MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph)
The overnight news from Asia isn’t David Cameron’s trip to Burma. North Korea has confirmed its attempt to launch a satellite, intended to coincide with Kim Jong Un’s confirmation as Supreme Leader, has failed.
William Hague is in Washington, where he condemned the launch, which he is “deeply concerned about”. He and the seven other G8 foreign ministers are demanding that the North Koreans abandon their nuclear ambitions: “We urge the DPRK to meet its international commitments… in particular by abandoning all its nuclear weapons”.
DOING IT MYANMAR WAY
Also from Asia: David Cameron has arrived in Burma – Sky has photos here – for his big moment meeting opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. In a speech later today, he will offer the former colony help, promising to campaign to ease EU sanctions on the country and provide governance training for the civil service. The papers have all welcomed the move.
The Independent has said that it is right for Cameron to be first Western leader to offer congratulations to the country, as does the Times (£) while adding that he should ask his hosts to offer guarantees that they will stay on the path to democracy.
This grand statesmanship hasn’t characterised Dave’s whole trip though. Before leaving Malaysia yesterday, he told the Malaysian prime minister – who had admitted to being a fan of British humour – an anecdote from his life as PM:
“You’ll be amazed to know that [when] I was a student in the 1980s, a student of economics and politics, I once had to write an essay on ‘How true to life is Yes Minister. I think I wrote in the essay that it wasn’t that true to life. I can tell you, as prime minister, it is true to life.”
Meanwhile, at home, things are not looking so good for the PM. Yesterday, Vince Cable and David Davis joined the ever-growing ranks of opponents to his charities tax. Vince is worried by complaints from universities, which are worried they will no longer be able to fund themselv es.
As we report, Cable’s spokeswoman said that he: “fully supports the need to clamp down on abusive tax avoidance but this should be separated from genuine charitable giving”, which is a little bit stronger than David Cameron’s ‘sympathy’ comment.
George Osborne will note that his policy is being briefed against from inside the Cabinet, always a sign of trouble. It’s also worth recalling that MPs return to Westminster shortly to vote on the Finance Bill. Ed Balls is already looking for ways to test Coalition support for the ‘granny tax’. What are the chances that someone tries to force a vote on capping charitable giving?
The Mail has given a part of its front page to the revolt. The paper fumes in its comment section that the government has failed to say how many people are dodging taxes through bogus charities (not many, is presumably the answer).
In today’s Telegraph, Fraser Nelson argues that “it is fairly obvious that this was yet another ill-thought-out Budget wheeze” and it threatens to strangle Britain’s philanthropic culture. Will Dave force George into a U-turn when he gets back?
THE REAL REASON…
… For Dave’s recent flurry of international travel, as revealed by The Guardian’s Nick Watt : “Cameron, who has a mischievous sense of humour in private, loves the thought that the two trips [also the US] could not have been better designed to upset Gordon Brown.
The former prime minister regarded himself as something of a spiritual guide to Obama but was never given the red carpet treatment. He also regards himself as one of Britain’s greatest champions of Aung San Suu Kyi – he devoted a chapter in his book on courage to the Nobel laureate. “The certainty of Gordon’s sofa-destroying anger is satisfying,” one Cameron ally said.”
Amusing. Watt’s piece brings together the various criticisms of the PM – from Anthony King to David Miliband and Tim Montgomerie ( also in today’s Guardian). Montgomerie says that: “The current Tory leadership seems to be playing the electoral equivalent of Go for Broke, the board game where you race to lose a million pounds and the winner is the one who becomes penniless first.” Cutting stuff.
Life isn’t easy for Ed Miliband either. As Tim Ross reports for our paper , he’s under pressure from the Shadow Cabinet to improve his communication skills. Senior Labour MPs have branded him “cerebral” on television, incapable of delivering a good soundbite.
It doesn’t end there though, Ed has been force feeding himself humble pie in Bradford. The Guardian reports that yesterday he met with 100 local people to ask them why the party had been obliterated in the recent by-election.
