Thursday, 28 March 2013

David Miliband's departure..

Good morning. He couldn't resist one parting shot. David Miliband's resignation interview contained the nugget that he still considered his brother to be "a long climb" away from Number 10. Having clearly decided, in the light of generally positive media coverage, that he should resign more often, Mili D also refused to rule out a comeback insisting that he would not seek American citizenship. AsMichael Deacon writes, North London took the news badly - "outside his Georgian terraced house in London’s Primrose Hill, a day-long vigil for the People’s Miliband was held by hundreds of distraught fans, each clutching a tear-stained banana" - but has British public life lost an intellectual colossus or a "greedy failure in a cosmic sulk"? Peter Obornehas no doubts: 
"During his short, undistinguished career, Mr Miliband has done grave damage to British politics. He is part of the new governing elite which is sucking the heart out of our representative democracy while enriching itself in the process. He may be mourned in the BBC and in north London, but the rest of us are entitled to form a more realistic view. David Miliband has belittled our politics and he will not be missed."
There is some speculation that Mr Miliband's jump stateside could lead to a role in a Hilary Clinton run White House, given the regard with which he is held in her circle. "What price David Miliband in a senior role in the White House and Ed Miliband in No 10?" asks the Mail. "Stranger things have happened in politics. But none that come quickly to mind." In Britain, however, life goes on. The Guardian reports that the Labourassociation in South Shields is keen on a local candidate next time, although a donkey in a red rosette ought to be able to defend his 11,109 (30.4pc) strong majority. With that in mind, the real question come polling day might be whether Ukip can continue to make headway in the north, as well as in lapsed Tory heartland seats. 
And what for Labour? Reading the runes, a number of commentators including the Sun's Trevor Kavanagh call the end of the New Labour project, arguing that under Ed, "it has been left to pro-Blair outriders such as [Telegraph] blogger Dan Hodges to argue for a coherent Labour policy on spending and borrowing". But as Philip Collins in the Times (£) notes, this resignation was not a gesture of political despair so much as it was about fratricide and the frustration of watching Ed having a "good scandal" over phone hacking and cementing his leadership. It may be a personal tragedy, but Mili D's departure is hardly an ideological earthquake for the Labour paty.
The Morning Briefing is taking the weekend off. Back Tuesday. Happy Easter to all subscribers.
If you're starting to lose track of the belt-tightening due post-2015, I don't blame you. A private letter to ministers from Danny Alexander last night suggests that for the Treasury to achieve its Budget savings target of £11.5bn in 2015/16, a chop of up to 10pc for every non-ringfenced department will be required, we report. While the exact distribution of the cuts will not be settled until June, they will fall on departmental resource budgets, not on the welfare system. The Independent reports that the 10pc reduction will apply to every non-protected department other than defence, which will only need to cut 5pc. 
Sounds like a case for the National Union of Ministers? Steady. As theGuardian explains, the 10pc figure is there simply to give the Government "options", and a cut of that size in every targeted budget would save £3bn more than is planned. What stays and what goes will not be known until the publication of the spending review for 2015/16, and as Vince Cable has made known, that is very much a temporary document holding place until the next government is decided. As the Chancellor kept insisting in the Budget, Britain may be open to business, but with an outlook this cloudy, who would want to invest?
An MP's lot has not been a happy one since the expenses scandal, certainly according to Karl McCartney. As we report, the MP for Lincoln told World at One that he had been forced to max out his credit cards, drain his loan facility at the bank and borrow money from his parents because of the intransigence of the Commons expenses body Ipsa. Mr McCartney claimed that he was owed £25,000 by August 2010 after being returned in May. He claims to have been told that this is because when the "senior management team at Ipsa...go to the pub on a Friday night and meet with their friends, their friends tell them that they should screw MPs into the ground." All sounds very bitter to me.
Theresa May's recent rise to prominence as an action woman received a setback yesterday. The decision of the High Court to back the November decision of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission to prevent his deportation came despite the acknowledgement that the UK regarded him as "a danger to national security". A rigid interpretation of human rights rulings in favour of Qatada is bound to re-0pen the Tory debate on scrapping the measures. But at the moment, it's difficult to see how Mrs May can win given judicial intransigence. As the Mail puts it, "it is Qatada holding all the aces in a game Mrs May – and this country – really cannot afford to lose."
Worried about the forthcoming spare-room subsidy ending / bedroom tax beginning? Well Frank Field has a cunning plan: knock down the walls and brick up the windows, as the landlords did in the Nine Years' War to avoid the Window Tax. His rallying cry in the Independent comes with stern criticism of the "grossly unfair" reduction in housing benefit for under-occupancy. A glance at history might tell the protesters anticipated at demonstrations tomorrow not to be too hopeful - the universally despised window tax lasted a mere 156 years before its repeal.
No, not the weather, but council tax bills. As we report, households are having to pay the largest increase in council tax for three years after 39pc of local authorities rejected Eric Pickles' offer to provide funding for a rate freeze. The average bill in England will increase by 0.8pc this year, and London council tax will fall by 0.2pc. Pity the residents ofBreckland in Norfolk, though. Their council tax is up 7.6pc. 
How's that European austerity thing going, then? According to the BBC, the Government is battling EU demands for a further £9.5bn in member state contributions to cover its expenses this year. The UK's share would amount to slightly over £1bn. Mind you, Eurocrats argue that they are not being unreasonable - if Britain's domestic overspend was only £9.5bn a year, we'd think we'd done very well.
The Bank of England's demand yesterday that British lenders stockpile an additional £25bn in reserves did not spook the market - the figure had been expected to be larger. It won't help get lending going again, however, and as such it conflicts directly with the Chancellor's courageous attempt to provide liquidity to sub-prime borrowers in his recent Budget. As the Mail reports, it has certainly made Vince Cable very grumpy. "The idea that banks should be forced to raise new capital during a period of recession is an erroneous one," he said, adding that ‘the FPC exercise will prolong the time it takes for the British economy to recover by further depressing already weak lending [to small and medium-sized businesses]. "
The Prime Minister's wife has visited Syrian refugees in Lebanon on a trip with the charity Save the Children aiming to boost awareness of the plight of those in the camps. "It's so shocking, it's difficult to take it in. You just can't imagine why that would happen," she added. The tales she will have heard will stay with her for a very long time, as I wrote when I returned from a similar trip earlier this month.

