Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Plebgate rumbles on..

Good morning. There is evidence to support allegations that three Police Federation representatives had deliberately set out to discredit Andrew Mitchell following the Plebgate incident, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has found. Deborah Glass, deputy chairwoman of the IPCC, said that Mr Mitchell had been discredited "in pursuit of a wider agenda" of "a successful, high-profile, anti-cuts campaign". Theresa May has responded by urging the Chief Constable of West Mercia to apologise to Andrew Mitchell, saying that the incident struck to the heart of public trust in the police and that "The IPCC statement makes troubling reading." Jack Straw also said it was "undoubtedly true" that Mr Mitchell was the victim of "wholly unacceptable" behaviour by some police officers.
It's all deeply damaging to the police, as this morning's papers agree. We argue that "If we cannot trust the police to behave honestly and with integrity, then a key element of the citizen’s social contract with the state is fatally undermined" and that the time has come "for the evidence to be aired in open court." To The Times, "the police have demonstrated an alarming inability to hold themselves to account." And then there's the time and money taken by the investigation in a time of austerity: "That 45-second encounter has cost £237,000 so far and counting. That is the equivalent of ten new Metropolitan Police constables. The year-long ­investigation has five detectives and two police staff working on it full time." The Mail think that "there can be no mercy for the Police Federation officers if they sought to blacken Mr Mitchell’s name" for the sake of the rest of the British police. The Guardian have a simple message to the police: "Come clean. Institute disciplinary procedures. Apologise."
George Osborne is demonstrating his approach to openness this morning by visiting the HQ of Huawei, China's IT and telecoms giant. The company employs 40,000 people at its lush and futuristic campus in Shenzhen. It also has a strong presence in the UK which the Chancellor is keen to encourage. To those who worry that Huawei's close links to the Chinese government make it somehow untrustworthy - certainly the view in the US, where bankers also branded the new light-touch regime for Chinese banks as "very inconsistent" and "a crazy lovefest", as the FT reports - Mr Osborne points out that the company is subject to all regulatory controls including security standards. Speaking just now he said: "There's a huge amount of business we can do together and Huawei is a great example of that. I've seen some of latest optical technology being developed in Britain by British researchers." He said of Huawei plans to expand its R&D investment in the UK. "If we work with the Chinese we can make Britain a more prosperous and successful country." He said some countries are nervous about Huawei: Britain isn't.
In my blog yesterday I raised the issue of cyber-espionage. The British attitude to it seems to be resigned, in that it's part of the price of doing business here (when I mentioned my iPhone was losing its charge surprisingly quickly to one official, I was told that usually meant it had been hacked). But his presence here highlights one of the underlying issues on this visit, which will be put up in lights tomorrow when he is likely to make an announcement about investment in the nuclear programme: can we have too much openness? Mr Osborne's ambition is to make Britain more open to Chinese investment than any other western economy. But at what cost? There remain huge question marks over the nature of Chinese investment, and possible consequences for national security or even - if you wonder where the money is coming from - national integrity.
If yesterday was the official, high finance part of the visit - with a major announcement making Britain the first major hub for renminbi investment in China - today is high tech day. After Huawei, Mr Osborne visits Tencent, the world's third largest Internet company worth $100bn, which is behind the booming WeChat app. And later on he will travel on the 300km/h high speed rail line from Shenzhen to Guangzhou and no doubt appreciate how in China opponents to HS2 wouldn't get much of a look in. Last night he hosted a small dinner at the residence for key figures who embody the creative links between China and the UK, including the designer Thomas Heatherwick, Angelica Cheung, the editor of China Vogue, and Ian Livingstone, of games maker Eidos. His argument was that he could have invited bankers but wanted to focus on the common theme of genius that he says is better representative of China than British perceptions of "a sweatshop on the Pearl river".
When the Government announced plans to limit social care costs in July, Norman Lamb declared that "no one need face unlimited care costs or the prospect of selling their home in their lifetime." It turns out that we should have read the small print. It has now emerged that the cap on social care would be means-tested, and only apply to those whose savings and other assets were below the cap of £23,250. Lord Lipsey, a Labour peer and former member of the Royal Commission on long-term care of the elderly, said that "The Government has welched on the deal"; Labour is constructing its own proposals, expected to include a levy on the value of estates after death. We argue that the issue is too important to be hidden from the public: "Whatever system we come up with – ideally one that places a greater reliance on private insurance – there has to be a debate about what is fair and what is affordable, and it has to be conducted both with realism and out in the open." The Mail is worried about the message sent out: squander all your money when you’re young and, don’t worry, the state will look after you in your old age.
