Good morning. Here’s a prediction. Ministers will spend today and tomorrow fending off questions about their domestic employees – nannies, au pairs, cleaners, builders, plumbers – specifically their nationality. Newsdesks across the land will be trying to find out how many members of the government are part of the “wealthy metropolitan elite” driving up immigration. David Cameron’s spokesman stonewalled a series of questions about his foreign nanny yesterday, while Nick Clegg admitted to employing a Belgian. Presumably there will be others, since all the home roles that are most commonly contracted out are dominated, in London at least, by foreign workers. Imagine the sport if the questioning extends from nationality to immigration status or even – whisper it – tax arrangements. Don’t be surprised if in coming days we see newspaper audits of ministerial reliance on migrant labour. Mr Brokenshire, new to his job, will doubtless be wondering today whether he has got off to the start he wanted or whether, as Dan Hodges argued yesterday, “with that single ministerial intervention he is already able to claim the prize for most stupid, intellectually bankrupt and vacuous address of the year”.
The Times has piled in – “Ministers are told come clean about use of migrant home help”. Stick to the facts, our leader says this morning, while Jeremy Warner makes the important argument that “we should celebrate our migrants as an affirmation of all that’s decent about Britain, rather than seek to denigrate them”. Mr Brokenshire has perhaps done us a favour, by saying something so provocative about immigration – provocative in that it pokes the elite, his colleagues, and confronts them with their reliance on foreign labour – that work can begin on getting Mr Cameron off his pledge to reduce net migration to below 100,000 (a Tory friend – definitely not a friend of Dave – told me last night that he thought the pledge was inherited from David Davis – imagine if No10 tries blaming him…) The latest numbers show Mr Cameron is nowhere near delivering on it and surely now, with a year to go to the election, thought must be being given to how to get the Tories off that hook. There are plenty of voices around the Cabinet table – in the Treasury for example – and elsewhere (Boris, for one) who are happy to make a case for the value of migrant workers. No10 was making it yesterday to justify Mr Cameron’s use of foreign nannies for his children. The next step is to argue, as Jeremy does, that Britain thrives by welcoming those with the get-up and go to try their luck somewhere else. And perhaps to have the courage to say that what Britain would rather not welcome, to put it bluntly, are illiterates from feudal societies with a taste for barbaric “cultural” practices. The immigration debate is a mess because the Tory pledge is proving to be undeliverable, No10 is in a tailspin of panic about Ukip, and our model for economic growth relies on Britain’s economic openness. It may be though that Mr Brokenshire’s intervention, by infuriating his colleagues and shining a light on the relationship between ministers and migrants, has unwittingly opened the way for the issues to be addressed.
AUSTERITY FOR ALL
There’s a sobering story on the front page of the FT. The paper has replicated the models of the OBR, and it’s not pretty stuff: there’s a black hole of over £20 billion in the public finances because, even if the economy is going gangbusters, the capacity for future economic growth has declined. Twelve days until budget day, it’s news that George Osborne could have done without and makes it more difficult for the Conservatives to eliminate the deficit by spending cuts alone while committing to completely protecting some departments. But it should hardly be welcomed by Labour either. The top of the party is debating whether to be radical in its manifesto, believing that it still has to convince voters that it represents genuine change and, as a Shadow Cabinet member puts it, “We will not lose the election by being too Left wing”, or “shrink the offer” and not be too ambitious. The OBR’s news may make a radical pitch more difficult, not least by exposing as a delusion that austerity can be completed simply by squeezing the rich and scrapping Winter Fuel Allowance for the richest 5% of pensioners. And, if Ed Miliband does become PM, is Labour ready for the hard choices that will have to be faced in office?
NOT CLAPPED-OUT JUST YET
A common refrain among MPs at the moment is : “there’s nothing going on in here”. Members arrive in Westminster on Monday night or even Tuesday morning, and are gone by Thursday afternoon. To the shadow Commons leader Angela Eagle, this all shows that the Government is “clapped-out” and has “run out of steam”. Oliver Letwin is trying to counter that view; he said yesterday that the last Queen’s Speech, scheduled for June 3, would include “a very full, very serious” list of legislation. A tax-free childcare scheme will be central to the programme; pensions will be overhauled; and the Recall Bill, long assumed to have died a slow death, will be included. Michael Gove has been praised by supporters of recall as its big champion in the Cabinet.