In his column in today’s Times, Philip Collins, Tony Blair’s former speechwriter, damns his party as the “really nasty party”. He accuses its party fixers, in particular Gordon Brown’s former heavy Tom Watson, of operating in “a torrent of bitter rage.”
Phil’s concerns are echoed in a Guardian leader today, which denounces the party’s “Labour’s enduring and corrosive preference for backroom politics over openness.”
UKIP, YOU LOSE
Someone is doing well: Nigel Farage, as his party capitalises on the current difficulties the Tories are having. As the Independent reports, the Ukip leader is claiming that “disillusioned Conservative MPs have secretly contacted the UK Independence Party to discuss possible defection”.
This is what Farage says: “There is a wing of the Conservative party in the Commons – predominantly young, but not all – who agree with us on a whole host of issues, such as the opportunities afforded by selective education, the belief that government is too big… If Ukip is seen to be a good bet, that obviously increases the chances of them coming over”.
On his Telegraph blog yesterday, Iain Martin explained why Ukip is such a nightmare for the Tories – so far, the post has 2,480 comments, most of them unfavourable to the Conservatives. Is this something Dave should be worrying about?
Meanwhile, the Ukip leader has spawned this amazing Tumblr site: Meerkats that look like Nigel Farage.
LIB DEMS BOWING OUT
The Conservatives hav e kindly let us kn ow that the Lib Dems will only be contesting 70 per cent of local council seats. This is a marked drop from 81 per cent in 2008, 80 per cent in 2004 and 79 per cent in 2000.
The Lib Dems want fewer elections too. The FT has a helpful report on p2 on the topic. As Kirin Stacey reports, Greg Clark is on a mission to visit the 10 cities holding elections in May to promote the idea. “It undermined the identity of cities like Liverpool and Manchester. They emasculated these cities by putting them below a Whitehall structure”
In Birmingham at least, faced with a revolt by their councillors, the Lib Dems are campaigning against the idea of elected mayors in Britain’s cities. Though if the Brummies vote Yes, the leader of the campaign, Lib Dem MP John Hemming, will apparently happily stand.
GOD’S TOUC H
A fascinating story from Chris Hope in today’s Telegr aph: Lord O’Donnell, the former Cabinet secretary, is being positioned in Westminster as a serious contender to replace Sir Mervyn King when he steps down from the governorship of the Bank of England next year.
George Osborne is due to announce how recruitment for the post will work in June, as MPs from the Treasury committee demand some say over the appointment. As Andrew Tyrie says: “both the appointment and the accountability need much closer attention from Parliament than in the past”
BIG GAY BUS
Boris banned homophobic Christian advertising on buses yesterday after a Twitstorm erupted in protest. He contacted the Guardian to announce his intervention, saying:
“London is one of the most tolerant cities in the world and intolerant of intolerance. It is clearly offensive to suggest that being gay is an illness that someone recovers from and I am not prepared to have that suggestion driven around London on our buses.”
Hm. Very worthy, but I’m not sure that a mayoral ban will do anything to curb the message – how much more publicity have these people got as a result?
Latest YouGov/The Sun results – Coservatives 35%, Labour 41%, Liberal Democrats 9%. Ukip 7%
TWEETS AND TWITS
So says David Jones, “And by, the way, congratulations to @ConwyCBC on the new watersports hotspot (wetspot?). Looks wonderful from up here.”
In The Telegraph
Fraser Nelson: The taxman’s greed will strangle Britain’s amazing culture of giving
Jeremy Warner: Time to put the doomed euro out of its misery
Greg Dyke: If you run the BBC, you’ll never sleep a wink
Leader: The dangers of our ageing population
Best of the rest
Philip Collins in the Times (£): The Labour Party is the really nasty party
Tim Montgomerie in the Guardian: There is no alternative to error-strewn Cameron… yet
Owen Jones in the Independent: The 1 per cent have an interest in demonising Ken Livingstone
Nicholas Hytner in the Guardian: On tax avoidance, allow me to leap to the defence of the super-rich
Today: David Cameron arrives in Burma to meet President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi
Today: Kim Jon Un expected to be installed as North Korean supreme leader