Two different takes on recess. First from Kerry McCarthy:

@KerryMP: "Just leaving Commons office after a triple-birthday lunch with current & former researchers then 6 hour blitz on emails. #recessnotholiday"
Then from Tom Harris:
@TomHarrisMP: "Ah, that sweet, lethal (and oddly sexy) combination of @carolynharris, Rioja and karaoke. Easter recess has begun!"

In the Telegraph

Peter Oborne - David Miliband a colossus? He's a greedy failure in a cosmic sulk
Best of the Rest

Philip Collins in The Times (£) - Don't bury New Labour along with Miliband
Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun - New Labour bunch have split for good

Today: Energy Secretary Ed Davey, Business Secretary Vince Cable and Scotland Secretary Michael Moore to publish the oil and gas sector strategy.
09:00 am: Nick Clegg call-in on LBC 97.3.
12:00 pm: BBC strike. Journalists and technicians at the BBC stage a 12-hour strike in disputes over job cuts and workload.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

David Miliband is go..

Good morning. In my office I have one of those life-sized cut outs of David Miliband holding a banana that I borrowed from the Tory press office in Manchester back in 2008. He's followed me from the Burma Road to Telegraph Towers and I'm quite attached to him. What do I do now? Mili D's decision to chuck it in and head for New York is a blow to his followers in the Labour party who nurtured a diminishing hope that he might yet find a place in Labour's high command and maybe even the top job that he tried and failed to win. There will be plenty of analysis of what his departure says about the state of his brother's credibility. In hisover-long letter announcing his plan to resign at some unspecified point, he says keeping the Coalition to one term is "achievable", hardly a sure bet. He doesn't say Labour will win or his brother will be PM.
David M has confirmed what Westminster knew the minute the leadership result was announced: that he was finished as a leadership contender. Losers don't get a second chance in our politics. It was his misfortune to be beaten by his brother, which excluded any possibility of an elder statesman role that might otherwise have been available to him. Peter Mandelson tried to keep the comeback option open last night, but that's fantasy. He's gone and free. Rather than "what if", we should be asking "what now" for his brother. At one level, it will be a relief to EdMil and those around him. Was he consulted in advance I wonder? But the likely impact is bound to be negative: it will be taken as a vote of no confidence not just in the chances of a Labour victory, but in the capacity of the Ed Mil project to accommodate the Labour modernisers of the Blairite wing. That should worry the party.
Labour are putting a brave face on Mili D's decision to accept a position at the International Rescue Committee.  Tessa Jowell has told the Today programme that "this is not any old job. This will be a channel for all his passion". She added that "this is a way of moving on from what is the legitimate fascination of [the brothers'] relationship." Ed is also being quotes as saying that British politics is a "poorer place" without his brother. "As for us, we went through a difficult leadership contest but time has helped to heal that. I will miss him. But although he is moving to America, I know he will always be there to offer support and advice when I need it," he said. In a Guardian blog, Nicholas Watt adds that David's connections insist that "he is not going to be the prince over the water. He is not going to come back to run Labour. That has gone." Meanwhile, over at the New Statesman, Rafael Behr puts it most starkly of all:
"Whatever happens, it has been clear for some time that the next act in the Labour drama was being written without a starring role for David Miliband and he knew it. Since he had no lines in the script, no rousing soliloquies to deliver, he has sensibly chosen to leave the stage."
Boris' hagiography on BBC2 earlier this week overlooked one significant talent - his singing. Bo-Jo treated Michael Deacon to a stirring rendition of Bob Marley's Three Little Birds while launching a busking competition yesterday. On this evidence, perhaps he shouldn't give up the day job. Then again, perhaps he should. Michael Gove's wife is certainly of that view. Writing in the Times (£), Sarah Vine writes that while Boris is not a nasty piece of work, "his bluff exterior belies a single-minded ambition: succeed at everything and anything. As someone close to him once remarked as we watched him thrashing our seven-year-old sons at football, he does hate to lose". However, "Johnson's real enemy is not himself but the way others perceive him...Tories who erroneouslybelieve that a) all the party needs to do to get a majority at the next election is be more like Ukip (they tried that in 2005 and look how well that went) and b) that Johnson would be the man to make this happen (he lives in Islington, remember?)". The verdict? "He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy." Biting. After Michael raged at Theresa May in Cabinet and now Sarah has taken down Boris, it must be reassuring for Dave to know that however bad things get, he'll always have the Goves.
"Political suicide - or a passport to the top of the Tory party?" asks theIndependent on news that Theresa May has ordered the scrapping of the UK Borders Agency in the same week that it emerged there was now a 24 year backlog of cases. As we report, the former UKBA will be split in two, with one part dealing with immigration and visas, the other with immigration law enforcement. It's certainly an audacious move, although as James Kirkup argues on Telegraph Blogs, it could also be seen as having the Home Office's new permanent secretary Mark Sedwill's fingerprints all over it.
The stakes are high. Succeed, and Mrs May will have shown an ability to oversee radical and complex institutional change in an area which matters to voters. Fail, and she will be seen as too ambitious, too insubstantial in her planning. One way or another, this will form a large part of her legacy. Speaking of Mrs May's legacy, another piece of that particular puzzle is due at 11:30 this morning in the Royal Courts of Justice. Abu Qatada, should he stay or should he go? The electorate's view is pretty plain. Now let's see what the judges think.
