London:Commons Health Committee takes evidence on emergency care. House of Commons.
11:00 London: Service of celebration to mark the 60th anniversary of the Queen's coronation. Westminster Abbey.
14:40 London: Metropolitan Police give briefing on murder of Lee Rigby to Home Affairs Select Committee. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
18:00 London: Launch of Labour for a Referendum campaign. Transport House, Smith Square.

18:30 London: John Kay gives annual Political Quarterly lecture on the 'Future of Capitalism', LSE.