Monday, 22 July 2013

Crosby remains a Tory asset..

Breaking News: The Duchess of Cambridge has been admitted to hospital, which means politics won't get a look in. You can follow all developments on our irresistible liveblog.   

Good morning. Downing Street has won praise from the Mail and got its crackdown on internet porn up in lights this morning. The Prime Minister teed it up on Marr yesterday, with details to come in his speech today. It's a good opener for the recess season, and has the merit of being something concrete (though Guido Paul put his finger on the question the government is really asking). But the Prime Minister's Sunday morning outing was not all success. Mr Cameron got into hot water on tax and on Lynton Crosby. What should we take away from his interview? Two conclusions. First, on tax: where George Osborne was categorical (no tax rises under the Tories if they win in 2015), Mr Cameron hedged. At one level this is no bad thing (and we argue as much in our leader this morning). Dave is too smart to make the Bush mistake. He knows he can never say never, and when he describes himself as a tax-cutting Conservative, he's right up to a point. It's worth reminding ourselves that however weedy their approach at the moment, it's the Tories who are most likely to reduce your tax bill. By hedging Mr Cameron sounded uncertain, which was refreshing. Acknowledging that not everything may be possible is healthy.
Which is where the second conclusion comes in: he hedged too, but worse, over Lynton Crosby. For my money, his glib 'that's the answer you're getting' was a bit too arrogant, like Gary Hart challenging reporters to come and find him. The Guardian has obliged, with another attempt at an expose. It's noticeable that so far none of it is sticking. Mr Crosby is smart enough to avoid hostages to fortune. He's also a businessman: he has clients, not all of them may be to the Guardian's liking. But it doesn't follow that he has allowed conflicts of interest to risk spoiling his involvement with the Conservatives (notice how Dave and Tories yesterday talked distinctly about Mr Crosby advising the party, not the Prime Minister). Mr Crosby is clear that were the full detail of conversations and contacts be set out in detail, the case for the prosecution would collapse in an instant. 
Mr Cameron though seems to be pursuing another route, which is to stonewall in the hope it will go away. The more he does, the more he draws attention to the gap between the questions and his answers. It helps that no one has heard of Mr Crosby, and that Westminster will shortly be deserted. But the Rebekah Brooks business taught us that Dave's cheery evasiveness carries risk. Lynton Crosby is an asset to the Tories. Mr Cameron should avoid turning him into a liability by making it sound shifty.
It's our last week before Tim Wigmore and I take a mostly deserved break. We are aware of some issues to do with email delivery time and are working on these. Meanwhile, those receiving the emails on an AOL email account might want to sign up with a different account. As usual, we would welcome any comments so we can raise our game in September. 
Mr Cameron will outline his plans to tackle internet pornography in a speech at 11:15 in London today. The measures will include a a “blacklist” of the most depraved and illegal search terms and a new national database of child abuse images for the police and child protection agents to use, while those wishing to access porn will be required to un-tick a box pre-set to enforce parental controls. The PM will also suggest a law restricting the distribution of "extreme" online videos and ensuring that the possession of pornographic portrayals of rape is a criminal offence.  
In a week when the ONS are expected to announce that GDP rose 0.6 per cent in the second quarter of 2013 - double the 0.3 per cent growth in the first quarter - Ed Balls is painting himself as the squeezed middle's champ. He will this week co-chair the first meeting of a new transatlantic commission - the Inclusive Prosperity Commission - with Larry Summers.Mr Balls writes for The Guardian that "most families are not seeing any recovery in their living standards, with average wages after inflation still falling; in fact, family incomes are now facing the longest squeeze since the 1870s." 
Jeremy Hunt has revealed he likes to go undercover and do shifts as a nurse in A & E. Likening the accusations of his handling of the BSkyB bid last year to "a murder you didn't committ", Mr Hunt also admitted he was "probably" naive to have exchanged friendly messages with the lobbyist. 
Michael Gove is in search of some new plans. He will embark on a series of roadshows in the autumn to debate his policies with "ordinary" head teachers and is planning to step up his contact with the teaching unions,notes The Times (£). If Mr Gove wants to endear himself to them, perhaps he should show off his gentleman rapping: Kirstie Allsopp has revealed Mr Gove's secret talent in The Sun.
The first stage of the balance of competencies review will be unveiled today, focussing on internal market, tax and foreign policy. We already know that Japan warns in the review that investment in the UK is dependent upon its place in the EU, as the FT (£) reports.  If it has caught you by surprise, that's deliberate: it's been kept low key to keep the Tories as united on Europe as possible. It will be unveiled by Baroness Warsi in a written statement to the Lords today; it's almost as if the party hopes MPs will be too busy enjoying recess to notice.
Do you ever Google yourself? If you ever want to be a Tory MP, you had better. Tory selection panels are now asking prospective candidates: "What is the most embarrassing thing we would find out if we Googled you?" 
Claire Perry's success comes at a price:
@claire4devizes: A 4am start today given the huge media interest in the PMs speech on Internet filters...

In the Telegraph 

Boris Johnson - Forget about trying to contain Germany - we should copy it

David Blair - Now or never for a two-state solution

Allan Massie - Rooting for a football-free summer of sport

Telegraph View - A straight answer on tax would be better

Best of the rest 

Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) - The greens can't defy gravity. They are finished
Owen Jones in The Independent - Tories aren't evil
0900 London: Mid Staffordshire Hospital NMC hearings resume. 20 Old Bailey
1000 London: Business Secretary Vince Cable attends launch of NIESR report on UK digital economy. 1 Great George Street
1115 London: David Cameron gives speech on tackling internet pornography 
1800 London: Ed Miliband Q&A on overcoming distrust in politics. Coin Street Community Centre