The ongoing digital war of words between Tim Loughton and the ToryEducation Twitter account believed to be controlled by Michael Gove's advisers continued unabated yesterday (unless anything is deleted this morning, you can see the latest exchange here). The brinkmanship on both sides is brave, but is it wise? It's difficult to see who benefits from the mutual determination to air dirty washing in public. Until the identity of the ToryEducation tweeters is formally disclosed, it's also an unfair fight. The Independent reports that the latest spat has increased the pressure on the Cabinet Office to launch an investigation, but they are unwilling to do so without evidence that someone connected with DfE has broken the Special Advisers Code, evidence which wouldn't be forthcoming without an initial investigation...
Mike Hancock has said that he "vigorously denies" allegations that he sexually assaulted a constituent, the Mirror reports. Both the Lib Dems and Portsmouth Council have launched investigations following allegations that a female constituent was subjected to "upsetting sexual treatment". Given Lib Dem sensitivities following accusations of internal failures to act over Lord Rennard, expect them to come down hard if they do detect wrong-doing. And you know what that would mean. Another Lib Dem v Tory by-election battle, albeit in a reasonably safe Lib Dem seat with a majority of 5,200 or 12.6pc.
Half of Lib Dem party activists are dissatisfied with Nick Clegg's leadership, a rise of 9pts since December, according to a Lib Dem Voice poll reported in the Independent. Mr Clegg satisfies only 46pc with his leadership, with an approval rating of +2pts, by contrast Vince Cable's personal rating stands at +70pts. It's not all bad news though, 78pc still back the Coalition. Whether the Tories feel the same after watching Mr Clegg ring in the Easter recess at DPMQs yesterday is a moot point.Quentin Letts felt they must have been rather agog: "the world watched in marvel. So useless, yet so pleased with himself!"
This morning Nick Clegg will announce tax breaks for bosses who sell a portion of their companies to their workforce, the Independent reports. Funding will be provided from a £50m pot which will be used to offset some of the capital gains tax liability. The tax payer will not be liable for losses suffered by depositors in UK branches of Cyprus Popular Bank, though, the FT (£) reports. Speaking yesterday at the Treasury Select Committee, the Chancellor suggested that the four UK branches of the bank may be taken over instead.
Not only are Britain's new nuclear power stations now going to arrive five years late (16GW of production now due 2030, not 2025), but Hinkley is already £4bn or 40pc over-budget, we reveal this morning. The Nuclear Industrial Strategy report launched by Vince Cable yesterday means that Britain will be reliant on gas imports for most of the decade prior to the nuclear plants coming on-stream. However, without a strike price for electricity agreed, or any partners on-board for EDF, even these timings are prone to slippage. If they do, we really could be staring at black-out Britain. As the Energy Select Committee warned last year, there is no Plan B.
To a large extent, this is an entirely self-inflicted problem. Environmental targets have dictated energy policy and led to the mothballing of productive, but Carbon heavy, plants. As we report, the Government's green energy savings offered in recompense are not all they appear to be. Unless households have both the money and inclination to buy substantial amounts of new kit, they are likely to be net losers thanks to higher energy prices. At a time of squeezed living standards, that is not perhaps the help on energy which households are looking for. As Christopher Booker writes in the Mail:
"Nothing better illustrates the insanity of the shambles our politicians have led us into than the fact that, just when we are closing down our coal-fired power stations in the hope of saving the planet, the Chinese are building 363 more of them, the Indians a further 455 and even the Germans another 20 - adding far more CO² to the world's atmosphere every week than Britain puts out in a year."
Jeremy Hunt confirmed yesterday that, in a bid to avoid anotheroccurrence of the dreadful neglect at Mid Staffs, there would be a new "whistleblower-in-chief", a culture of "zero harm", and nurses would need to spend a year as healthcare assistants before qualifying. As Michael Deacon explains, the Health Secretary believes this will make them more compassionate, although "it’s not yet clear how this increase in compassion will be measured, or how the Government will update the House. ('Mr Speaker, figures show that NHS wards are 12 per cent kinder year-on-year. The average nurse became 10.2 per cent more sympathetic in the second quarter of 2013, and a further six per cent rise in human decency is forecast by Christmas.')"
Are today's planning reforms the end of England's green and pleasant land? Not at all, writes Eric Pickles. "Our reforms safeguard our glorious green spaces and countryside. They protect the Green Belt," he argues, adding, "no-one who loves our idyllic and precious English countryside wants to see the sword of Damocles hanging over it. Myself included." 
The fight goes on. Writing for us, Jacob Rees-Mogg identifies the reasons to worry about the Royal Charter solution to press regulation following a Lords amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill last week. Firstly, " it could protect an unreasonable regulator from being removed". Secondly, "it bolsters a royal charter that is already a powerful instrument". Don't worry, Rees-Mogg fans, we're soon into a discussion of seditious libel in 1764. It's well worth a read here.
Talk last year that benefits recipients may be given handouts in a form which they are unable to spend on products such as tobacco and alcohol seems to have led to action at  a local level. The Guardian reports that from next month many councils will replace emergency cash loans with a one-off voucher redeemable for approved goods like food and nappies. Plans at other councils include a shift to in-kind support such as food parcels.

