Monday, 4 November 2013

PM's HS2 vision..

Good morning. The Prime Minister addresses the CBI's annual conference today, so he's talking about the economy. He's making a big push for HS2, or the "North-South railway" as he describes it. Mr Cameron is defying the doubters and the conclusions of his Government's own research which says he'd be better off - in straight cost-benefit terms - tarting up existing lines. His calculation is that it will be easier for him to sell the economics of HS2 at a time of rising growth, and that he can sell it to the voters as a visionary gamble, something bold that is evidence of leadership and optimism. The "national unity" line he will use today is interesting: he reckons HS2 can be made to look like a national endeavour under threat from naysayers.
It's telling that he will accuse opponents of taking down the economy, of betraying the North. Downing Street predicted that Ed Miliband would give way and support HS2 after flirting with withdrawing its support. The plan was to hammer opponents by portraying them as timid, unambitious, lacking in vision. Mr Cameron will develop the theme today, which suggests he is bullish about his case and sees no need to be conciliatory. It would be worth seeing what No10's focus group work and polling says about HS2. I suspect it's sufficiently neutral to make it worth a try. Or at least that it tells them that voters are prepared to be led, and that vision has electoral value. Mr Cameron's announcement that Sir David Higgins will start by running his own cost-benefit analysis, with a focus on how it could best "maximise the benefits for all parts of the country" suggests he is looking for evidence that the north will be better off. He will place HS2 in the context of his wider aim of restoring the economy. According to No10's overnight briefing, he will stress the need to improve the lot of people across the country, to build a "recovery for all". The global race gets a mention, of course. What really helps Mr Cameron? Well, imagine if the Q3 growth numbers had been a disappointment, or there was no return to growth. He has the good fortune to be appearing before a business audience when things are looking up. HS2 is but one example of how the economics are making the politics easier. Every day that passes with conditions improving increases Mr Cameron's advantage in the fight against Mr Miliband.
Here's some extracts from the speech: "Britain is in a global race for jobs and wealth. Our infrastructure is decades out of date and we urgently need to invest and build. Those who want to delay or obstruct HS2 show a lack of vision. They are playing politics with Britain’s prosperity. They are betraying everyone north of Watford. And they want to condemn Britain to the slow lane. We can either tell our grandchildren we made big, long-term decisions to build a better country... Or we can tell them we dithered for decades while the world raced ahead. That kind of no-can-do spirit will get us nowhere. Fortune favours the bold – not the weak and indecisive. I ask everyone across politics to put their own interests aside – and put the national interest first."
Speaking about Sir David’s role in delivering HS2 the Prime Minister is expected to say: "Britain has shown it can build great infrastructure like HS1 or the Olympics on time and on budget. And with Sir David Higgins in charge - the man who built the Olympics - we will do that for the north-south line too. He has agreed that the first vital step will be to bring his penetrating eye and expertise to a specific task. To report on the costs. And to maximise the benefits for all parts of the country as quickly as possible. He has already said the line could come in 'substantially' under the current budget. And he has also made it clear he needs cross-party support to do it."
In case you missed it yesterday, the Tories have hired Lynton Crosby full-time for a reported £500,000 a year. MPs credit Mr Crosby with "cutting out the crap" in the last year and will be pleased he is being bumped up from a part-time gig.
Bad news for Philip Hammond. The cost of aircraft carriers has risen by £800 million to £6.2 billion, it will be revealed this week. The defence secretary's USP is that he is very good with numbers so the extra costs will damage Mr Hammond's claim to have avoided the bean-counting problems of other departments.   