HALFON LIKENS UKIP TO ‘NAZIS’
Robert Halfon sticks it to Ukip in an interview with The House magazine. The Conservatives’ favourite backbencher says that Ukip has done the Tories an “enormous favour” by “cleansing” the party of members with distasteful views. Mr Halfon doesn’t hold back: “To me there are two kinds of UKIP – the Godfrey Bloom guy who’s like a cross between Sid James and Bernard Manning, and then there’s a much more sinister element, like the MEP who said every Muslim has got to sign a declaration of non-violence, which to me is literally akin to the Nazis saying Jews should wear a yellow star.” Is this a new sign that the Conservatives are attacking Ukip head on? And, more pertinently, does the intervention make ‘Tory defectors’ who now support Ukip any more likely to return to the fold?
OWN GOAL FOR GOVE
Michael Gove notched up an own goal, as The Times puts it, after praising one independent school by comparing it unflatteringly with a rival. On a visit to Highgate, Mr Gove said that University College School “might think it’s special but the glittering trophies go to Highgate. I can tell I’ve just lost about half the audience, but the right half to lose.” An annoyed pupil at UCS, who obviously can’t take a joke, has written an open letter to the Education Secretary: “I am saddened to see a man of your position and influence orchestrating a personal attack on a school, and student body, in the name of humour.”
ANYONE ARRESTED TODAY?
After No 10 kept quiet or the police investigation and resignation of Patrick Rock, the press is determined not to let it happen again. A Westminster source tells Ephraim Hardcastle: “Now the PM’s official spokesman is asked daily if anyone from No 10 has resigned or been arrested in the last 24 hours.”
NO RESOLUTION IN UKRAINE CRISIS
The latest on the Ukraine crisis is that Barack Obama has held an hour-long phone call with Vladimir Putin urging Russian forces to return to their bases, but the calls apparently fell on deaf ears. Meanwhile, America will deploy 12 F-16 fighters to Poland next week as part of an expanded military training exercise. The Mail reports that a senior official in London has accused the EU of “appeasement” as Crimea’s Parliament agreed to hold a referendum on joining Russia on March 16. You can keep up to date with developments on our live blog.
The papers lay into Dave for that selfie on Twitter accompanied by the caption: “I’ve been speaking to @BarackObama about the situation in Ukraine. We are united in condemnation of Russia’s actions.” The Mail acidly remarks that “The backlash once again reminds Mr Cameron of his infamous warning that ‘too many tweets might make a t***’.” The PM doesn’t get off any lighter in The Sun, which says that Dave “was mercilessly mocked on Twitter last night for posting a cringeworthy photo of himself on the phone to Barack Obama.”
DANNY’S PENSIONS WARNING
Danny Alexander uses a speech in Edinburgh today to warn that Scottish households would see the cost of pensions rise if they voted for independence and it would “open the floodgates” to uncertainty on currency, rates and regulations; the FT has a comprehensive preview. The paper also reports on divisions within Scottish Labour over further devolution in the event of a “No” vote; “There is this idea that somehow giving freedom over income tax is some kind of magic bullet,” warns a Labour MP. “It is a zero-sum game to try to out-nationalise the nationalists.”
Latest YouGov poll: Con 31%, Lab 40%, Ukip 13%; Lib Dems 9%
TWEETS AND TWITS
Wish him luck:
@MarkSpencerMP: Looking forward to a grilling this morning by yr 8s @DukeriesAcademy in #ollerton this morning
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0915 LONDON: Lawyers from across the country to march on Westminster in protest against legal aid cuts.
0930 EDINBURGH: Salmond chairs economic advisers meeting. First Minister Alex Salmond will chair a meeting of his Council of Economic Advisors. Bute House, Charlotte Square.
1100 LONDON: European Commission Foreign Affairs High Representative Baroness Ashton in conversation about women in public life. Institute for Government 2 Carlton Gardens
1830 YORK: Liberal Democrats Spring Conference. York Barbican.