Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Miliband and the EU..

Good morning. From uncertainty to…uncertainty. Ed Miliband has ended the speculation about his position on a referendum, only to replace it with what looks like confusion. Take the conflicting headlines, for starters. He's made his announcement via an article in the FT, which declares in its splash "Miliband rules out early EU poll". His office has evidently taken the precaution of briefing other papers. The result is this Mirror headline: "Ed: we will give EU an in-out vote". So which is it? Peter Mandelson was asked about it on Today earlier and couldn't come up with a plausible explanation. In effect Mr Miliband has made an offer he says he won't have to deliver. It's the dodgy carnival prize, the one no one ever wins.
He reckons he can match David Cameron's boasting by saying that he too now has a referendum in his manifesto, while at the same time appeasing the worriers in the City who are uneasy about the prospect of a government risking Britain's EU membership. Mr Miliband will also try to play the 'my referendum is harder than yours' game by pointing out that he offers an in-out choice on a transfer of powers, and not just a yes-no.
The Guardian explains that he has given in to pressure from Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Jon Cruddas, who had been arguing for a referendum pledge. Others in the top ranks won't be so pleased, arguing that Labour's pro-EU credentials were hard won after the outism of the 70s and 80s. The FT reportsthat the idea behind the pledge is to promote EU reform without threatening to leave. "We want reform but you don't achieve that by holding a gun to your own head in front of your European partners," one Labour source tells the paper. Across the Channel they might conclude rather that Mr Miliband has given in to pressure by producing an unconvincing fudge (which is how the Sun describes it). The Sun however, also points out that at least we now know that a vote for Ukip means no chance to vote for in or out.
What does it mean for Mr Miliband personally? It's hard not to go back to my opening point - first uncertainty, now confusion. The more Lord Mandelson told Today that this was a sign of leadership and strength, the more it sounded like he was saying the opposite. I can't share his view that it's a game-changer for Ed, unless it tilts people away from him inside the party. Lord Mandelson is right that in the City and elsewhere the prospect of a referendum is beginning to look like an irresponsible threat that undermines Britain's ability to attract inward investment. He's certainly right that in Mr Cameron's case his referendum pledge hasn't silenced his rebels or shut down the Ukip threat. The point though surely is that those criticisms can now be applied with bells on to Mr Miliband, who can now be accused of taking risks, pandering to threats, trying to appease Ukip and yet doing it in a way that is half-hearted and weak.

