Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Lobbying scandal hits Tories..

Good morning. Mark Pritchard, the Conservative MP for The Wrekin, offered to use his political contacts to broker business deals with foreign officials and ministers in return for being paid hundreds of thousands of pounds, a Telegraph investigation has found. Mr Pritchard denies the allegations and has referred himself to the parliamentary standards watchdog to clear his name. An undercover reporter posing as a foreign businessman was advised by Mr Pritchard, formerly the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for Albania, to invest in a group of boutique hotels in the country; Mr Pritchard allegedly asked to be paid £3,000 a month for his consultancy services, as well as 3 per cent of any deal, on account of his contacts. Mr Pritchard told the reporter: "To be completely brutal, I know the mayor, I know the prime minister, I know the speaker." He also set out investment opportunities in Hungary, whose APPG he is also a member of. parliamentary rules ban MPs from seeking to profit from their positions and warns them to avoid any potential conflict of interest. Mr Pritchard has been MP for The Wrekin, in Shropshire, since winning the seat from Labour in 2005. His majority is 9,500.
Meanwhile, Labour is demanding that David Cameron investigate transport minister Stephen Hammond's use of an offshore company to reduce his tax bill, as revealed by the Telegraph. Shadow Treasury minister Shabana Mahmood raised the issue in the House of Commons yesterday. After a pounding on Falkirk, Labour is presented with an opportunity to turn the tables on the Tories by drawing attention to their troubles with sleaze; for Labour, who faced the prospect of PMQs becoming Falkirk Question Time for a week, the timing could hardly be better. The problem for Ed of course is that while individual cases of misconduct are awkward for the Tories, it is Labour's credibility - and Mr Miliband's standing - that is suffering more from questions about his judgment and weakness in the face of union demands. But, as I wrote in my column yesterday, this is all a reminder that, when it comes to holding our political elites to account, few countries rival Britain.
Is Ed Miliband Britain "comeback kid"? A feature in the FT by George Parker and Jim Pickard suggests as much, saying that the sight of yesterday's cost of living speech - Battersea power station - "capped a remarkable political regeneration." Their analysis says that Mr Miliband has been transformed from one of the least popular opposition leaders in history to a formidable opponent for Dave on the back of his successful conference, the row with the Royal Mail, and a smart reshuffle. Most interestingly they report that Mr Miliband's conference speech was made in spite of fears from Ed Balls that it would be seen as "anti-business". The changing balance of power within Labour is also reflected by Ed gaining internal support for policies on HS2 (he supports it) and an EU referendum (he opposes it). Of course there remain plenty of questions: no amount of attacks on the "Wonga economy" can disguise the party's weakness on the macroeconomy. As Mary Riddell writes: "Mr Miliband may continue to shine on his chosen agenda, but since the pre-election months will surely be dominated by Tory assaults on supposed Labour profligacy, he risks winning battles but losing the war." And then there is Falkirk. Ed Miliband is still refusing to reopen the inquiry about the murky goings on, ignoring the advice of Alistair Darling in the process. Note the Mail's transcript of "Red Ed accused of willfully 'averting' his gaze as he refuses seven times to say he'll reopen vote-rigging probe".
Westminster's obsession with America is well-known, and there were two significant overnight election results. Chris Christie, was re-elected as New Jersey governor with a 60-39 per cent win over Democrat Barbara Buono. New Jersey is a blue state (it voted for Obama over Romney by a margin of 18 points) and Tim Montgomerie reckons that he's the American Right's great hope: "He proves that minority voters are indeed ready to support conservative policies but not from people they don’t know nor trust. He works on the simple principle that if you like people, they might like you in return." Tim Stanley observes: "The key to understanding this race is that while Christie broadly is a social conservative, cultural issues didn't come into play. If the vote comes down to leadership and economics then the Right can win."
The other big result was Bill de Blasio's thumping victory as New York Mayor - he won 73 per cent of the vote to become the first Democrat Mayor of the city for 20 years. There are notable similarities between de Blasio's platform and Ed Miliband's - the emphasis on a living wage, affordable housing and making the rich pay more in the tax system - as George Eaton observes. So is there a great "lesson" from these elections? Perhaps just that everyone will draw the "lessons" to suit them. And note this de Blasio campaign ad - the sort of uber-personal ad we can expect to see plenty of in 2015 - whether we like it or not.   
Theresa May will today announce that wealthy foreign business executives will get new "VIP" visas to address concerns that tightening immigration laws are deterring "high-value" individuals coming from overseas. James Kirkup notes the deeply confused relationship of politicians with immigration - promising to cut it to "tens of thousands" on the one hand while Dave and George advertise Britain to India and China - and argues that "Whatever the conclusions of the great immigration debate, perhaps the most important is that the voters are usually far more intelligent, and open-minded, than the politicians give them credit for." Tim Wigmore says that both supporters and opponents of immigration undermine their case by reporting selectively and with half-truths.
BAE systems may cut 1,000 jobs from three of its UK shipyards at Govan, Scotstoun and Portsmouth. But note the politics here: Nick Robinson reports that BAE's Govan shipyard will not close - job losses could be offset by a contract to build the new Type 26 Global Combat Ship - with a source saying that the UK government was "acutely conscious of the politics of the Clyde" ahead of the independence referendum.
The lobbying bill has been paused for six weeks in response to criticism from charities, campaign groups and academics. The House of Lords wanted to impose a rare three month pause on the bill to allow for wider debate and consultation; the six week delay is a compromise deal. Plenty of Tory MPs say the problems could have been avoided with a little more consulting drawing up the bill.
Tory support for Friday's EU Referendum Bill steps up today with Grant Shapps and James Wharton doing photos with a giant inflatable ballot box at 11.30 in Old Palace Yard to campaign for an EU referendum before the end of 2017. Ed Miliband's reluctance to support an EU referendum remains a subject that the Conservatives feel they can get plenty of traction from. There is little concern among Tories about Adam Afriyie's amendment calling for a referendum next year, with the consensus being that Tory support for it won't even reach double figures.
Sir Nicholas Macpherson, the permanent Secretary at the Treasury is worth every penny of his salary. But it seems that's not enough. Sir Nicholas, who is paid £176,000, told the Public Accounts Committee: "I obviously chose the wrong vocation. I should have become a town clerk."
The Morning Briefing email is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter 

Greg Hands bids a fond farewell to an outgoing MP:
@GregHands: Best wishes to Labour's Lindsay Roy MP, standing down, in Glenrothes. Will there now be a Unite infiltration like in nearby Falkirk? 

In the Telegraph 
Best of the rest

Daniel Finkelstein in The Times - Machines are becoming cheaper than labour
George Parker & Jim Pickard in The Financial Times - Cost of living speech caps Miliband’s political transformation
Russell Brand in The Guardian - We deserve more from our democratic system
Vince Cable to launch the small and medium-sized business Great campaign.
Home Secretary Theresa May to make an announcement on visas.
9am Photo call with 50 MPs and 30 aerospace apprentices launching the 2014 UK Aerospace Youth Rocketry Challenge.
9.15am Attorney General Dominic Grieve at committee on prisoner voting bill.
10.15am Chief Scientific Adviser giving evidence to MPs on climate change.
12pm PMQs.
1pm David Cameron talks with the President of South Korea Park Geun-hye who is on a state visit to the UK.

2.30pm Theresa Villiers at Northern Ireland Select Committee.