Monday, 20 January 2014

It's about welfare..

Good morning. Rachel Reeves is unveiling a Labour pitch for toughness on benefits today. The party has been comprehensively outdone by the Tories and Lib Dems on welfare, and need a counter-strike to show they aren't a bunch of softies happy to throw buckets of our money at undeserving scroungers. To judge by the preview, which we carry on p1, the idea is to put pressure on the illiterate by requiring claimants who can't read or write to take a literacy test within six weeks of signing on or lose their benefits. Labour estimate this concerns 300,000 people. Those who refuse will have their money taken away. Some reformists will applaud the introduction of yet more conditionality, in this case for Jobseeker's Allowance, though they might also ask whether the bureaucracy required to first test, then educate those judged to be functionally illiterate will be worth the effort. Let's see. For the moment, it's the politics that are telling.
The Tories have launched a thundering pre-emptive strike, a sort of Stalin's organ barrage from not one but two of the Cabinet's heavy artillery. Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa May have placed a joint oped in the Mail promising - as the Mail's splash has it - a "Housing benefit ban on jobless migrants". They lay into Labour for throwing cash at immigrants when it was in office. And they say that from April new EU migrants who claim JSA will not be able to claim Housing Benefit as well. So there we have it: Labour joining the competition to sound tough on welfare, and the Tories retaliating to deny Labour any advantage on an issue they think is both a vote-winner and a decisive one for the general election. The point though surely is that neither party is addressing the big question facing Westminster: how to reduce the overall social security bill in a way that can make a substantive dent in the deficit. What about tax credits? What about pensions? The changes each side is proposing amount to fiddling at the margins in monetary terms. The sums involved are a rounding error. The value to each is political. For the moment the Tories have public support, while Labour is not taken seriously. Rachel Reeves takes a significant step forward today, but as with so much else she is constrained by Labour's legacy of profligacy.
Breaking news: Nick Clegg has just been on the Today programme discussing the Rennard scandal. Mr Clegg said that he had not spoken to Lord Rennard about the allegations, and said that "I don't think it's my job to try and micro-manage this." Mr Clegg said that "I hope even at this late stage [Lord Rennard] will issue an apology" and that "If he doesn't apologise, he shouldn't rejoin our party. Let's see what happens today." As if things couldn't get worse for Mr Clegg, he even failed to tell the time correctly.
Lord Rennard says that he's going to return to the Lords as a Lib Dem peer - and threatens legal action if, as Nick Clegg would like, he does not have the party whip restored. Whether Lord Rennard is returned the whip depends entirely on the Lib Dem peers, and they are ready to welcome him back. The Guardian reports that Lord Rennard's supporters say that there is a conspiracy to damage him. His supporters have released an email inadvertently sent to them showing the four women taking up a suggestion to petition the Queen to have Rennard stripped of his peerage.James Landale asks what this tells us about the Lib Dems, and says that "Regardless of the rights or wrongs, regardless of what actually happened, no other party would have allowed 10-year-old allegations about the behaviour of a party official to cause so much damage today."
Dave is losing friends in Britain - and fast. That's the message from an FT report, with several EU powers that should be Britain's closest allies saying that they would resist the PM's attempts to restrict the ability of citizens from new member states to travel freely across the union. The most telling quote is from Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the new German foreign minister, who says that his anti-immigration posturing "damages Europe and damages Germany." All of which is a gentle way of pointing out that, if Dave is going to get the changes in Europe that he wants, he's going to need all the friends he can get. Right now, he gives the impression of not having many. The car industry is not one either, and is leading calls for Britain to stay in. Over 80 per cent of cars produced in Toyota’s factory near Derby are exported to continental Europe.  