A pitiless take on his party's intellectual leadership from Austin Mitchell:

@AVMitchell2010: "Millidee.A party where people read essays and call them speeches will miss his brutal brain power."

In the Telegraph

Mary Riddell - Our NHS is in intensive care, and Labour's treatment has to be bold
Jacob Rees-Mogg - The press must resist this assault on liberty
Allister Heath - Stamp duty is bad for jobs and growth and it needs to be abolished
Telegraph View - No sign yet of a health service turning point
Best of the Rest

Simon Jenkins in the Guardian - Unlike most Tory reforms, the impact of this is forever
Daniel Finkelstein in the Times (£) - It's pro-immigrant to control our borders
Christopher Booker in the Daily Mail - What planet are they living on?
Matthew Norman in the Independent - Boris would be a disastrous PM. So why do I quite like the idea?

Today: House of Commons in recess.
09:30 am: Final estimate of Q4 GDP is published by the Office for National Statistics.
09:45 am: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg speech on employee ownership. Law Society, Chancery Lane.
09:45 am: Francis Maude speech on cyber security. venue to be confirmed.
10:00 am: Skills minister Matthew Hancock speech to Resolution Foundation on low pay. Resolution Foundation, 23 Savile Row.
11:30 am: Abu Qatada ruling. Home Secretary Theresa May finds out if she has won her Court of Appeal bid to overturn a decision allowing radical preacher Abu Qatada to stay in the UK. The Royal Courts of Justice.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Immigration launch falls flat..

