Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Ed Balls upsets his old friends..

Good morning. This morning's curiosity is the Financial Times. I wonder what Ed Balls has done to his former friends and employers there? There was a time when the newspaper behaved like a Labour supporter, to the perpetual bewilderment of the City. But study the headlines in today's edition. The splash is "Balls targets bonuses and top property for £6bn tax raid", while on p3, with a "Balls backlash" tag, the headline says "City on alert for Labour's political reckoning" and "Shadow chancellor has blueprint to siphon off money from wealthy if party win election". Phew! The FT channelling the Mail - who'd have thought it? The Balls plan to fund his job creation scheme by taxing bank bonuses and mansions sends, the FT says, "a strong signal that the wealthy will pay more if the party wins power next year."… "his plans risk alienating business supporters and the City". The treatment was triggered by yesterday's middling announcement from Mr Balls and Ed Miiband that there will be more bank levies to pay for Labour's economic programme, a story that has barely made waves elsewhere.
The shadow chancellor apparently has been "emboldened" by the behaviour of the banks spraying bonuses about. It may be too that he has been spurred on by his parlous position within the Labour party. Discussing his prospects with his colleagues at the moment is revealing. On the one hand he is admired as a big beast, Labour's undoubted heavyweight. There is particular recognition for the seriousness he brings to deliberations on the party's policy: it is said for example that he is privately dismissive of the re-introduction of the 50p rate, telling his colleagues that he recognises full well what a pointless measure it is in economic terms. But his political position is weak. Even his allies recognise that if Mr Miliband chose to whack him in a reshuffle there would not be an uprising on the backbenches to defend him. His friends say he has set aside all hopes of winning the Labour leadership, in favour of his wife Yvette Cooper. The FT may have done him a favour, however. Imagine how well those headlines, in the capitalists' bible no less, will play with the Labour rank and file. Just the thing to revive Mr Balls' prospects.

I use my column today to examine why some Tories have taken to grumbling about Michael Gove; as one admirer put it to me last week, he is "off his game at the moment", with the departure of Dominic Cummings as a special adviser perhaps one reason why. As I suggest: "It may be simply that he has done all he can do – all anyone could do – at Education, and needs somewhere else to deploy his talents."
Nigel Evans' trial, which began yesterday, makes the front pages of the Guardian and Indy. It has emerged that Mr Evans was repeatedly warned about his drinking and sexual behaviour by senior Tories, including Patrick McLoughlin, and, in 2009, a parliamentary aide complained that he had sexually assaulted him at his constituency home in Lancashire. In March 2013, Mr Evans allegedly sexually assaulted and then raped a student at his home.
Nick de Bois has joined the chorus of those denouncing the 40p tax rate, saying that creep "can kill ambition and undermine aspiration". Mr de Bois also said that he didn't back Renewal's plan to abolish the 40p rate altogether but start the 45p rate from £62,000. The argument has profound consequences for the future of the Conservatives; as I explained yesterday, David Skelton, Robert Halfon and co "are shaping and winning an argument that legitimises higher taxes on the wealthy and then seeks to redefine the idea of wealth to take in more and more people." The Thatcher/Blair consensus that 40p is as far as it is prudent to go has never seemed further off.
David Cameron is to visit Israel this week, when he will address the Knesset. He will also visit the Palestinian territories. Many will feel that the trip is long overdue - it's Mr Cameron's first visit to Israel as PM.
A historical curiosity worth noting: John Campbell's new biography of Roy Jenkins suggests that he had a brief fling with Anthony Crosland while the two were at Oxford together in 1938. Philip Johnston explains that their 40-year friendship helped to shape modern Britain, noting that "today’s collection of school and university chums who run the country are hardly a new phenomenon."
Gordon Brown ended his silence in the independence debate yesterday, saying that a major recalibration of the Union was needed to end the "permanent stand off" and "war of attrition" that has developed between the governments of London and EdinburghMr Brown proposed to give Holyrood billions in extra tax powers and called for 40 per cent of the Scottish Parliament's spending to be raised from taxes collected in the country - the figure today is only 12 per cent. Whatever the repercussions on the independence campaign, one effect is clear: if Scotland votes no, it can be assured of "devo-max" without needing a referendum to get it.
The Times continues its forensic focus on Ukip this week with a piece examining the "cult of Nigel". A fprmer staffer is quoted as saying: "Ukip is hinged on Nigel’s very complicated personal life, there is very little room to professionalise anything. There are skeletons in his closet. Nigel is dragging Highgate Cemetery behind him." It's also well worth reading Rachel Sylvester's column, which explains that "Britain has changed from a country where blue-collar workers determined elections to one where the aspirational middle classes decide the outcome. As David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg — all well-educated, wealthy metropolitan liberals — focus on wooing Middle England, Ukip is appealing to the "left behind" working-class voters who feel ignored by the political elite."
The Mail's splash lays into Nick Clegg and his flagship free school meal plan. Gail Larkin, of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "This policy was a nice soundbite and took us all by surprise – it just wasn’t thought through properly. One school that has been trialling this has had to start lunches at 11am and finish at 2pm – it’s ridiculous." The concern for the Lib Dems is all the criticism is stopping them getting any dividend for what should be one of the Coalition's most popular policies.
Stephen Williams has declared war on his own boss. The Lib Dem local government minister used a fringe event at Lib Dem spring conference to say that Nick Boles is "hyperactive" and "hated" by his own party. Mr Williams has also attacked his department's own policies, saying that the Government’s scheme to boost house building is "incoherent" and a bar on allowing authorities to raise council tax by more than two per cent is "absurd". More evidence of Lib Dems playing to their audience as the Coalition slowly fragments: the two months until the European elections should be viewed as a test for how well the differentiation strategy plays with the electorate.THE REAL REASON VINCE AND GEORGE DON'T GET ALONG
The honeymoon that never was: in the Coalition's early days, George Osborne ignored an invitation to visit the Cables' family farm in the New Forest, according to Sarah Smith, the Business Secretary's wife. Mrs Smith said: "I wrote a card but I never received an answer. I've seen them since and I thought, should I ask, 'Did you ever get my card?' but then I thought no."
THE UNFINISHED REVOLUTIONNew research published by the Reform think tank today takes Tristram Hunt to task for his recent comments on academies and free schools. Its survey of academies, the biggest ever, finds that over three-quarters have maintained or improved their relationships with local schools and even LEAs. But relatively few academies are yet using their freedom to toughen the curriculum, lengthen the school day and so on. Reform thinks change will accelerate when all schools have the same freedoms as academies (which currently account for one in six state schools in England). So there's plenty more for Mr Gove to do if he remains in his post.

