Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Dial S for schism..

The Times' Francis Elliott has a private letter from the Home Secretary warning that Sajid Javid's plans to improve mobile phone coverage by introducing "national roaming" will leave Britain more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. "May turns her fire on Tory rival" is the splash.
The policy is complex and the politics are fraught. Signal black spots are a personal bugbear of the PM - I'm told that when the PM travels, his aides will stop and note areas where he drops out of signal - and eradicating so-called "not-spots" has been Mr Javid's personal mission since he took over at the DCMS. His preferred solution is "national roaming", where phones will connect to whichever signal is strongest locally. 
It's the cause of much frustration among the phone companies. They point out that the burdens placed on their engineers - unlike the National Grid or the water companies, they face hurdles and costs to maintain and service their masts on private land - and planning restrictions are a far greater barrier to better phone coverage. Their fear is that Mr Javid's solution removes any incentive to switch providers, and, they argue, will actually increase signal black spots. (Privately, some feel that the industry as a whole is being punished for the shortcomings of Vodafone, the government's official provider.) Now the security services' objections are being aired in public too: their worry is that the switch between providers will make tracking suspicious individuals all the harder. 
Those are the policy headaches. Now for the politics. Downing Street was full of praise for Mrs May yesterday. She's "strong and effective", "a tough Home Secretary" in a "tough world" says the PM, while a Downing Street spokesman dismissed concerns that Mrs May is not a team player: "Crime is falling. Drug use is falling. Abu Qatada is back in Jordan." 
Privately, however, there is frustration that the Home Office operates as a seperate empire within the Government, that Mrs May frequently goes off the grid and that Downing Street is often left in the dark by her department. It feels similar to the seperate power base built by Gordon Brown - minus the toxic briefing. That second part is important: leaks from the Home Secretary are rare indeed. 
It may be that this is the exception that proves the rule. Equally it may be that the security interest, itself frustrated by Downing Street's determination to push on with plans for national roaming, is behind the leak. Regardless of who started it , it's yet another distraction from the economy and has the potential to kick off a round of infighting. (Sajid Javid's non-denial on the Today programme means we can be pretty close to certain that such a letter exists.) 
But the fears from within the Home Office, the security community and the phone companies all spring from the same source: that the PM has a tendency to ignore feedback he doesn't like. The hope in Downing Street is that improving mobile coverage could win back rural voters who are flirting with Ukip. A row within Whitehall and with big business could lose him more support that he gains. 
"£120bn cost of Labour's policy on immigration" is our splash. "UK gains £20bn from EU migrants" sayeth the Guardian. "EU migrants add £2obn to the economy in a decade" cheers the Indy.  A study running by two leading migration experts at UCL has thrown further light on the costs and benefits of migration. Migrants from within the EU contribute £20 billion to the British economy, with immigrants from the original 15 EU countries contributing 64% more to the Exchequer than they took out in services and migrants from eastern Europe added 12% more than they took out. But migrants from outside the EU cost £120bn over the study's period - 1995 to 2011 - and native Brits cost even more at £591 billion. The costs of both British citizens and immigrants from outside the EU is expected to have declined since 2011 as the economy left recession and recovered from the financial crisis.  
Len McCluskey has been accused of mounting a takeover of the Labour Party as it emerged that 109 of Labour's would-be MPs are members of Unite, Kevin Schofield reveals in the Sun. "Len is the real Labour leader" is their take. But Len McCluskey's takeover isn't all it's cracked up to be - remember that Unite is not only Britain's largest union but the official trade union for parliamentary staffers and the majority of Labour-friendly think-tanks. What it really reveals is the increasingly narrow social base of Labour's political class.
The European Union has been accused of "breathtaking hypocrisy" for its continued demand that David Cameron hand over £1.7 billion despite its own auditors failing to give a clean bill of health to more than £100 billion of spending. The annual report of the European Court of Auditors, published today, found that £109 billion from a budget of £117 billion was "affected by material error". "It hard to swallow the British taxpayer being stung when the Brussels boondoggle squanders £5 billion in a year," says Dominic Raab. Bruno Waterfield and Peter Dominiczak have the story.
Nick Clegg has conducted a minor reshuffle following the resignation of Norman Baker, sending Lynne Featherstone - who is highly rated by Mr Clegg and his team - back to the Home Office. (Steven Swinford has the details.) It's felt that Ms Featherstone succeeded well at the job of man-marking her senior minister, a task that eventually exhausted Mr Baker and proved too much for his predecessor at the Home Office, Jeremy Browne. 
Craig Mackinlay, a former Ukip leader and now the Conservative candidate in Thanet South, where Nigel Farage will aim to become the MP next May, tells Rowena Mason in the Guardian that while he remains as firmly Eurosceptic as ever, Ukip's anti-immigration rhetoric is what keeps him from ever returning to the purple fold. “If you ever go to a Ukip gathering, it looks like, dare I say this, the detritus there that have been everywhere else," Mr Mackinlay says, "Sometimes the talk of many of them [about immigration] is none too pleasant."
Big Issue founder John Bird has blasted Ed Miliband for giving money to a beggar in the Mail. debate about privacy". The problem isn't the size of his donation - photographs suggested that Mr Miliband gave only a few pennies, although his spinners say that he gave "a £1, maybe a £2" - but that he gave at all, Mr Bird says. Giving directly to beggars is an "act of cruelty rather than kindness" that leads beggars into crime and robs them of a sense of purpose. 
Brent Council will today become the first local authority to offer reduced rates to businesses that pay the living wage, Andy Grice reports in the Indy. Rachel Reeves throws her support behind the move in a column for the same paper
Voters are likely to change their opinion even of simple creatures like a household cat, political scientists Phil Cowley and Rob Ford reveal, if they are told the owner is a politician from a party other than their own. 
You can get in touch with me by pressing "reply" or on Twitter. Our cartoon is the work of Christian Adams - a gallery of his work is available here.  
Conservatives 32% Labour 33% Liberal Democrats 8% Ukip 16% (Ashcroft-Populus-YouGov, 29.10.2014-05.11.2014)
YouGov: Conservatives 32%, Labour 34%, Liberal Democrats 8%, Ukip 15%
@jhallwood: I'm unsure I could ever fall in love with a man who believed in a directly-elected Lords.
From the Telegraph

Mary Riddell - Worcester Woman lives; and she could settle Ed Miliband's fault
Cathy Newman - Theresa May should buy Norman Baker a pint
Raziye Akkoc - Nigel Farage and Recepp Erdogan: not so different after all
From elsewhere

Deborah Orr - Will Cornick's 20-year sentence for the killing of Ann Maguire defies logic (Guardian)
John Rentoul - Norman Baker: a largely symbolic role with a largely symbolic ending  (Independent)
0930 LONDON: Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith gives evidence to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee. 
1200: Prime Minister's Questions. 
1415 LONDON: Home Office officials give evidence to the Commons Public Accounts Committee on the removal of foreign national offenders.
1430 LONDON: The service chiefs give evidence to the Commons Defence Committee on Future Force 2020

International Development Questions. 
Prime Minister's Questions. 
A Ten Minute Rule Motion: Armed Forces (Prevention of Discrimination). 
Opposition Day Debates. 
A short debate on Ebola in West Africa. 
Westminster Hall
0930: Care workers. 
1100: Ofcom's supervision of mobile phone companies. 
1430: Situation in the dairy industry. 
1600: Newlands Park mobile home park site management and park home residents' rights. 
1630: Government policy on transient ischaemic attacks. 
Serious Crime Bill (HL) - Third reading. 
Infrastructure Bill (HL) - Report stage (Day 2). 

A regret motion relating to the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014.