Nick Clegg has hinted at changes to the bedroom tax. "I accept that there will be cases where for some households this change from one system to another creates real dilemmas which need to be addressed through the money we are making available to local authorities", Mr Clegg said, declaring that resources made available to local authorities to deal with the tax have been trebled. The Government has commissioned a consortium led by Ipsos Mori to undertake an independent review of the spare room subsidy. Mr Clegg said that he thinks that the impact "varies enormously between one part of the country and another."  
Many Conservatives are optimistic about the potentially transformative impact of fracking, but a forecast produced on behalf of the Department for Energy and Climate Change is rather less optimistic. It predicts 15,900 to 24,300 full-time jobs – direct and indirect – would be created at "peak construction" by the shale gas industry, a third of the 74,000 cited by Dave over the summer, as the FT reports. Meanwhile Caroline Lucas writes in the Guardian of why she risked arrest at Balcombe in August, and says that her likely trial will not undermine her ability to serve as an MP. Mrs Lucas also writes a letter to the paper - along with seven other MPs, including Tories Zac Goldsmith and Jeremy Lefroy and Lib Dem President Tim Farron - saying that it's "Time to take a tough stand on biofuels."
The replacement for Nigel Evans as a Deputy Speaker of the Commons will be announced today. Conservatives David Amess, Henry Bellingham, Brian Binley, Simon Burns, Nadine Dorries, Eleanor Laing and Gary Streeter are in the ballot; the winner receives an extra £36,360 alongside their MP's salary. Mrs Laing is reckoned to be the slight favourite, with Mr Bellingham lurking just behind and Mr Streeter and Mr Burns (who once called John Bercow "a stupid, sanctimonious dwarf")also in the running. For some light relief from it all, check out Michael Deacon's sketch on the race "to work for such a popular boss."
The grim realities of Coalition government mean that Mr Cameron has fewer powers of patronage than he would like. He has used the No 10 Policy Board as one way to make up for this, and yesterday promoted Alun Cairns, Andrea Leadsom, Priti Patel, Chris Skidmore and Nadhim Zahawi to it. There is a strong free-market tinge to the group, with Patel and Skidmore two of the authors of Britannia Unchained. But with an eye to the Tories' problems with ethnic minorities (they received only 16 per cent of the ethnic minority vote in 2010), it will be intriguing to see whether Mr Zahawi's support for an amnesty for illegal immigrants gets much airtime.
The Supreme Court will today rule on two murderers seeking the right to vote. If it says yes, expect a strong response from the PM, who has previously said the prospect of prisoners voting makes him feel "physically sick".  
The number of people using foodbanks has tripled since April, with research from the Trussell Trust showing that more than 350,000 people have used them in this time. Government poverty tsar Frank Field, said that "Something very serious is happening to people at the bottom of society", as the Indy reports.
Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, has spoken up about the risks of Britain withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights. "If the UK were to leave the convention, other European countries that have adhered to it in recent years might say, the UK has gone, why should we remain in it?", Mr Grieve said.
Tracey Crouch had an odd dream (or was it a nightmare?):
@tracey_crouch: Just remembered a dream from last night. Was made to go to Cliff Richard's boat to find a specific Fleetwood Mac record. He didn't have it.
In the Telegraph 
Best of the rest
The Times leader - Unfair Cop
The Daily Mail leader - Targeting thrifty is not the answer
Financial Times leader - Risking stability to court the dragon
Vince Cable speech to UKTI Export Conference.
Annual meeting of David Cameron and leaders of devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
9.30am Chris Grayling at the Commons Justice Committee.
9.30am Oliver Letwin at the Commons Public Administration Committee.
9.30am Unemployment figures from ONS.
9.45am Voting rights for prisoners ruling at the Supreme Court.
10am EDL leaders Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carroll on trial over Lee Rigby march.
10am Green MP Caroline Lucas to appear in court over fracking protest, Crawley.
10.10am Home Office minister Norman Baker gives evidence to Lords Committee on psychoactive substances.
11.30am House of Commons election of Deputy Speaker.
12pm PMQs.
2pm Greenpeace families at Foreign Office.
2.15pm HMRC chief executive Lin Homer gives evidence to the Commons Public Accounts Committee

3.30pm Chief of Defence Staff General Nick Houghton gives evidence to Commons Defence Committee.