Friday, 2 May 2014

Chuka's two cents..

BREAKING: Chuka Umunna has just finished speaking on Today. He is very much singing from the same hymnsheet as Lords Sainsbury and Heseltine (see below). He fears that the merger is the result of clever accountancy in the United States, not an appraisal of what will be best for British pharmaceuticals. He criticised David Willets and the government for not meeting with the AstraZeneca board, who are still attempting to prevent the takeover.
Good morning.  In his column this morning, Fraser Nelson makes the point that Ed Miliband has abandoned Tony Blair's old dictum that "what's best is what works". Mr Miliband, Fraser continues, "has a new mantra: what matters is what sounds good.". In an interview with the House Magazine, however, Chuka Umunna appears to have dusted off another old New Labour saw.  “I don’t have a problem with people making a lot of money," Mr Umunna says, "so long as they pay their taxes and it’s good for our economy.". It's not quite on a par with Peter Mandelson's one-liner about being "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich", but it's close.
That Mr Umunna - an early supporter of the younger Miliband - is now echoing Lord Mandelson will raise questions in Labour circles. Some will say that, as befits the Shadow Business Secretary, it's Mr Umunna's job to make reassuring noises. Others will wonder if Mr Umunna is discreetly positioning himself for the battle that may come after 2015.  But it's Mr Umunna's suggestion that Labour should be the party of people seeking to make their first million that is really worth delving into; Labour thinkers are currently earnestly waving their copies of 'Capital', Thomas Piketty's doorstop on inequality. Professor Piketty's remedy for the rise of the super-rich is a global wealth tax; Mr Umunna's language on entrepeneurs suggests that Labour might yet have a rather different response.
"Clegg bid to block knife crackdown"  is the Mail's splash this morning. The DPM, as well as Danny Alexander and David Laws, are named as attempting to block the government from toughening laws on knife crime in the wake of the murder of Ann Maguire. What, might, at first blush, appear to be part of the Liberal differentiation strategy rewards a second glance. That the story has been leaked to the Mail and not the more sympathetic Guardian or Independent suggests that it hasn't come from the Lib Dems. It appears that Nick Clegg  has angered someone in the Cabinet who is now briefing against him. That, and Mr Clegg's war of words with Dominic Cummings, a former Gove aide - the DPM brandd him a "loopy ideologue"  on his LBC show - does not augur well for the Coalition's last year, and could suggest that as the election approaches, relations could grow yet more fractious and the leaks yet more damaging to the government.
There will have been red faces - and possibly raised voices - in the Ministry of Justice after Judge Anthony Leonard ruled that changes to legal aid reforms mean that complex fraud trials can no longer be considered 'fair'. "Fraud trials in jeopardy as lawyers rebel" is the Guardian's lead. MoJ has born the brunt of the cuts so far, and they now appear to be having a direct impact on the justice system. There is personal embarrassment for Dave in that the defending QC is his older brother, Alex Cameron - and it's that element that has caught the attention of the Mail and others.  It's not a story of a feuding family, though: as the next barrister on the cab rank it was simply the elder Cameron's turn. Still, it kicks MoJ further up Number 10's agenda in the final year of the Parliament, and it raises the prospect of a judicial revolt against the Government's cuts to the legal aid budget, which, with health and other spending protected, the Treasury has relied on to deliver a balanced budget.
YES VOTERS MORE ENTHUSIASTIC, SURVEY FINDSAn independent Scotland would immediately face a ratings downgrade, the credit agency Moodys has warned in today's FT. Kevin Tollis sounds a warning signal for an independent Scotland; as he points out: "We do have one good historical model of what it is like to carve out a nationalist state from within the political union of the UK but it is not one the SNP is keen to cite."  For all the historical comparisons are not good, the Herald reveals that the Yes campaign has a hidden advantage; the enthusiasm gap between Yes voters and supporters of the Union could be worth two to three percentage points to Yes Scotland. Better Together may have to find a snappier tune before the vote.
