Monday, 14 October 2013

The Boris & George show..

Good morning. I'm travelling with George Osborne in China, where the emphasis is on getting Chinese cash flowing into British infrastructure projects as part of "the global race". As a staunch bilateralist, the Chancellor has made relations with China a personal priority. He calculates that Britain can profit from its instinctive openness, in contrast to other European countries and the US that are reluctant to let China in. Speaking on the Today programme this morning, Mr Osborne said he was trying to change the "British attitude which treats China as a sweatshop on the Pearl River." Mr Osborne also spoke on the importance of the US resolving its debt crisis: "the world is watching them and wanting them to come to a deal."
Mr Osborne outlined his message to Peking University in Beijing earlier today: "I don't want Britain to resent China's success, I want us to celebrate it. I don't want us to try to resist your economic progress, I want Britain to share in it." To this end, Mr Osborne has announced the creation of 'super priority' visas for Chinese businesses; Chinese tourists and businessmen struggled to understand why securing a UK was such a difficulty when they could secure a single visa to visit all the countries in the Schengen area in one go. This is a significant political victory for Mr Osborne, given that Theresa May has been resisting such changes due to concerns about terrorism and, in particular, espionage.While the five-day trip is compelling enough on its own terms, there is also a fascinating sideshow. Boris is here too, and earlier did a joint Q and A with Mr Osborne, his friend and deadly rival for the succession.
The Conservatives have a couple of solutions to Labour's charge that they have the wrong priorities. The announcement by Mr Cameron today of a £2,000 tax cut for small businesses and new rules to protect them against late payment by big customers is designed to counter Ed Miliband's attempts to position Labour as the party of small business. Dave's conference speech outlines his desire to trumpet the Conservatives as the party of business, and this can be seen as a move to show that the Tories are on the side of the right kinds of businesses. As Grant Shapps puts it in City AM, it's about a vision of "capitalism for everybody". No one can accuse Mr Shapps of lacking ambition in the global race: "We should be the entrepreneurial capital of Europe. It should be the preferred place to come to do business."
With an eye to the next election, the FT suggests that the Conservatives will pledge to raise the personal tax allowance to £12,500. Conservative MPs often lament that raising the personal tax allowance - one of the best stories the Government has to tell on the cost of living - is a policy that has been entirely claimed by the Lib Dems. Enshrining a commitment to extending it would seem to be a way of helping the Conservatives to claim ownership of the policy. And in the Lib Dem-held marginals which the Tories are targetting - 20 of the Conservatives' top 40 target seats have sitting Lib Dem MPs - the hope is that neutralising the Lib Dems on the personal tax allowance will pay electoral dividends.
The weekend saw the first post-reshuffle interviews by Rachel Reeves and Tristram Hunt. After the cull of Blairites Liam Byrne and Stephen Twigg, Labour members might have been hoping that the party would lurch to the left on welfare and education. But they would have been disappointed, with Reeves and Hunt restating previously announced policies on welfare and free schools. As Dan Hodges writes, it might just amount to a "lurch to the centre": increasingly aware that Ukip are unlikely to command anything like double digit support on polling day in 2015, Labour figures believe the party needs a "4o per cent strategy" rather than a 35 per cent one. Mr Hunt has apologised for calling free schools "vanity project for yummy mummies" (Labour supports a near-identical policy of "parent-led academies" and has no intention of closing any free schools). But note the small print: Labour only support schools where there is "demand" for extra places; the logical conclusion of this is that areas with shoddy and under-subscribed schools would be denied any more choice, as Toby Young noted.  
Not many had heard of Dominic Cummings, the special adviser to Michael Gove who is leaving at the end of the year,  a few days ago. Then came the release of Mr Cummings' 250-page document on education, covering everything from the "strong resistance" in the education establishment to "accepting scientific evidence on genetics" to the billions wasted on Sure Start and futile university courses and his view that "real talent is rare and mediocrity is ubiquitous" among teachers. ToLibby Purves in The Times, it's enough to make Michael Gove look like a soggy liberal. Mr Gove has just announced the reform of school league tables, barring schools from boosting their positions by entering pupils for subjects in which it is easier to secure a C grade. Additionally, tables will be based on a point system rather than the crude indicator of how many pupils obtained at least five C grades, as The Times reports.
A cross-party alliance of MPs is reviewing the fox-hunting ban and considering relaxing it. One suggestion is that a full pack of hounds would be allowed to help kill foxes, with Environment Secretary Owen Paterson being pressed on the matter. Mr Paterson gives an interview with The Independent today in which he says that those who oppose the development of golden rice are "absolutely wicked."
As a saleable message on the doorstep it doesn't rank very highly, but Ed Davey isn't pretending that there is an easy way. He said that energy price rises were "impossible to avoid" due to increases in the cost of wholesale gas on international markets. 
Unite has been presented with a bill for £2.3 million after HMRC ruled that Unite had been calculating its VAT in a "grossly unfair and unreasonable" way, as The Times reports. Margaret Hodge commented:"They should pay and they should pay promptly. It is very disappointing that Unite is talking the talk, not walking the walk."
@StewartWood: The world economy can't both be Cameron's 'Global Race' & Osborne's 'Global Cake' providing bigger slices for all as it grows. Which is it?
In the Telegraph 
Best of the rest
John McTernan in The Times - There’s a way out of this cost-of-living crisis
Libby Purves in The Times - The man who makes Gove look a soggy liberal
Trevor Kavanagh in the Sun - Labour poll lead doesn’t add up
0915 London: NHS England will hold a press briefing ahead of a report calling for radical and urgent change to the NHS in London.Victoria Street, London.
1515 London: Commons Public Accounts Committee hearing on the Royal Household Accounts. Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House.

1615 London: Network Rail chief executive Sir David Higgins gives evidence to the Commons Transport Committee. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.