Good morning. Downing Street's big immigration announcement went down with a bit of a whimper yesterday. Perhaps it was the fact that it followed major announcements along the same lines by Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, but rather than break new ground, it seemed to nod politely to what the Times (£) leader terms "a political consensus...over immigration". The fact that the numbers involved are getting kicked around this morning won't help. In the Guardian, Nicholas Watt reports that Number 10 have had to scramble to defend the impact of the scheme. Of two million net immigrants to the UK from the eight eastern European countries that joined in 2004, only 13,000 have claimed jobseekers allowance, hardly the endemic culture of "something for nothing" which Dave spoke about. Jeremy Hunt's attempt to help, claiming that hospital accident and emergency rooms were being "clogged up" by foreign nationals, floundered for want of empirical evidence as the FT (£) points out. When an anti-immigrant benefits policy is dismissed by the Mail as "smoke and mirrors", you know something has gone badly wrong with the delivery. It's almost as if the scheme was not submitted to any political scrutiny.
It is not just the launch which could prove problematic, it's the legality. A basic tenent of EU law is that member states may not discriminate against citizens of other member states by giving their own citizens preference. The Express points out that such discrimination is at the heart of these proposals. Whatever formulation has been found to evade them, the government will still need to be prepared to defend its position in a European court system which is not known for its acquiescence to British exceptionalism. As our leader puts it, immigration policy is the art of the possible, and furthermore "as ministers treat immigration as a matter of profit and loss, rather than the cause of often wrenching social change, they will never be able fully to address the grievances it causes."
Any failure to fire from Number 10 inevitably raises leadership talk. As I write in my column today, this talk is now so frequent, so all-pervasive that it has given Dave's premiership a dead-duck feel. The class of 2010 are on his case (also true of the Labour party argues Damian McBride, although he believes they will peak at Cabinet level), and the pressure is now on Dave to fashion a narrative around which he can rebuild his leadership:
"The task of repairing the country demands resilience, imagination, steel and the ability to give a straight answer when asked. Mr Cameron, we should point out, has at times exhibited all those qualities. But he has been eroded by events and poor choices. Unless he can win back his party’s attention, the search for his successor will only intensify."
When all else fails, it's nice to be able to rely on your father. Stanley Johnson comes out swinging in the Sun this morning (not online), arguing that "Eddie Mair's interview with my son was a disgusting piece of journalism and the BBC should be ashamed." Boris himself was magnanimous, telling us that it is the "function of BBC journalists to bash up politicians, particularly people like me." It's a time of saturation coverage for the Mayor. He was the subject of a BBC2 documentary by Michael Cockerell titled "The Irresistible Rise" last night. Our reviewer salutes a man who is "TV gold", adding that "at a time when all other politicians are about as lapel-grabbing as the Emmerdale omnibus, he could make a fortune on pay per view." Boris-gazing abounds elsewhere. Steve Richards writes in the Independent that he will always be the leadership bridesmaid, never the bride thanks to the rule that "a leader-in-waiting will be kept waiting". In the Times (£) Hugo Rifkind argues that "Boris is the direction in which our politics is going, and it's really not all bad. Unless he actually does become Prime Minister, of course. Then it is." As Michael Deacon writes, perhaps the biggest winner from this episode in the present incumbent in Number 10:
"A smile of immense satisfaction spread across Mr Cameron’s face. 'Never underestimate the ability of Boris to get out of a tight spot,' he beamed."
"Nor, he resisted adding, the ability of Boris to get into one."

