Monday, 3 March 2014

West faces worst crisis of 21st century..

Breaking News: William Hague has been speaking on the Today programme about the crisis in the Ukraine, which the Foreign Secretary described as "certainly the biggest crisis in Europe in the 21st Century."
Mr Hague said that "If Russia continues on this course, we have to be clear this is not an acceptable way to conduct international relations" and that "This clearly is a violation of the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine." The Foreign Secretary added that "Ukraine presents no threat to its neighbours. There is no justification whatsoever for the action that has been taken" and said "I won't accept comparisons with Iraq."
Good morning. The prospect of war in Ukraine dominates politics today. It's across all the front pages, including the red tops. "New Cold War" for The Mirror, while The Sun has "Come 'n have a go if EU think you're hard enough" next to a picture of a topless Putin. Two overnight developments to highlight: the Americans confirm that what the FT calls the "creeping invasion" is complete - Russia now controls the Crimean peninsula; and the markets hate it: in Moscow stocks have slumped 10pc, and so has the rouble, prompting the Russian central bank to jack up interest rates. John Kerry, along with William Hague, will be pursuing diplomacy in Kiev. Will they go on to Moscow?
To understand what's going on, start with our own David Blair, who has been tracking the story from Kiev. His take is that the partition of Ukraine is the unintended consequence of a popular uprising for democracy. Our leader calls for governments to stand up to "Putin the bully". Dominic Lawson too has a coruscating column in the Mail on Putin's bluster, and urges economic punishment as the most effective weapon (the reaction of the markets in Moscow proves his point). Also in the Mail Ed Lucas, who is consistent critic of Mr Putin, looks at Crimea's "blood soaked" history. The Guardian and others record that David Cameron has ruled that ministers - and the Earl of Wessex - will not attend the paralympics in Sochi, while preparations for the G8 have been put on hold. The Mail has zeroed in on the row over comments from Sajid Javid, the Treasury minisster, who said there was "a direct link between Miliband's cynical vote against [the] Syria motion and Russia's actions on Ukraine". Labour have gone tonto in reply, as you'd expect. But the point is an interesting one: to what extent has western, and specifically British, appeasement strengthened Putin's hand?
It's worth considering the history. Britain fell out with Moscow over the murder by polonium of Litvinenko. That was blamed on the FSB, Mr Putin's old employers. For several years relations were in the deep freeze. Mr Cameron picked up the theme when he publicly backed Georgia against the Russians during that brief war. But since then, and in particular in the past year, London has been much more accommodating to Mr Putin, prompting some to suspect that the Government's policy of seeking foreign cash to invest in the UK is leading it, as with China, to look the other way when it comes to dealing with dictators. It remains telling, however eloquent Mr Hague is today, that Britain is largely absent from this crisis. The US, France and Germany have been more active. Ukraine is ominous, but even more troubling is the impression that Britain is increasingly a bystander on the world stage. Expect that question to be asked with ever greater frequency.

