Monday, 2 December 2013


Good morning. David Cameron arrived in China last night for his first visit in three years. It was put off following the Dalai Lama controversy, but the governments have reached an accommodation (they've agree not to talk about it). George Osborne's trip a few months ago paved the way, and now it's down to business. Mr Cameron has taken a large delegation of business leaders - the largest ever we are told - and posed for a team photograph with them on the steps of his plane. The make-up of the delegation has prompted talk of cronyism because it includes his step-father-in-law Viscount Astor, his chum Lord Chadlington and his former adviser Rohan Silva.
There's also talk of kowtowing, because Mr Cameron has outdone itself in lavishing praise on China and the importance of the trade relationship. In an article for a Chinese magazine he has hammered home his message that Britain is more open to Chinese investment than any other country. In return he's had a meeting with Li Keqiang, the new premier, and been welcomed with a bamboo fungus banquet. There's no doubt that the opportunities available to Britain and to China from greater trade are striking. It's also true that for all the talk we don't do that well there. Ask any British entrepreneur who has tried and they will tell you that China remains a hard place to do business. Its commercial ruthlessness is focused on obtaining every advantage from us it can, often by nefarious means, but it gives nothing away. Yet as today's Telegraph leader points out "If the country truly is changing, becoming more open and less the personal property of the Communist party, it makes sense for Britain to exploit this potentially golden opportunity". The Mail is less impressed. Under its headline "Kowtowing to China", it asks "…apart from China's appalling human rights record, its business methods include industrial espionage, routine violation of patents and draconian curbs on foreign companies...After throwing our nuclear industry on Beijing's mercy aren't we already in danger of adopting too humble and unquestioning an approach?" An underlying impression on the back of the Hinckley Point nuclear plant deal and other Chinese investments in the UK is that China's greatest usefulness is as a source of needed infrastructure investment. We want them to open up to British businesses, but we want their cash even more. After all, the Autumn Statement was put back a day to Thursday to accommodate Chinese diaries.
With only three days until the Autumn Statement, the papers are being dripfed nuggets - just like in Damian McBride's day, you could even say. An extra £250 million is being handed to the British Investment Bank to help small firms, and £1 billion could be raised through a crackdown on tax avoidance. But, as a result of giveaways by both Coalition parties over conference season (free school meals, freezing fuel duty and marriage tax breaks), an "emergency round" of £2 billion in spending cuts is being planned.
The central message that George Osborne is conveying is the "no return to boom and bust" line that was the centrepiece of his Marr interview yesterday. Mr Osborne says that fundamental changes are still needed to give Britain an "affordable state" and make the public finances "sustainable". The FT reports that "officials have demonstrated that although the rise in typical living standards has fallen behind the growth of gross domestic product, the amount companies are paying their employees has kept pace". Perhaps it's all rather wonkish, but as it counters Labour's line about a rising tide only lifting yachts, it's a line that we can expect to hear plenty more of. While there is certainly truth in the notion that Labour is driving aspects of Government policy - like on fuel bills, payday loans and cigarette packaging - there is method in the Tory approach. "We will take the steak and leave the gristle", as one insider tellsTrevor Kavanagh. And, for all the tactical difficulties, the big picture is looking increasingly good. Growth is wooing foreign investors and is the envy of the rest of the eurozone. The FT says that: "Some economists believe the UK will be the world’s fastest growing developed economy over the next five years. This is a tempting prospect for foreign corporates and investors, but they are weighing up potential opportunities against the political uncertainty of an EU referendum, as the coalition government staggers from one populist measure to another."
One irony of it all is that the tax-cutting Right of the Conservatives are now telling "the Chancellor to return to his theme of sharing the proceeds of growth", in the words of Dr Liam Fox. Mr Fox writes in The Times that "This time, however, the sharing should be between deficit reduction and tax reduction."
More than two months after Labour's conference and the battle over energy prices continues. £50 will be shaved off green levies and moved to general taxation; in response, EDF  has pledged to freeze its energy prices until the end of next year. But it's not enough for Ed Miliband, who will accuse the Government of "smoke and mirrors" on energy prices and a "cosy deal" with firms in a speech in Milton Keynes today. Mr Miliband will also attack the new ties with China: "David Cameron needs to understand a simple truth: we’re not going to win a race with China by winning a race to the bottom, by competing on low pay and low skills. And, if we try, it will be the people of Britain who lose."     
Just in time for the Autumn Statement, George Osborne has a new friend - and the kids have called her Lola. The Chancellor tweeted: "Some early issues with toilet training ... but we don't care. We love her."
Michael Kane, a key witness in the Falkirk vote-rigging inquiry, "forgot" to tell his family that he paid for them to join the Labour party, according to a sworn statement obtained by Unite solicitors. Mr Kane said: "I accept that I have contributed to the ongoing situation by my forgetting to tell my family that I had agreed to their joining the Labour Party."
A Westminster institution is retiring. Sir George Young, an MP since 1974 and the current Government chief whip, wants to "declare on 41 not out". They'll be no shortage of candidates who want to replace him: Sir George's majority in North West Hampshire is a bullet-proof 19,000.
The drip-drip of unwelcome expenses stories continues: the latest is that Andrew Lansley claimed £6000 in expenses for nights in London hotels since April 2012 despite owning a flat just a mile from Parliament. Mr Lansley's spokesman said that a family member is currently staying in his London flat, although it's thoughts to have more than one bedroom.
In case you missed it, Tim Yeo has not been reselected by the South Suffolk Conservative Association, though in theory he could yet apply to be the new candidate when the new selection process gets underway. Mr Yeo's fate is being presented by Labour as a further nail in the coffin for "vote blue, go green". The former environment minister has been the MP for South Suffolk since 1983 and has a majority of 9,000.   
The Morning Briefing email is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter 
A master of the hashtag:
@David_Cameron: Witnessing Jaguar Land Rover signing a £4.5billion deal to sell cars in China. #UKinChina #GlobalRace

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Prime Minister David Cameron is in China
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