Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The dangers of complacency..

Good morning. It rather feels like the calm before tomorrow's Comprehensive Spending Review storm: it's almost eerily quiet out there. There isn't even that much suspense: we know a lot about the CSR already. One thing that it almost certainly won't contain are marriage tax breaks, much to the chagrin of the Conservative Party base. So the “firm commitment” to help married couples within the next two years by David Gauke, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, is significant - even if we think it is rather overdue. The details remain to be thrashed out, but the suggestion is that wives or husbands who do not work would be able to transfer part of their tax-free allowance to their spouse if their partner was a basic rate taxpayer.
It might seem a small move, but it has a wider importance. Dave is out to rekindle the flame with party activists before the next election - he knows he can't win without them. The likelihood of a couple of "old guard" ministers winning promotion in the next reshuffle can be seen in a similar light.
One danger for Dave - that there be a coup against Nick Clegg - seems to have passed. As I reveal in my column today, Dave was sufficiently worried about a "moment of peril" for Mr Clegg this summer that an analysis was drawn up of how he could legislate if the Lib Dems withdrew from coalition (full details here). With Mr Clegg's position shored up after his party held onto Eastleigh, Dave might now have a different worry: complacency.
Coalition politics is verging on the uneventful.The danger is less of fratricide than on underestimating Labour. Mr Balls's apparent willingness to suggest that the growth in pensioners' spending was unsustainable was a bold play that could cause problems for the Tories. As I write:
On this occasion it is Mr Balls who has changed the terms of debate. Mr Osborne acknowledged as much on Sunday; Downing Street is now wondering whether to welcome the opportunity to do something painful but necessary, or play to Tory sectional interests. 
The British Medical Association have reacted angrily to the suggestion that more hospital doctors could work on weekends, describing the idea as “a luxury the NHS cannot afford” and launching a vote of no-confidence in Jeremy Hunt. It's another reminder of how well-organised the BMA are in response to any suggestions that the NHS can be reformed. As we argue, the NHS deserves better than "trade-union-style political posturing" from its doctors. It is a view shared by The Times (£), who say that, with demographics as they are, a default "conservative position against change is no longer viable." 
Theresa May's idea of a £3,000 bond to stop "high risk" visitors from staying in the UK faces a backlash, reports the FT (£). Indian businesses have accused Britain of discrimination, as the pilot scheme, due to be launched in November, would include India. Meanwhile, it is understood that the Lib Dems have not signed off on details of the bond, though Nick Clegg is understood to be supportive. Not all Lib Dem MPs are happy, with one saying "it’s not exactly liberal, is it?”
Nick Clegg has prevented Michael Gove's attempts to find education savings by cancelling the extension of free nursery education. Mr Gove believed £380 million could be saved, but Mr Clegg objected, taking the issue to the Quad. Mr Gove will now have to find efficiency savings in the way in which new academies and free schools are commissioned, as The Guardian reports. For Mr Clegg, free nursery education for children from the poorest families is a flagship issue, and a comedown would have been politically problematic.
There's a surprising poll in today's Independent: 56 per cent of those aged 65 and over agree that pensioners should “be no more immune to the impact of Government spending cuts than other members of society”, compared to 49 per cent of the population as a whole. But before anyone thinks a panacea to the budget problems has been found, the facts are sobering. Means-testing pensioners' benefits would only save around £1 billion a year, as Tim Wigmore blogged.
Ed Miliband will today attend a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the situation in Syria, reports The Times (£). It is only the second time that Mr Miliband has been invited to the NSC. Downing Street have already denied that the meeting is a precursor to sending arms to the Syrian rebels.
David Laws has publicly released Liam Byrne's now infamous note, as he told ITV. Here it is in full:
Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid there is no money. Kind regards – and good luck! Liam.
Mr Laws also said that the note could be used in any future election campaign: a further reminder of the work Labour need to do on their economic credibility.

Diane Abbott's affection for Michael Gove doesn't extend to the Health 
tries to steal a little of Mr Osborne's thunder:
@HackneyAbbott: Jeremy Hunt seems to be confused about why he's lost the confidence of NHS staff, groups, patients and the British public #Huntcrisis

In the Telegraph
Telegraph View - Marriage vows
Best of the rest
Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) - The NHS must treat patients, not statistics
Janan Ganesh in The Financial Times (£) - Things could get gloomier for Britain
1120 London: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will open Sainsbury's new distribution centre.