Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Takeover issues..

Good morning. Should David Cameron back Pfizer in its bid for AstraZeneca? Or should he give way to this outbreak of economic nationalism? Chuka Umunna has called on the heads of both companies to give evidence to the Science and Technology Committee inquiry tomorrow, which puts the deal in the spotlight. The Business and Industry Committee is considering doing the same. As Louise Armitstead details, it's turning into an "adverse event" for Pfizer. The leadership of AZ have asked the Prime Minister to stay out, in order not to give the American giant an argument to justify its take-over. But there's no denying that the Government is in favour, not least because the Treasury is delighted to have such a high profile endorsement of its attractive tax regime. Having made the effort to make Britain a place worth doing business, George Osborne and Mr Cameron will naturally want to trumpet their success.
The FT leads with details of how Leif Johansson, the AZ chairman, spoke to the Prime Minister to warn him of the harm he might do. Ed Miliband adopted the theme on Sunday, criticising Government "cheerleading" for Pfizer. Best quote so far goes to Ian Read, the Pfizer chief exec. He is quoted in the Mail - headline:"Pfizer boss admits" we could break up UK firm" - after being asked if AZ would be split into three parts: "we will conserve that optionality", which must mean "yes". The Mail is lined up against the deal and is hitting it hard, with another monstering from Alex Brummer - "Why on earth is Dave letting asset strippers loose on one of Britain's great companies?" - and a leader "In a mess over Pfizer" which calls for an independent inquiry into whether the deal is in the national interest. The FT though has a compelling piece from Sir Richard Sykes, the former Glaxo boss who argues ownership is "irrelevant", it's what the Government does to make Britain a place to do research that matters.
Downing Street, via Sir Jeremy Heywood and John Kingman, have been burning the midnight oil to ensure both companies are aware of the Government's interest and the public repercussions. It is not simply a case of laissez-faire. Mr Cameron is acutely aware of the downsides, and sanguine about Pfizer's record. He will also realise that the Tory argument in favour of open markets, tax advantages and the free movement of ideas and research, is not one that sells well in an age of Milibandism and the anti-capitalist siren-song of M Piketty. The anti-capitalism forces have found an issue to rally round, and will want to dress this up as a doughty British underdog against a dastardly American raider. AZ, of course, was created by a foreign merger. It's worth noting that the papers are really thin this morning. Westminster returns from the bank holiday with not much to do. Mr Cameron could find that this story is about to cause him a lot more grief. 
HAPPY HOLIDAYS?If you made the short hop across the Channel over the Bank Holiday, you may have noticed a longer queue than you remembered. Visiting the Channel Tunnel to report on its 20th anniversary on Thursday, I noticed that we are, finally, getting the tougher immigration controls that we have asked for; and we are having to queue for them. As I noted on my blog, we have, in our own way, become rather more used to the free movement of peoples than we might think. As we stand and wait at border control, we may not realise that we have got what we are looking for.
A third of the population will belong to an ethnic minority by 2050, says a new report from Policy Exchange. As our leader notes, that so many ethnic minorities consider "British" to be be their national identity is a rebuke to Mr Salmond  and to Mr Farage, the practioners of what I called the politics of suspicion and small things. Sixty-eight percent of ethnic minority voters backed Labour at the last election; only 16 percent plumped for David Cameron. Even voters of Indian descent - the ethnic minority with the highest affinity for the Conservatives - only gave 24% of the vote to the Conservative Party. It's a problem not just for the PM but for his Tory successors for years to come.
After four days of questioning, Gerry Adams has been released from police custody and returned to the campaign trail as Sinn Fein gears up for the European elections. The past week has been a reminder though, of how divided and febrile the mood in the province is. As Mr Adams rallied before a cheering crowd in West Belfast, loyalists protested his release outside the Antrim police station where the Sinn Fein leader was held.
