Friday, 12 July 2013

Beyond 2015..

Good morning. As the clock ticks towards recess - just one week to go - there are a couple of early election skirmishes to report: George Osborne's pledge not to raise taxes in the next Parliament; and the announcement of Tory 'red lines' in any future coalition negotiations.
Let's deal with Mr Osborne first. He spoke at the Treasury Select Committee yesterday about how he would cut the deficit in the next Parliament. The answer, as reported in The Times (£): “I’m clear that tax increases are not required to achieve this". The books can be balanced “through spending reductions. I don’t think we have reached the end-point in reforming welfare.” Vote for George and the Conservatives - they won't raise your taxes a dime. Naturally, the implication is that Labour and the Liberal Democrats will. Dare either of those parties take "the pledge"? Surely not, given their fondness for a mansion tax and other squeezes on the rich. Mr Osborne's comments are very obvious electioneering. The aim, surely, is to raise public concern about the true nature of Labour's tax plans. It will be interesting to see how Labour respond; silence would be the easiest option, but this risks allowing Mr Osborne to set the terms of the 2015 election debate.
Naturally his strategy is not without risks. It rather evokes George Bush Sr's pledge in the 1988 election: "Read my lips. No new taxes." But after taxes had to be raised, Bush's words were all the ammunition the Democrats needed in the 1992 campaign. Still, given where the Conservatives are now, Mr Osborne could be forgiven for settling for breaking the pledge. For now, what happens if he can help pull off a Tory majority in 2015 is neither here nor there.  
The other noteworthy news is talk of "red lines" from the Conservatives ahead of the 2015 election. Tories on the backbenches are demanding a promise not to create a “mansion tax”, and a pledge to retain the Trident nuclear deterrent in any deal after the 2015 election, Bloomberg reports. In both cases, the demands are opposed to what the Lib Dems want: this certainly has the capacity to make another Dave-Nick coalition tricky. But it's dangerous to try and detect from this red lines business a reliable prediction of what happens after 2015: it's all manoeuvring. It remains the case that Mr Clegg is determined to maintain equidistance between the Conservatives and Labour. So while a deal with Labour is not impossible, we shouldn't underestimate the power of the bonds forged in government with the Tories. Heck, Dave and Nick will even be taking their summer holidays at overlapping times, as if they can't imagine governing without each other. 
Michael Gove has weighed in on IPSA's recommendations of an increase in MPs' salaries: "As far as I am concerned they can stick it. MPs are incredibly well paid." In a debate that too often slips into populism - partly thanks to the party leaders, with Mr Clegg and Mr Miliband both saying that they would personally reject a pay rise - we need a more reasoned debate. As we say, "If individual MPs think they deserve an increase, they should say so and make the case before their constituents. Some are proving their value in the more boisterous committees and increasingly independent back benches of this Parliament." The Guardian think that a raise could be justified - but only if the Lords was reformed and the size of the Commons was too. 
George Osborne has revealed the lengths he is prepared go to keep fit (keep the jogging jokes to yourselves, please). He wears a hi-tech wristband which tracks his every step and even monitors his movement while he is asleep: you have to put the effort in to look the part, you see. Taking a rare break from his fitness schedule, Mr Osborne has also toldthe quacking mad story of the lengths that civil servants had to go to to move some ducks from a fountain in the Treasury courtyard.  
Dave's plans for a minimum alcohol tax will be formally killed off next week. Ministers will switch their attention to banning retailers from selling alcohol at very cheap prices in “loss-leader” deals. After the Coalition's announcement last year that it would introduce a minimum unit price, it amounts to another U-turn from Dave. 
Boris reckons allegations about his private life can't damage his public standing: "My genuine experience is that no matter how much of this stuff gets in the public domain it doesn't really make any difference to what the public think you are doing." And while his joke about women going to university to find men has not gone down well, Fraser Nelson points out that Boris is one of few politicians to have recognised that work is becoming a women's world
Chris Heaton-Harris fine-tunes his jokes before recess: 
@chhcalling: What do you call a row of Barbie dolls? A Barbecue. 
In the Telegraph
Best of the rest 
John Kampfner in The Times (£) - Clegg is set to be kingmaker again in 2015
Polly Toynbee in The Guardian - Yes, universal credit is simple 
Samuel Brittan in The Financial Times (£) - The real target that Carney should aim for
The Agenda

London: Business Secretary Vince Cable will make an industrial sector strategy announcement.