The principle which the FT (£) sees as having been established in Cyprus - that it is investors not governments who now bear the greatest liability in the eurozone - is still being digested by the markets. As the Mail points out, attempts to suggest that the eurozone had no specific template and was making decisions on an ad-hoc basis by Jeroen Dijsselbloem, head of the eurozone's finance ministers, reassured nobody. Nor did the irony of Germany's Bundestag receiving a vote on the bail-out but not the Cypriot parliament. Writing for us, Nigel Farage argues that the sole bright-spot of the debacle may be a resurgent interest in self-determination in Europe:
"In Cyprus we have a population that would prefer to leave the eurozone than comply with the privations of Germany and Brussels. We have a parliament that has already voted down one scheme, and is thus barred from debating this one. We have a Cypriot archbishop who supports his people rather than the EU. They are not happy and they are pointing to a new reality."
While that new reality takes hold, we are left with what Max Hastings calls "one of the nastiest and most immoral political acts in modern times". A domestic issue raised by the Mail's leader is whether the IMF ought to be encouraging European integration or whether its "purely economic brief" should have forced it to re-examine the case for Cyprus remaining in the single currency. Given our sizable contribution to the IMF, it is also a question which backbench Tories may soon find themselves asking, too. The FT (£) argues that "no other package of policies would be better than this", but with yesterday evening's announcement that all banks would remain closed until Thursday, normality is still nowhere in sight.
The Mail is distinctly unimpressed to learn that William Hague and Angelina Jolie are in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo asking local politicians to campaign against sexual violence at times of war. "The euro is in crisis, so what is our Foreign Secretary doing in Rwanda with Angelina Jolie?" it asks, not unreasonably. On our Wonder Women website, Cathy Newman, who is travelling with the pair, says she will be grilling them over what they can realistically achieve over the coming days. Watch this space.
Jeremy Hunt has insisted that "hands-on caring experience and values need to be equal with academic training" as he announced last night that nurses undergo at least one year's training in basic care. As we report, the Government will formally respond today to the recommendations of the Francis Inquiry, but the pre-announcement of minimum practical training standards suggests that a greater emphasis on practical experience will be at the heart of any new system.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has condemned the Education Secretary and Ofsted's chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw in the first vote of no confidence in its history. As the Mail reports, the general secretary Dr Mary Bousted earlier told the conference that the pair are like "blood brothers, with a pact to suck life and hope out of our educational system". And to think, this is a union at the moderate end of the spectrum.
There's nothing like getting your excuses in early. The never-ending winter may tip the economy into a triple dip recession when the figures for the first three months of the year are published, according to the Guardian. Blizzards in December were blamed for a 0.5pc drop in quarterly output with Samuel Tombs from Capital Economics telling the paper that high street spending may be down as much as 1pc. Expectations are not high this year (as low as 0.6pc to be precise), but beginning 2013 with another recession hardly bodes well. Fortunately for the Chancellor, even Labour voters do not trust his opposite number on the economy. A ComRes poll for the Independent found that 35pc of Labour voters do not trust the Eds on the economy, their overall approval rating on economic affairs is -40pts and only 32pc blame the Coalition for the current mess.
A survey of 81 councils by the Guardian finds that almost half plan cuts to care services for adults, more than half plan cuts to children's services, two-thirds plan cuts to culture and sport and 75pc will cut planning in the year ahead. However, the figures should be qualified by noting that the national spend on adult social care and children's services will rise. Elsewhere in the paper, campaigners argue that cutting planning budgets could lead to a free-for-all for developers. Nick Boles will be delighted.
Tony Blair's former adviser Sir Michael Barber has just returned from a three year stint in Pakistan and sets out his case for aid radicalism and rigour in a paper for Reform published today. In an article on our website, Sir Michael argues that an effective budget spend means ultimately that aid projects can be withdrawn: "The more effectively we spend the current UK budget of around £10 billion per year, the sooner it can diminish for the right reasons. That should be the aim."

A proud Robert Halfon sees his constituency blaze a trail:

@halforn4harlowMP: "Am I dreaming or is BBC Six O Clock News saying that triangle flap jacks have been banned from an Essex school for safety reasons!!!!!!!"


In the Telegraph

Benedict Brogan -
Pity our poor PM - the Tories are now in a post-Dave state of mind
Nigel Farage - This is all about saving the euro, not Cyprus
Tom Rowley & Auslan Cramb - Welcome to blackout Britain
Telegraph View - Immigration and the limits of the possible
Best of the Rest

Steve Richards in The Independent - Boris is leader in waiting. He'll never be leader

Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) - Old Labour rears its rebellious head again
Max Hastings in the Daily Mail - One of the nastiest and most immoral political acts in modern times
Polly Toynbee in The Guardian - Labour needs to recapture the spirit and nerve of 1945

09:30 am: Cabinet. 10 Downing Street, London.

09:30 am: Justice Minister Helen Grant gives evidence to Commons Justice Committee on women offenders. Wilson Room, Portcullis House.
10:00 am: The Office for Budget Responsibility gives evidence to the Commons Treasury Committee on the Budget. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
10:50 am: Boris Johnson and Misha B launch Gigs 2013, an annual busking music competition. London Bridge Tube Station (just inside Tooley Street entrance).
11:30 am: Business Secretary Vince Cable gives evidence to Commons Business Committee on Kay Review of equity markets. Committee Room 8, House of Commons.
02:15 pm: Chancellor George Osborne gives evidence to the Commons Treasury Committee on the Budget. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
02:30 pm: Martha Lane Fox introduced in the Lords. E-commerce pioneer Martha Lane Fox will be introduced as a non-political peer, taking the title Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho. Composer and broadcaster Michael Berkeley will also take his seat. House of Lords.
03:00 pm: Environment Secretary Owen Paterson gives evidence to the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on flood funding. Committee Room 8, House of Commons.
03:00 pm: UK Border Agency gives evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Dangerous precedent..