EU LAWYER BOOSTS CAMERONIf the PM does succeed in Europe, he may one day reflect that it was all thanks to the Jean-Claudes. Jean Claude Juncker, the centre-right candidate for the Commission Presidency, has already lent his support to David Cameron's hopes of renegotiating. Now another, the ex-Brussels counsel Jean-Claude Piris, suggests that the PM's plans for European reform may be possible without a treaty change.  The story will make for happy reading at Number 10. 
We have now been investigating the war in Iraq for longer than we took to fight the First World War, observes Dan Hodges in today's paper. If, as is increasingly expected, Sir John Chilcot doesn't publish his report until after the next election, the Mirror notes, we will have spent longer investigating the Iraq war than it took to overcome Hitler's Germany. "Let's publish and be damned," is the Mirror's verdict. Whatever the report says, it is likely to have reverberations for Labour; as Dan notes, the argument over Iraq has become a proxy for the argument over Mr Blair. Meanwhile, the PM is rumoured to be losing patience with the whole thing.
In the Guardian, Patrick Wintour reflects on the coming year. With only the most partisan of observers able to look forward to the election with any degree of certainty, a difficult year beckons for Messrs Clegg, Cameron and Miliband. Our own ICM Wisdom Index shows the Labour lead down to a single point - but thanks to favourable boundaries, that would still be enough to hand Labour a majority. The business of coalition will become ever harder as the governing parties do battle, and Nick Clegg could yet come under renewed pressure to quit the Coalition early. The PM, meanwhile, is betting on one last flourish from Ukip before the real campaign begins; but Newark may yet lead to a difficult summer for David Cameron, while the Leader of the Opposition faces a Shadow Cabinet all too aware that the man at the top is a drag on the ticket. And against all this is the very real possibility that Scotland could go its own way, leaving the next election one cast in the shadow of division and confusion.  Tom Clark models the possible outcomes. Remember: no government has won a majority from where the PM is now; but no opposition has ever triumphed from Ed Milband's position either.
WALK ON THE WILD SIDE?Geert Wilders, Europe's pre-eminent far-right politician, has predicted that Ukip will end up sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with him and Marine Le Pen after the dust has settled on the European elections. Nigel Farage has so far rebuffed any suggestion of working with Miss Le Pen, and, therefore, of participating in Mr Wilders's new "European Freedom Alliance" in the next European Parliament. Mr Wilders predicts that Mr Farage will have more wriggle room after the election, however. Bruno Waterfield has the story.
CLEGG LAUNCHES LOCAL CAMPAIGNNick Clegg kicks off the Liberal local election campaign today at the Ministry of Sound. The European poll is expected to be an unmitigated disaster for the Lib Dems; the party could easily end up in fifth place. The Euros are always a difficult one for the Liberals, though. More is being staked on the locals, where Mr Clegg's party are hoping that their bunker strategy - vital to holding onto power in 2015 - will see the party through a tough night. Even so, it will be a reminder of how far they have fallen. In places like Islington and Liverpool, where the Liberals governed until not so very long ago, the party will be unable to field a full slate of candidates. Look to the areas where they hold a sitting MP for the best idea of how the party will do in a year's time.
Latest YouGov poll:
Con 33%, Lab 36%, LD 9%, UKIP 15%TWEETS & TWITS
A great number of MPs seemed to be rather alarmed at quarter to ten last night. John Pugh's thoughts were with his constituents: 
@johnpughmp: Please Brendan sort the defence out for next season. Half of Liverpool is suffering with stress related issues.
In the Telegraph

Dan Hodges - The time has come for Sir John Chilcot to publish and be damned
Telegraph View - A nation so many are proud to call their ownPhilip Johnston - Build more homes, but not on green fields
Robert Colvile - Why Ed Miliband is the new Michael Howard
Best of the rest

Peter Jones - Yes camp comparisons don't add up

Richard Sykes - Ownership is irrevelant in the global pharma race
Rachel Sylvester  -On this they agree: don't vote for the Tories
0900 LONDON: Boris Johnson's "Ask Boris" LBC phone-in
1050 LONDON: Liberal Democrats election campaign launch. Nick Clegg to address a rally at the Ministry of Sound.
1400 LONDON: Phone-hacking trial resumes.
1430 LONDON: Scottish Affairs Committee hearing on referendum