Thursday, 8 May 2014

Defending capitalism..

Good morning. One of the downsides of a coalition partner that is increasingly focused on what it has blocked rather than what it has accomplished  - Nick Clegg isat it again in the Guardian today - is that it leaves an awful lot of parliamentary time for the Opposition to make mischief.  Labour are planning to bring Pfizer's offer for AstraZeneca to a vote next week, which may force Vince Cable to refer the bid to a public interest test to head them off at the pass.   
The PM is seeking "further assurances" from Pfizer about the takeover's consequences for the UK and its science base. As he will know, these assurances are unlikely to be worth very much, and are almost certain to be insufficient to satisfy the opposition. There's the added embarrasment for Dave that Mark Textor, the Tories' pollster and Lynton Crosby's business partner, has worked for Pfizer in the past. Labour can't make much hay with it though; their exciting new hire from the Obama campaign, Mr Axelrod, has ties to Pfizer too, and a Labour donor and former minister, Baroness Vadera, is a non-executive director of AstraZeneca.
Still,  it all highlights Dave's bigger problem. The faddish success of M Piketty, and Ed Miliband's inability to get out of bed without attacking the rich, mean that Mr Cameron has to find a way of explaining why capitalism is good, wealth creation is great, and letting Pfizer buy British is proof that the recovery is going well. I've blogged about it all in more detail.
HELP TO BUY UNDER FIREHelp to Buy is under further tattack today. "Former chancellors slam Help to Buy"says the FT, as Lord Lawson, Lord Lamont and Alistair Darling all warn that the scheme has the potential to cause a housing bubble. Mr Darling warns that successive administrations "keep repeating the same mistakes", which his successor may view as a statement of some chutzpah. Ken Clarke is also rumoured to have doubts about it all, while Vince Cable - of course! - has weighed in. The problem, as discussed on the Today programme this morning, is that the UK is increasingly a "three-speed" economy. What fuels a bubble in some parts of the country may be good sense elsewhere. George Osborne regards Help to Buy as one of his two most popular policies - the other is the welfare cap - so is likely to follow our leader - and stick to his plan. 
The SNP's plans for independence must face up to the scale of the tax hike needed to achieve Alex Salmond's Nordic dream for Scotland, Professor Michael Keating, director of the Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change, warned MSPs. (The Scotsman has the story.) More troubling still are the effects it could have on sterling and financial stability. I've blogged that a Yes vote could tank sterling before - now a UBS analysis adds further detail. Finance, energy and utilities are all heavily exposed to Scotland and would all take a beating in the markets. Against all that, the question - re-aired in the Mail today - about whether or not David Cameron could remain in office all seems a little moot. As I've written in the past, the consensus in Downing Street is that it would be politically impossible - not to mention dishonourable - for a PM to mislay a part of the kingdom and to carry on as the Queen's first minister.
The Guardian's splash is worth noting today. The revelation that close to a hundred IRA fugitives were given "letters of comfort" by Tony Blair's government is a further shock to the system for the peace process - which many in Westminister had considered closed after the Good Friday Agreement. How the province deals with its past is still a live issue; it remains increasingly clear that Mr Blair may have left a great deal of unfinished business in the province.
NEW LABOUR IS DEAD AND SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT IS ALIVENew Labour was, if not deceased, at least gravely unwell after the election of Ed Miliband as the "anti-Blair". Now Andy Grice reports in the Indy that the last rites have been performed. Progress, the Blairite pressure group has decided to drop its "New Labour" label. The new chairman, John Woodcook MP, elected to replace the outgoing Lord Adonis, claims that Progress' ideas are now "the centre of gravity for our movement", and that "so much of what Ed Miliband embodies is what New Labour was always about". But a group of Labour candidates in the South-East - reported in the Mail and Sun today - don't seem to have got the memo. They are concerned that Mr Miliband's anti-markets, anti-aspiration message is doing the party some harm; and their fears are unlikely to be eased by Labour's new party political broadcast, which portrays the Tories as toffs and Nick Clegg as the "Uncredible Shrinking Man". It's difficult to imagine that happening under Mr Tony. 
"Jail must mean jail for violent criminals" is our splash. The case of Michael Wheatley - the escaped bank robber who now back in custody - will seem basically unjust to most people. Without wishing to drift into nominative determinism, some will wonder if a man who glories in the nickname of "the Skull Crusher" should be in an open prison, while almost everybody will be perplexed as to why a serial escapee - Mr Wheatley had absconded on several previous trips outside - was allowed out on release in the first place. Chris Grayling seems to understand this. The concern for the Liberal Democrats is that they do not understand how to manage emotive criminal cases; Nick Clegg's intervention on knives today is a case in point. It may reassure his party that his liberal bona fides are in good order; but expect the Tories to hammer their coalition partners on crime for the next twelve months.
BARON MANDYSKIOh Mandy! David Cameron has ordered his ministers to stay away from the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in response to Vladimir Putin's annexation of the Crimea, while Labour has called for a boycott of the event. Lord Mandelson, however, is intensely relaxed about the whole affair, and will be attending, despite the risk of being branded a "Kremlin lackey". Matt Holehousehas the story.
26 MILLION PEOPLE IN EUROPE ARE LOOKING FOR WORK...and some of them are finding it delivering Ukip leaflets, the Mail reports. It's a story that could hurt Ukip in two ways.  It makes them look less than professional, and feeds into the idea that, beneath the anti-Establishment sheen, they are just as dishonest as the rest of the parties.
WATCH NIGERIA?David Cameron has sent specialist military assistance to help rescue the kidnapped girls from the Islamist paramilitary organisation Boko Haram. The plight of the girls has quite rightly caught the attention and stoked the anger of Westminster and the country. The Times leader today notes that this latest atrocity, though is part of a deeper problem within Nigeria. The question of what to do about it all could yet preoccupy Westminister.
Latest YouGov poll. The Uncredible Shrinking Poll Lead. Con 33%, Lab 37%, LD 8%, UKIP 13%Adams-8-May_2904360a
@YasminQureshiMP: Press review sky. What is obsession about halal meat. What about kosher meat?
In the Telegraph

Peter Oborne - Look who's not voting Tory
Sue Cameron - Our political leaders are losing authority fastAllison Pearson - Young minds deserve better than Russell Brand
Telegraph View - Secure foundations of economic recovery
Best of the rest

Rafael Behr - Tories dimisses Labour as anti-business. Cameron must be wary of seeming anti-everyone else

Alex Massie - Rising Tory, Hidden Danger: David Cameron is Doing Too Much Too Well
David Aaronovitch - Minorities? It's the whites who need the help
0930 LEEDS: Former Co-op Bank boss Paul Flowers to appear in court.
1000 LONDON: The hacking trial continues.
1200 LONDON: ASDA launches "Mumdex manifesto" on women's concerns ahead of the general election in the Houses of Parliaments. Debate between Esther McVey, Yvette Cooper and Jenny Willott.
1200 LONDON: Bank of England decision on interest rates.