Good morning. Overnight, a deal has been reached in Cyprus (follow our live coverage here). An agreement which will secure €10bn of bailout funds was agreed by finance ministers from the 17 eurozone countries. Depositors and bond-holders will be hit. Popular Bank of Cyprus will be shut, with all deposits below €100,000 shifted over to Bank of Cyprus and a "bad bank" created to house the remainder. Deposits above €100,000 in both banks will be frozen, and a raid on savings is expected to net up to €4.2bn. Even senior bank bondholders face being "wiped out" as we report. The deal does not require the approval of the Cypriot parliament as it involves the restructuring of the banks, not the direct imposition of a tax, although the FT (£) is reporting that those accounts which will be drawn on for "bail-in" funds will lose a "significantly higher" sum than 20pc (with the Today programme suggesting that some may lose up to 40pc).
So, the eurozone lives to fight another day, but the precedent established here will send chills throughout the rest of the continent. Germany is no longer willing to play lender of last resort without a significant level of self-sacrifice from the country with the begging bowl. Given that eurozone economics is still oriented largely towards the notion of perpetual German goodwill, and that by all accounts President Anastasiades came close to leaving during overnight negotiations, it feels as though the continent has edged closer to the brink that ever before over the last week. 
Cyprus is the big, bad news of the day but Westminster will be riveted by the Boris Johnson bike crash. Has it made a difference to the blonde bombshell's chances? No, if by that you mean has it changed what we know about him. All the allegations have been in the public domain for years, and well studied by Borisologists. His friends will point out that he has twice been elected mayor despite his past, and that suggests the voters take a sanguine view of his failings. But Eddie Mair's demolition job will have an effect nevertheless: Boris has so far traded on a collective willingness by the media to overlook his record in order to relish his personality. He is too good a story to stop, or at least was until yesterday. The danger must be that it will now be open season, and we will get more like this. Boris has to consider what his response will be if the Mair moment proves to be the beginning of a trend. Team Dave likes having Boris as the enemy: a threat, but a contained one (not in the Commons, and with baggage). They will be happy to see him squirm, but don't want him to implode. Not yet at least.
The headlines tell the story so far as the interview goes. The "bike crash" line is the Guardian's, the paper also describes it as "the worst interview the mayor has ever conducted". The Times (£) found that Bo-Jo was "made to squirm at past misdeeds", while the Mail's Quentin Letts suggests that the additional scrutiny, both yesterday and in tonight's BBC2 documentary, might be no bad thing: "Bonker Boris versus Honker Miliband. It’s not hard to see who would win the ladies’ vote in that one." As for the mop-haired one, he's launching a new policing initiative this afternoon (see schedule), and it's that he talks about in his column for us, but there's no doubting that Brand Boris is looking a little tarnished this morning.
For an issue which we are often told is not discussed frequently enough, we have heard an awful lot about immigration recently. Today, it's Dave's turn. He'll be speaking in Ipswich shortly after midday and will be being jolly tough on benefit tourists. As we report, new plans will require migrants from the European Economic Area to have a "genuine chance of finding work" to claim benefits. He will also outline plans to cut benefits to some jobless migrants after six months, require non-European immigrants to pay to visit a GP, and prevent  people here illegally claiming benefits based on past National Insurance contributions. As the Sun's newest columnist writes himself, "Since I became Prime Minister, I’ve said that my Government will back everyone who wants to get on in life. And that’s true whether your family have lived here for centuries or you came last week."
If the plans contribute to a slackening of the pace at which the welfare bill is expanding, they will be very welcome. As we report, figures alongside last week's Budget show that forecast spending on benefits between 2011/12 and 2015/16 has risen by £6.4bn since the Autumn Statement. With the Lib Dems ready to block further welfare cuts, as they did with a proposed £6.5bn saving earlier this month, the welfare system has become one of the great obstacles to putting Plan A into practice.
The "catastrophic leadership failure" which Lin Homer delivered while in charge of the UK Border Agency ought to have acted as a bar to her taking up a position as chief executive of HM Revenue & Customs, according to the Home Affairs select committee. As we report, Mrs Homer left a 24 year backlog of immigration cases in her wake at the UKBA, a total of 312,726 cases or the population of Iceland. Keith Vaz has said that he was "astounded" that Mrs Homer was then promoted. With a background like that, she's sure to be on the shortlist if Sir David Nicholson ever gets the boot from his NHS role. Listening to Keith Vaz, though, it's hard not to conclude that the select committee system is fast becoming a vehicle for personal and political point scoring rather than a source of reliable, forensic analysis.
The Tory campaign database is in disgrace, the Times (£) reports. Having frozen in the run-up to Eastleigh, as it had done before the 2010 election. Grant Shapps has brought the system into the party's Milbank HQ, but the messing around has proved too much for some, "they are trying to patch up something that is un-patch-up-able" one staffer grumbles to the paper. The Tories could do with some organisational help. As Tim Montgomerie writes, they cannot rely on Dave's charm alone:
"Mr Cameron's shift from mending the economy to saving his bacon is only the latest in a long line of 'strategic adjustments'. He has struggled to ever define a mission, let alone stick to one."
John Prescott's concern for the Queen's workload, expressed via the comment pages of the Sunday Mirror, has drawn fire from all corners today, not least from Jacob Rees-Mogg who tells the Mail that "the Queen is anointed our Sovereign for life. It is a vocation not a job. Lord Prescott should remember his oath as a Privy Counsellor and as a peer."
The National Planning Policy framework comes into force tomorrow, as we report. With planning permission grants up by a quarter in England since the changes were announced (and down in Wales and Scotland, where they do not apply), there is, as we report, a sense that Nick Boles' drive for greenfield development will alienate further much of the Conservative party's rural base. As our leader puts it, "at a time when the Conservatives are already unpopular it is either brave or foolhardy to pick a fight with their own people."
Douglas Alexander will warn today that Britain's relationship with America would suffer if we were to leave the EU. Euroscepticism risks leaving the nation "relegated diplomatically and economically", Mr Alexander will say in a speech at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. It may be true, but it also raises the question: is the best argument the "in" camp can muster that America will be cross with us if we leave?
The British people are so wealthy that they lack the "national will" to push for economic recovery found in countires like India and China with "real problems", Lord Heseltine tells the Independent. "The richer you get, the less imperative there is," he adds, although he also questions the accuracy of the GDP statistics in the face of rising house prices and employment.
A mere 35 years after it was posed, the McKay Commission have put forward a suggested solution to Tam Dalyell's West Lothian Question - how to address the problem of Scottish, Welsh and Irish MPs voting on issues which only impact English constituencies. Writing on our website, Sir William McKay, the commission's chairman explains that his "menu of options" allow governments to progress along different procedural paths which would give English MPs primacy. However, the reforms proposed do not amount to a formula allowing only English MPs to vote on English laws. That's a pity because, as we report, David Cameron has already promised "English votes for English laws", and he'd be loath to break a pledge.

