Thursday, 27 November 2014

The end of the world as we know it..

Eleven weeks of closed-door negotiations come to an end today with the publication of the Smith Commission's plans for further devolution of powers for Scotland. Control over air passenger duty, increased flexibility over disability and housing benefit payments, as well as the control of direct income tax will all be handed to Holyrood. Income taxes on savings and dividends will remain within the Treasury's control, as will the level of the personal allowance.
It's control over income tax - "Scotland granted income tax powers"is our Scottish splash and "Scotland to be given control of income tax" is the Guardian's- that is giving some Unionist MPs the jitters. Both government and opposition MPs fear that the devolution of income tax will undermine the sharing of risk and resources that keeps the Union together, while some Labour MPs fear that it will create two tiers of MPs, with dire implications for a Labour government with a small or a non-existent majority to get its measures through Parliament. (Gary Gibbon takes the temperatureof the parliamentary Labour party in his blog and finds it fairly chilly, to put it mildly.)
One senior Labour figure tells Sam Coates in the Times that there will be "fury" with Ed Miliband, who will have to explain why the party has committed to a transfer of major revenues without any real without any plan to help England. There's concern among some of the party's Northern MPs that the SNP will use its new powers to lower taxes, resulting in a movement of business over the border at the expense of the North. That the party's last two Chancellors have both warned that it will lead to the break-up of the Union understandably has some MPs rattled. Others are frustrated at Team Ed's flat-footed response to the English votes for English laws issue.  But it was despair, not fury, that dominated my conversations yesterday. Labour MPs feel that they have walked into a trap - but they're not certain there was really anywhere else to go. 
That nervousness could spell trouble for Jim Murphy's firewall among his parliamentary colleagues, which he will need to offset a heavy defeat in the affliates section of the electoral college. Mr Murphy, and others, agree with Ruth Davidson that direct control of income tax will strengthen Holyrood within the Union, not weaken it. As Alan Roden put in the Scottish Mail yesterday, all of the different groupings "care passionately about the Union...but they cannot all be right". 
The reality is that no-one is really sure what the long-term consequences will be. It could be the trigger for a further weakening of the Union and greater triumphs to come for the SNP. Short term Tory glee at Labour's woes could yet give way to Unionist despair in that party as well.  Equally, it could be that the changes will leave the United Kingdom changed but stronger. Only one thing is clear: far from putting the issue to bed, angst over the Union and its future looks set to be a dominant feature of British political life for the foreseeable future.  
Ed Miliband, at least, has got his groove back. In this week's New Statesman, George Eaton says the Labour leader's strategy is "that of Ferdinand Foch, the French First World War general: "My centre is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent, I am attacking.". That refound confidence manifests itself in Tristram Hunt's attacks on schools, the doubling down on the mansion tax, and the return to the old theme of "predatory capitalism" in the shape of an attack on Sports Direct. But the refound sense of self-confidence doesn't appear to extend much further than Ed Miliband's inner circle. Ed Balls and Gloria De Piero will both be spending more time in their constituencies and less on national events as both are concerned for their narrow majorities, and they are by no means alone.  
British-born jihadists are fraudulently claiming student loans in order to fund terrorism, Terri Nicholson of the Met's counter-terror unit, warned yesterday. Camera-shy parliamentarian Keith Vaz says he will question Theresa May about the "shocking" disclosures in the coming weeks. Mrs May has also been accused of delaying and manipulating bad news about Britain's asylum system by John Vine, the head of the Government's immigration watchdog. "Bad news on immigration buried by Theresa May" is the i's frontpage.
A British exit from Europe would leave the EU "wounded, even amputated" says outgoing President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy, but, he adds, "it will survive." Without France however, "Europe, the European idea, would be dead." "We Don't Need EU" is the Sun's take. Peter Dominiczak and Bruno Waterfield's story is here. .
Labour has rounded on the Express for its front page describing the children of immigrants as "hidden migrants". Stewart Wood has condemned the story in an open letter. "This is talking about me frankly," Chuka Umunna, whose father was born in Nigeria, told his monthly LBC programme, "I am one of those "hidden migrant millions". He warned that the rising anti-immigrant sentiment risked undermining the tolerance that "made Britain great". One thing that doesn't make Britain great, at least according to Mr Umunna, is endlessly raising taxes. "Taxes should be as low as possible," he said, "I didn't go into politics to tax people." Sounds almost...Blairish. Speaking of, the man himself has warned against trying to "out-Ukip Ukip" in an interview with the Wall Street Journal
Labour's planned mansion tax will penalise people who have "come from nothing", soccer ace turned anti-tax campaigner Sol Campbell has said. "Over the years I have spent millions in income tax and stamp duty but I am being punished for investing in a property portfolio," Mr Campbell sighed. Georgia Graham has the story.
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 34% Liberal Democrats 8% Ukip 16% Green 5%  (Ashcroft-Opinium-Populus-YouGov, 20.11.2014-27.11.2014)
YouGov: Con 33% Lab 32% LD 6% Ukip 16% Green 7%
@PhilTaylor_: "@pinknews Former UKIP deputy leader: Gays sleep with up to 20,000 people in their 'short, miserable lives' > not too miserable then
From the Telegraph
Peter Oborne - Osborne's gimmicks prove he is a true disciple of Gordon Brown
James Kirkup - Racing Ukip back to the 1950s is doing the Tories permanent damage
Dan Hodges -Labour's problems with the working class go beyond Emily Thornberry
From elsewhere
David Aaronovitch - Crude populism will get you nowhere, Ed (Times)
George Eaton - Ed Miliband has made his choice: to fight the election on his own terms (Statesman)
Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett - So what if Angelina Jolie objects to the mansion tax?  (Guardian)
0845 LONDON: Prime Minister to give statement on Smith Commission report.
0930 LONDON: Ofsted statistics on early years inspections.
1000 LONDON: Boundary Commission bosses give evidence to Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee on future redrawing of constituency boundaries.
1000 LONDON: Former head of Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority Andrew McDonald gives evidence to committee on governance of the House of Commons.
1015 BRISTOL: Nick Clegg speech at cycling summit.
1245 LONDON: Jon Cruddas speech. Institute for Government.
1400 LONDON: Ruling in the Andrew Mitchell "plebgate" libel actions at the High Court.       
Culture, Media and Sport Questions.
Women and Equalities Questions.
A statement on the future business of the House.
Two backbench business debates: i) Inequality ii) Progress of the historic child sex abuse inquiry.
A short debate on the capacity of the West Anglia Rail Line.
Westminster Hall
1330: i) A debate on the second report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee: Food Security and the Government response ii) A debate on the 11th report from the Environmental Audit Committee: Plastic Bags and the Government Response.
A debate on the role of religion and belief in British public life.
A short debate on the impact of the National Lottery in the UK on its 20th anniversary.

A debate on the case for arts education in schools.