There's a few stories lurking in the papers that hint at Ed Miliband's leadership problems. The Times reports on frustration that Mr Miliband has allowed in-fighting to fester, with a Labour insider saying that "there is no grip and no direction just a whole lot of separate spheres of influence" and complaining of a "lack of a real plan for the election". But the Labour leader appeared to confirm Ed Balls' position yesterday, telling Marr yesterday that "Ed Balls is doing a really good job and, absolutely, I've said he is going to be the shadow chancellor going with me into the election". Mr Miliband also said that he wants to create a "fairer" system, which will get Tories warning that this could mean not reinstating the 50p tax band or introducing a mansion tax, but both. We aren't convinced by his claims to be the saviour of the middle-class: "What the middle classes really need is relief from punitive taxes. That Mr Miliband prefers to lay out his own vision of social democracy, rather than discuss the practical details of people’s problems shows that he does not understand the audience he is trying to address."
So who is Mr Miliband trying to be? The answer, according to his aide Stewart Wood in a Coffee House article, is Teddy Roosevelt. Lord Wood writes that the Tories' "assumption of an automatic affinity between the interests of the private sector and the public interest that would have shocked Teddy Roosevelt, the progressive conservative." Tim Stanley looks at who Roosevelt was - and finds the answer to be a racist, imperialist, power-hungry megalomaniac. Perhaps not such a good model for Ed after all.
Is this really the way to win over Tory deserters to Ukip? Michael Fallon has said that "there clearly are one or two fruitcakes still around" in Ukip.
The Conservatives are trying to exploit Francois Hollande's troubles for all they're worth, recognising them as a way of inflicting damage upon Ed Miliband. The latest Tory to pop up with this line of attack is Grant Shapps, who says that the French economy has been "run into the sand" and ordinary families have been made to "suffer" for Mr Hollande's "socialist" agenda. That'll do wonders for relations ahead of this month’s annual Anglo-French summit.
The Mail says there's a whiff of a Chequers cover-up because the Government's failing to publish a full list of visitors to Chequers, exploiting a loophole which means that visitors there funded by the Conservative Party, or Dave personally, can be kept secret. The latest annual Chequers list was published on Friday night, and includes the Emir of Qatar and Rebekah Brooks. The Mirror has a similar line of attack on the PM, saying that Lord Leigh of Hurley landed a peerage after his company negotiated the sale of Smythson of Bond Street, which employs Samantha.
Eric Ollerenshaw has given a moving interview about the death of his partner from pancreatic cancer, and his attempts to improve standards in its diagnosis, treatment and research. He says that "There has been no improvement in mortality rates for pancreatic cancer in 30 years".
A great political mystery has been solved. In an autobiography published posthumously, Malcolm Wicks has admitted that as a civil servant he leaked the content of cabinet discussions in 1976 revealing that the Callaghan Labour government resorted to "downright lies" to try to shelve the introduction of child benefit. The back led to the introduction of child benefit.
The Morning Briefing email is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter 
What do the Lib Dems do about Lord Rennard?
@lfeatherstone: I agree with Nick! The whip should not be returned to Lord Rennard.
In the Telegraph  
Best of the rest 
Theresa May and Iain Duncan Smith in The Daily Mail - This shameful betrayal
0800 LONDON: Nigel Farage speech and Q&A on the City and Europe. Fishmongers Hall, London Bridge
0900 LONDON: Nick Clegg mental health conference. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Care Minister Norman Lamb are holding a conference on mental health. Coin Street Neighbourhood Centre, South Bank
0900 LONDON: Secretary for Culture, Media & Sport Maria Miller joins Tate director Nicholas Serota and Tate Modern director Chris Dercon to announce Tate Modern's plans for the Turbine Hall and an international partnership
0930 LONDON: Defence due to start in trial of Constance Briscoe. The barrister and part-time judge is accused of perverting the course of justice in connection with the Chris Huhne case. She denies two counts of intending to pervert the course of public justice, relating to statements made to police and one of falsifying a document. Southwark Crown Court

1030 LONDON: Rachel Reeves speech. The shadow work and pension secretary will make her first major policy speech since taking on the role. IPPR, 14 Buckingham Street, London