Chris Bryant reveals a shaky grasp of the constitution. Since time immemorial (ok, 1997), new government policies have been introduced either in the Queen's Speech or the Sunday newspapers:

@ChrisBryantMP: "Shouldn't the new proposals on immigration be made to parliament? 


In the Telegraph

Boris Johnson - It's bobbies, not buildings we need in the fight against crime
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Alan Rusbridger in The Guardian - We need reform and a free press. This will require both time and openness
Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) - Charisma won't win Cameron the election
Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun - PM a political dwarf: sleepy, dopey, grumpy

09:15 am: Launch of Mayor of London's policing plan. The Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Metropolitan Police Service Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe will join members of the Dalston Safer Neighbourhood Team on their local beat to launch the Mayor's Police and Crime Plan. Dalston Safer Neighbourhood base, Shacklewell Lane, E8 2DA.
09:30 am: Assembly committee publishes report on organ donation bill. The Health and Social Care Committee publishes its Stage 1 report on the Human Transplantation (Wales) Bill. The bill aims to increase the number of organs and tissues available for transplant by introducing a soft opt-out system of organ and tissue donation in Wales. National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff, CF99 1NA.
09:30 am: British Bankers' Association (BBA) releases its latest high street banking report.
12:45 pm: David Cameron speech on immigration. Ipswich.
03:15 pm: Public Accounts Select Committee to hold an evidence session on funding for new school places. Barking Town Hall, Barking.
04:00 pm: Launch of report by all-party parliamentary group on the Off-Gas Grid. Room R, Portcullis House.
06:30 pm: Business minister Michael Fallon speech to Politeia. East India Club, 16 St James' Square.