The battle to succeed Dave is stepping up, after claims that George Osborne was engaged in a 'dirty tricks' campaign to thwart Boris Johnson's hopes of becoming Tory leader; the Mayor of London allegedly responded to claims that Mr Osborne had approached him about standing as a parliamentarycandidate with the words: "Bull****! There has been no such conversation. They are trying to tie me in." Mr Johnson's team deny the words attributed to him, and the claims of a dispute with the Chancellor.
By offering the Mayor a prominent role in the Tory election campaign, the thinking is that Boris would sink or swim with the success of it; so if the Conservatives lost, Boris would be weakened as much as Mr Osborne. Tim Montgomerie analyses the developments in his column, and highlights the role the Mr Osborne "most loyal lieutenant" Michael Gove could play in the succession: "The Education Secretary is honest when he says he does not want to be leader himself but one notion is that he becomes Osborne’s running mate. He is already using private gatherings to big up the Chancellor and talk down London’s Mayor." Peter McKay has some advice for Boris: "They’re expecting him to scheme for the leadership wherever he goes. So jump back into the fray now."
In the current mood every Boris column will be scrutinised for every word; he writes in the Telegraph that "we must be firm to the point of ruthlessness in opposing behaviour that undermines our values. Paedophilia, FGM, Islamic radicalisation – to some extent, at some stage, we have tiptoed round them all for fear of offending this or that minority. It is children who have suffered." Amid all the excitement, the serious point is that the Conservatives cannot afford a leadership campaign to be played out against the backdrop of a general election.
Nigel Farage has been forced to defend a series of gags about foreigners and Muslims made by the comedian Paul Eastwood at a gala dinner at the end of Ukip's spring conference. The jokes included the performance of Poland at the Olympics - "They took home bronze, silver, gold, lead, copper – anything they could get their hands on"; Somalian pirates - "Team Somalia – they did well, didn’t they? They had to apologise. Didn’t realise sailing and shooting were two different events"; and telling three Asian women they "looked a little bit lost." Meanwhile the FT has a good insight into Ukip support, explaining that "Ukip voters are much more likely than supporters of other parties and than Britain overall to have finished education at secondary school level; the proportion of Ukip voters with higher degrees is half the national average." Perhaps ominously for the Tories, Ukip supporters are over-represented in the Midlands, one of the critical battlegrounds in 2015.TORIES v FISCAL CREEP
George Osborne is under growing pressure to reverse creep and lift people out of the 40p tax threshold, with the suggestion that the starting rate could be raised from £41,450 to £44,000. David Ruffley, a member of the Treasury select committee, says that it could prove a "game changer" for the Conservatives ahead of the general election. Other supporters include Bernard Jenkin, Philip Davies, who described the threshold as "grotesquely unfair", Gerald Howarth, John Redwood and Nick de Bois. In our leader, we say that "The Tories’ compassion towards the low-paid does them credit; but they must also help the already squeezed middle-income families who are being dragged ever further into the taxman’s net."LABOUR WANTS CONTROL OF INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES OVERHAULED
Yvette Cooper will today call for changes to the oversight of British intelligence agencies. In a speech at Demos at 3pm, Ms Cooper will say that "we need major reforms to oversight and a thorough review of the legal framework to keep up with changing technology" and will propose a new strategy to tackle online fraud and stronger action against online child pornography. Ms Cooper is expected to say that there are "fundamental questions about how we sustain both liberty and security in a digital age."
MPs have given permission for Parliament to be used as a set in a Hollywood film for the first time. The Sun reports that Suffragette, starring Meryl Streep, will be shot inside the Palace of Westminster. Given how quiet Commons business is at the moment, finding time for the filming shouldn't be too tricky.
Peter Hain wants British troops involved in the Bloody Sunday killings to be granted amnesty from prosecution. In a piece for The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Hain insists that he has "nothing to hide" and says that "If we are going to draw a line on historic and in all probability fruitless investigations, that must include the pursuit of soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday." But Ruth Dudley Edwards is sceptical, and says that "there's a stench around the secret deal that has been uncovered."
Lord Levy has warned that Labour has no choice but to pursue private donors to plug its funding gap. In an intervew with The Times, 'Lord Cashpoint' says that "Does Labour want to do it? I don’t think they’ve got any option. Is it something Ed Miliband is in love with? No, I don’t think it is. Will he have to do it? Yes, I think he will." Lord Levy warns that the Obama-style ambition to get more small-scale donations "has failed and the more stories that come out about politicians and expenses, frankly the less likely it is that members of the public would want to contribute to political parties." On Saturday, the reforms in Labour's relationship with the trade unions passed rather smoothly - indeed, as The Times notes, the changes "seemed to please everyone involved, including the trade unions whose power had apparently been clipped."
It would have been much easier to admit defeat, with net migration having risen above 200,000, but Grant Shapps told Marr that there was "still time" for the notorious "tens of thousands" net migration figure to be met. "The pledge is for the end of the Parliament - we are only part way through," Mr Shapps said. "That is still our goal - to bring the numbers down." By denying the now inevitable failure to meet the target, the Conservatives risk it becoming an even bigger issue at the general election.

The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim WigmoreFollow Tim on Twitter 
Latest YouGov poll: Con 34%, Lab 38%, Ukip 12%; Lib Dems 9%
Better late than never:
@IrrancaDaviesMP: Watching Erin Brockovich for the first time ... what a brilliant film. How did I miss it all these years?
In the Telegraph
Boris Johnson - The children taught at home about murder and bombings
David Blair - Ukraine: From triumph to torment
Iain Martin - Labour party internal reform has strengthened Miliband and left the Tories sounding confused
Telegraph View - Help the middle class
Best of the rest
Tim Montgomerie - George Osborne or Boris Johnson? Let the battle begin
Peter McKay - Can Boris outsmart scheming George?
Ruth Dudley Edwards - Team Blair and the stench of amorality
Edward Luce - Putin cooks up Obama’s chicken Kiev moment
THE AGENDALIVERPOOL: Green Party conference. St George's Hall
0930 LONDON: Ahead of the 2014 Budget, Conservative MPs from the Free Enterprise Group and experts from the Institute of Economic Affairs and elsewhere will be presenting their ideas on how to consolidate the economic recovery. Speakers include Mark Littlewood, Dr Philip Lee and Kwasi Kwarteng. Institute of Economic Affairs, 2 Lord North Street, Westminster
1500 LONDON: Yvette Cooper speech to Demos thinktank on digital security and privacy. Napier Room, Institute of Mechanical Engineers, One Birdcage Walk
1600 LONDON: London mayor Boris Johnson gives evidence to Commons Communities Committee on fiscal devolution to cities. Wilson Room, Portcullis House