Mark Carney yesterday said that interest rates could rise to 3%, from their current  0.5%, by 2017: welcome news for savers, but ominous for those in debt. The Governor of the Bank of England said: "When the time comes — a welcome time — to raise rates, we expect it to be gradual, and the degree to be limited." But politicians will have paid particular attention to Mr Carney's comments that interest rates could rise before a general election - an interest rate hike before May 2015 would contain political risk for the Conservatives.
As I predicted a few days ago, the 40p rate has become "the story" of the 2014 budget, and the onus is on the Chancellor to respond, or at least make it damned clear that he gets what all the concern is about. The Times is the latest to raise the issue - it devotes its front page to warning that a million more people will soon be dragged into the 40p rate, and warns of "a backlash from Tory MPs" over prioritising raising the personal allowance. A thunderer in The Times also sticks it to Mr Osborne, with Ryan Bourne banding the 40p tax band "the coalition Government’s favourite stealth tax." Does this row matter? The concern is of the impression it creates: that the Government has little time for footsoldiers with different priorities.
David Cameron arrives in Israel today, his first visit to the country as PM. He is under pressure to acknowledge> Israel as a specifically Jewish state. The trip comes against the backdrop of the John Kerry-led peace negotiations. Mr Cameron's delegation includes the former BBC newsreader Natasha Kaplinksy while Mick Davis, the chief executive of mining company Xstrata, who gave more than £500,000 to the Tories last year, will attend in his role as chairman of Holocaust Commission. But Mr Cameron's decision to only visit the Palestinian Territories for three hours, tomorrow, over his two-day trip has attracted criticism; a spokeswoman for the Palestinian Liberation Organisation says it amounts to "an afterthought" and "shows the imbalance in the whole situation". In case you missed it, my blog yesterday argued that "If Mr Cameron were to say that he recognises Israel as the natural home of the Jewish people, it would give him some capital in the peace process."
Bob Crow yesterday passed away at the age of 52. He received warm tributes from political friends and foes, with Boris saying that he "really fought for his members and who stuck up for his point of view". It's well worth reading hisTelegraph obituary. In her column, Mary Riddell observes that "it is the lot of the union leader to be on the wrong side of history": "Bob Crow might sooner have travelled to hell in a handcart than to Upminster in a driverless Tube train, but he was far too clever to imagine that he could turn back time." Dan Hodges also salutes him: "He succeeded as a trade union leader. Very few of the current crop can claim the same. And it was because he boiled trade unionism down to the fundamentals. It wasn’t about changing the world, or even the government. To him it was just about delivering for the people who elected him and who paid his wages. Bob Crow certainly delivered."
An amusing story in the Indy: One Direction have urged their fans to email the Chancellor before Budget Day, urging him to maintain the aid budget and crack down on tax avoidance.
The Mirror uses its front page to attack Philip Hammond - "Tory minister in £200-a-month 'tax dodge' " it says. It reports that the Defence Secretary has avoided tax by transferring his share of a £600,000 buy-to-let property to his wife almost two years ago. When questioned by the paper, Mr Hammond snapped: "What has it got to do with you?" A spokesman confirmed that Mrs Hammond is now responsible for paying all tax on the rent from the cottage.
Worth noting the YouGov poll in The Times, which suggests that Tories still hanker for Boris. 43% say that the Mayor of London would improve Conservative chances in the 2020 election, including 56 per cent of those who would vote Tory. Boris also did far better than other names on the poll - George Osborne, Theresa May, Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt - when it came to those in the North and supporters of other parties. The Mayor delivered the keynote address at a property conference in Cannes yesterday on why London "is now the fourth biggest French city on earth".A DOG'S DINNER
Dominic Cummings, Michael Gove's former special adviser, gets picked-up for his attack on the "back-of-the-fag-packet" calculation in the costing of free school meals. Mr Cummings said on The World At One that the policy was "a bad gimmick" and that it "shows why politicians should have less control over schools"; the Mail, who have made it their mission to oppose free school meals, has a piece on page 4, also citing criticism from the TaxPayers' Alliance, under the headline "A dog's dinner!" (and The Times can't resist using the same line for its leader). Another former spad of the Education Secretary is also in the news: Henry de Zoete today launches a new consumer movement. The Big Deal aims to bring people together to do group purchasing, and believes that, by going directly to energy companies to get the best price possible for all, it could save an average of £200 per person. Rob Halfon is one significant backer of the movement.The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim WigmoreFollow Tim on Twitter 

Latest YouGov poll: Con 34%, Lab 38%, Ukip 12%; Lib Dems 10%
Expect plenty more of this:
@Mike_Fabricant: BBC's Nick Robinson says Labour Party's new policy on Europe is "constructive ambiguity". I think that means "bollocks" in Anglo-Saxon.
In the Telegraph
Mary Riddell - Bob Crow leaves behind a union movement fighting for survival
Benedict Brogan - Will David Cameron recognise Israel as a Jewish state?
Dan Hodges - Bob Crow: A big beast who played up to the caricature
Telegraph View - Bob Crow: an unlikely capitalist
Best of the rest
Ed Miliband - Europe needs reform but Britain belongs at its heart
Ryan Bourne - Osborne has become a high tax Tory for millions
Nigel Farage - Ukip funding is only an issue because the Establishment is running scaredRoger Boyes - The world has stopped listening to Hague
25 years since Tim Berners-Lee wrote key World Wide Web paper

30th anniversary of start of miners strike. On March 12, 1984, National Union of Mineworkers leader Arthur Scargill declared that disputes in various coalfields were to become a national strike. 

9.15am Policy Exchange pre-budget briefing. Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi, Lib Dem former minister Jeremy Browne and Labour former minister Pat McFadden will give their views on what should be in the Budget. Clutha House, 10 Storey's Gate, London.

9.30am Education minister David Laws, Unicef and Children's Society give evidence to Commons Education Committee on child well-being. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.

10.15am Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael and Advocate General for Scotland Lord Wallace give evidence on Scottish independence to the Lords Constitution Committee. Committee Room 1, House of Lords.

11am George Soros press conference to promote book about EU. European Council on Foreign Relations, 35 Old Queen Street.

12pm (D)PMQs to be taken by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. 

2pm FairFuelUK campaign group present fuel-cut plea letter to 10 Downing Street10 Downing Street.

2.30pm Defence Secretary Philip Hammond gives evidence on Afghanistan to Commons Defence Committee. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.