You certainly can't accuse the press of giving in without a fight. The Mail asks: "Why did Cameron not reveal links to Press curb group?" The issue is Dave failed to declare that he is a patron of an initiative run by Common Purpose, whose founders created a campaign group pressing for tougher media controls. The link was not formally declared when the Leveson Inquiry was launched in July 2011. Those opposed to press oversight by the new royal charter will be heartened by Maria Miller's comments on Marr yesterday that newspapers will be given a chance to make their reformed regulator work and the charter may not be necessary. But Chris Huhne isn't sure what all the fuss is about. He writes in his Guardian column that it's "ludicrously implausible" that self-regulation will work for newspapers when it failed in securities trading, banking and construction.
It's Living Wage week. Ed Miliband yesterday revealed that he plans to incentivise firms to pay workers the living wage and make work pay - there'll be full details tomorrow. While there has been a mixed response from business so far, the political play is clever. Mr Miliband will hope this will help to boost his standing in several areas - the cost-of-living terrain on which he is already comfortable, but also the weaknesses on fiscal credibility and as the "welfare party". But former Blair adviser John McTernan isn't impressed, writing in The Times: "It’s a nice idea but the Living Wage would destroy jobs". Ed Balls opposed Mr Miliband's similar-sounding plan in the Labour leadership election - which was for employers who pay the living wage to pay a lower rate of corpation tax - but views the new plan as different, as it allows employers to keep some of the savings to the Treasury from them paying the living wage and the Exchequer keeps the rest. Mr Balls speaks at the CBI conference today, and Mr Balls will try and win business friends with a pro-business, pro-EU message, echoeing the CBI's claim that membership is worth £3,000 to every British household. He will also call for the review into airport capacity to report pre-election, accusing Dave of giving it the long-grass treatment. Meanwhile the Falkirk allegations rumble on, with the Mail splash reporting that Lorraine Kane has rejected Unite's claims that she has withdrawn her story.
Francis Maude has defended the outsourcing of Whitehall jobs, telling the FT that "If you were to say ‘we’re never going to allow any offshoring’ what you would do is actually result in more jobs being lost in Britain by creating an entity that is incapable of being really competitive." Mr Maude added that he was "not willing to take a dogmatic view that the shutters go up at the border."
General Sir Nicholas Houghton has given an interview to The Timesdefending the restructuring of the army and the moves to increase the Territorial Army. Sir Nicholas attacked Liam Fox and Sir Malcolm Rifkind as "salivating defeatists" and, on the army changes, said "I have no doubt that we will get there."
George Osborne is planning to use the Autum Statement, on December 4,to attack green taxes.  The main target is the Energy Companies Obligation scheme, which funds loft insulation and other projects for vulnerable consumers. Switching payment for this to general taxation would save an average of £69 from household bills, and another £6 could be saved by removing the feed-in-tariff levy from household bills. Meanwhile, yesterday's Mirror revealed the 340 MPs who have claimed expenses to heat second homes. Rising Tory star Nadhim Zahawi, recently appointed to the Policy Unit, claimed £5,822.
Theresa May's plan to charge a £3000 security bond for African and Asian visitors to Britain has been scrapped, with Lib Dems claiming the credit. There is a sense that the Lib Dems may be becoming more forceful in making the case for immigration after the "Go Home" vans and Sarah Teather citing the party's hardening stance on immigration in stepping down as an MP.
The Morning Briefing email is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter 

Stella is down with the kids:
@stellacreasy: ha- TOWIE filming in Chingford near gilwell park.... I expect to see the scouts in the background!

In the Telegraph 
Best of the rest

John McTernan in The Times - It’s a nice idea but the Living Wage would destroy jobs
Mike Rake in The Financial Times - What British business wants from a reformed Europe
Vince Cable in The Guardian - Europe is an anchor for British business

0900 London: CBI Annual Conference 2013. Hilton Metropole
From 0945, David Cameron speech, Hilton Metropole
From 1120, Ed Balls speech, Hilton Metropole
0930 London: Living Wage. London Mayor Boris Johnson, and Living Wage campaign, announce new Living Wage rates. Great Ormond Street Hospital

1000 London: Phone hacking trial continues. Prosecution expected to conclude its opening statement. The Old Bailey