The fate of Astra Zeneca is working its way into the political bloodstream. Pfizer has raised its offer to £63 billion, but the money isn't the issue that troubles our politicians. Lord Heseltine, true to his taste for intervening before breakfast, lunch, and dinner, has stepped in to ask why Britain is the only major economy that doesn't have a mechanism to allow governments to scrutinise - and stop - foreign take-overs (others might say he means 'pick winners'). Sometimes, said the Prime Minister's business adviser, the public interest demands it. Number 10 and particularly the Treasury have been enthusiasts for the deal, so they won't enjoy hearing Lord Heseltine, or Lord Sainsbury of Turville, the former science minister, who accused Pfizer of being notorious asset-strippers. His verdict is particularly terrible: any assurances from Pfizer on jobs and R&D would be "frankly meaningless". He told the FT: "It is clear to me that this takeover is going to deal a devastating blow to our profile in the pharmaceutical area, which I think is going to be critical in the next 30 years." The Times reports concerns form Chuka Umunna at the PM's decision to appoint Sir Jeremy Heywood, and John Kingman of the Treasury, to oversee the deal, rather than Vince Cable. Interesting, but feels somewhat of a processology sideshow. If this thing matters, then it makes sense for Number 10 to take charge and put two of Whitehall's sharpest on it. It suggests Mr Cameron understands the political dangers.
Nigel Farage was egged yesterday - Georgia Graham has the story, and a video- and was quick to claim he and his party are the victim of a leftwing campaign to whip up a "storm of hatred" against the party. "They're organised, they're taxpayer-funded and they're going around the country chasing me around trying to stop us from getting our message out," Mr Farage told the Guardian.CLOUDS IN THE WEST?The continued detention of Gerry Adams on a possible murder charge continues to hang over Westminster, a huge story ticking away that no one quite knows how to approach. The Sinn Fein complaints about political motivation are a sideshow, not least given that those who have provided the evidence against Mr Adams are from the Republican side. The stories of the Disappeared are proving a harrowing reminder of the ugliness of the Troubles (the detail that Jean McConville's 11-year-old son was kidnapped himself a few days later by the IRA and warned to keep quiet is particularly telling). For Number 10, though, the only issue is what it means for the Good Friday Agreement. Northern Ireland is not high on Mr Cameron's list of interests, and the NIO is under-powered under Theresa Villiers. There will be anxiety about a possible SF withdrawal from the deal which would bring back direct rule. Nick Watt in the Guardian has a useful assessment of the history and possible consequences. The failure of NI politicians to deal with the past, and specifically potential suspects in the province who have never faced justice, such as Mr Adams, is at the heart of it. Like Scotland after devolution, Northern Ireland since the GFA has ceased to matter at Westminster. A scramble to catch up is underway.
BROWN CALLS FOR AIDGordon Brown has called for military assistance to be offered to the Nigerian government to assist President Goodluck Jonathan's administration in the hunt for around 200 abducted girls.
LABOUR'S SECOND-DAY WOESWhat's the point of populism if you can't get the word out? Ed Miliband's rent controls might be effective politicking but there's not a whisper of them in the Mirror and the Guardian's coverage - all the way out on page 16 - like our own, focusses largely on the fact that RICS, the organisation that Labour claimed to be working with, has put the kibosh on the idea. Not a promising start to Labour's local and European campaign.
MARS BARS Ed Balls' office took to sending a Mars bar to MPs' offices when they mentioned the five point plan for jobs and growth. We are waiting to hear if a similar scheme will be place by Ed Miliband's for the ten point contract on the cost of living.

Latest YouGov poll:
Con 33%, Lab 36%, LD 10%, UKIP 14%
In the Telegraph

Fraser Nelson - Low-rent Labour is positioning itself as the Ukip of the left
Isabel Hardman - When the pressure's on, by-elections get delirious and dirty
Con Coughlin - If we can hurt Putin on Ukraine, why pull our punches over Syria?
Telegraph View - Beyond understanding
Best of the rest

Kevin Toolis -Scots should recall the poverty of the Irish Free State
Tom Gordon -First Minister is red faced at Russia jibes
Paul Waugh and Daniel Bond  - Chuka Umunna interview

1000 LONDON: Sentencing of barrister and recorder Constance Briscoe. The part-time judge was found guilty of three charges of perverting the course of justice yesterday in connection with the investigation into how disgraced cabinet minister Chris Huhne passed speeding points to his then-wife Vicky Pryce a decade ago.1045 WEST MIDLANDS: David Cameron launches Conservative Party European / local election campaign launch.