The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim WigmoreFollow Tim on Twitter 

Latest YouGov poll: Con 32%, Lab 39%, Ukip 13%; Lib Dems 8%
Bad habits return:
@GregMulholland1: Oh dear, after leaving the office before 11pm last week I've had a relapse! Left after 1am. Is that #late or #early?! Select ctt at 9:15am!
In the Telegraph
Benedict Brogan - Why are the Tories starting to grumble about Michael Gove?
Philip Johnston - Anthony Crosland and Roy Jenkins: a friendship from the pages of Brideshead
Norman Tebbit - First abortion, now suicide: we’re on a slippery slope
Telegraph View - Labour’s job scheme won’t fool the voters
Best of the rest
Rachel Sylvester - Don’t laugh at Ukip – it’s a serious force
Janan Ganesh - London is a playground for rich and poor
Steve Richards - By itself, even the most public of scandals won’t fix the police, the banks, the energy companies. It’s time for the sledgehammerPolly Toynbee - MPs, support the care bill and it will come back to bite you
9.10am Transport Minister Robert Goodwill launches RAC's child road safety campaign. 18 Old Pye Street.
9.30am Bank of England governor Mark Carney appears before the Treasury select committee to discuss the Bank's quarterly inflation report. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
9.30am Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee takes evidence on IPCC 5th Assessment Review. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
10.15am Primark, Tesco and Sainsbury give evidence to Commons Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill. Committee Room 8, House of Commons. (Evidence from National Crime Agency at 2.15pm.)
2.45pm Commons Home Affairs Committee takes evidence on tobacco smuggling. Wilson Room, Portcullis House.
3pm Commons Environment Committee takes evidence on flooding insurance. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
3.30pm House of Lords Communications Committee takes evidence on televised general election leaders' debates. BBC Committee Room 2, House of Lords.
5pm Foreign Secretary William Hague, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defence Minister David Johnston to attend Australia - UK Ministerial Consultations. King Charles Street.