MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).
Good morning. If Ed Miliband was hoping for applause this morning, he’ll be disappointed. He gets cheers from Polly Toynbee, and therein lies his problem: he should be enraging the metropolitan lefties, not delighting them. Otherwise, it’s pretty much a thumbs down across the board for his 10p by Mansion Tax wheeze. There are all sorts of criticisms that can be made – opportunism, envy politics, pointlessness (as the Times has it, he wants to take a lot of money off a few people to give very little money to a lot of people). The most damning conclusion though must be the point Patrick Wintour makes, and others have made for months, namely that once again Mr Miliband has ducked a chance to break with the poisonous legacy of Brownonics. He was at Mr Brown’s side when he made his mistakes. He was part of the incompetence. He was there when the public sector was put on steroids and borrowing allowed to rip. And so far he has said nothing about how Labour will govern when the coffers are empty. By failing to acknowledge that he bears a share of responsibility for the mess we are in, he denies himself a fair hearing on the economy. Not a good starting point for an election campaign. No wonder the Treasury loved his speech.
A flavour of the reaction? Well, the Times (£) argues in its leading article that the policy is “symbolic…a dead end”. The Mail is furious that the “cynical opportunist Ed Miliband…stole [Robert Halfon’s] idea and inserted it, at the 11th hour, into yesterday’s otherwise utterly lacklustre speech.” Our leader is similarly scathing, hailing Mr Miliband as “the champion of divisive, old-style ‘us versus them’ politics.” The Guardian‘s Patrick Wintour notes that “the prime message is about redistribution, rather than showing by example how Labour will govern with less money,” although that alone is enough to win his paper’s leader over, it praises a “good day’s work”. There’s always one who goes completely against the grain, though, and it’s usually Polly Toynbee. She was delighted to see “the makings of a bold and visionary leader”:
“With a double-barrelled blast, Ed Miliband shot two foxes on Thursday – one Tory, one Lib Dem. He bagged Vince Cable’s £1m mansion tax and, if George Osborne was planning to revive the 10p tax band, Miliband has just shot it dead. At the same time, by promising to “put right a mistake made by Gordon Brown and the last Labour government”, he took the sting out of Tory swipes at the two Eds as Brown acolytes. Apology is surprisingly easy, as he found when he rejected the Iraq war on his first day.”
BRADY CALLS FOR TAX CUTS AS ALEXANDER WARNS ON FINANCIAL NIMBYISM
Danny Alexander has been sent hunting for a further £10bn in spending cuts in the corridors of Whitehall and is warning colleagues of “fiscal nimbyism”, the FT (£) reports. The Nimbys in question – Messers Grayling and Hammond and Mrs May in particular – believe their departmental budgets have been slashed enough and would rather any further slack is taken from the welfare budget, itself a red line for Lib Dems.
At the moment, it is tax cuts rather than departmental cuts which excite the Tory backbenches. The latest in a run of demands for radical action on tax comes from Graham Brady, the chairman of the ’22, who uses his Telegraph op-ed to suggest lower general tax levels and the immediate abolition of air passenger duty which he believes would add 0.5pc to GDP. His argument about the “virtuous circle” which arises from the lower living costs given by lower taxes is one which won’t be lost on Tory strategists coming this week, but a substantial tax cut at a time of welfare restraint and departmental austerity would require the political will to argue to plan A+, not just plan A. Over to you, Chancellor.
MIGRANTS FACE CRACKDOWN
Britain must make sure it is “not a soft touch” on immigration, the Prime Minister said yesterday in Eastleigh, apparently franking reports that he is intent on restricting access to certain cash benefits, such as those for children overseas, and non-cash benefits like non-emergency NHS care. The problem with this approach is that European migrants are guaranteed equal treatment under law. With Brussels already making a fuss about the proposals in today’s Times (£), you wonder whether this might not be another instance of the PM shooting from the lip and asking questions about the feasibility later. While his approach to the EU referendum won plaudits from Sir John Major yesterday, as the Express reports he feels it will “cleanse politics”, Dave is on shaky ground when it comes to acting unilaterally now, especially given that renegotiation will not formally begin until after the next election.
BREEDING TO VICTORY
Dave trooped gamely down to Eastleigh yesterday to support Maria Hutchings in her by-election campaign. He gave a speech at a B&Q in which “local mum, four kids” became something of a mantra. As our sketchwriter Michael Deacon reports, “we can only assume Tory strategists have identified Mrs Hutchings’s reproductive fecundity as a key weapon.” Dave rounded off by saying he shopped at B&Q’s bitter rival Ikea. Smooth. The result was what the Mirror termed “Boo & Q”. As for his candidate, Mrs Hutchings stars in a full page interview in this morning’s Mail headlined: “Tory Sarah Palin? No, I’m just a struggling mother who can’t afford a car…” It’s fair to say they’re fans.
TOUGH ON HORSE MEAT, TOUGH ON THE CAUSES OF HORSE MEAT
Dave has moved the point of attack on horse meat from unscrupulous foreigners to the “unacceptable” wall of silence thrown up by retailers, we report this morning. The results of 1,000 tests by 13 retailers will be revealed shortly, and are expected to show that the contamination of the food chain runs deeper than previously thought. As Fraser Nelson argues in his column, when the supply chain is so long and opaque, it is no wonder that horse meat, and far worse, is found there:
“Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, describes what has gone on as an ‘international criminal conspiracy’. The bigger question is just how criminal it has become. There is every prospect that, if a torch is shone into the dark corners of global supply chains, you will find modern-day slaves.”
THE HON. MEMBER MS CAROLINE ER…
When confronted by an influx of so called Cameron Cuties after the last election, some Tory males had considerable difficulty telling them apart and resorted to calling every woman Caroline, according to the Guardian. It looks like they won’t have the same problem after the next election: the paper argues that the expansion of the number of women in the parliamentary party could be about to go into reverse. So far 16 target seat candidates have been selected and only four are women.
BOJO V CLEGG, AGAIN
Boris Johnson’s appearance on the campaign trail in Eastleigh is likely to turn the event into a “celebrity contest” Nick Clegg told listeners to LBC yesterday, continuing their feud by radio. If he wanted to take things a step further then Boris from Islington is hosting his own show on LBC at 9am this morning. What price a pre-recorded message from Nick from Westminster?
CITY WILL BE HIT BY FINANCIAL TRANSACTIONS TAX
Famously, Dave referred to the EU’s financial transactions tax as “madness” and vowed to stop it from being implemented on these shores lest it destroy the City. The European Commission announced yesterday that it was extending the tax to the purchase and sale of shares originating in all 11 participating countries, meaning that an exchange between the London trading desks of two British banks will be liable for the tax, the Times (£) reports.
COUNCILS DEFIANT OVER TAXES
A third of councils will increase rates in spite of a government offer of funding to sustain a council tax freeze, we report. A survey of 193 councils found that 65 were planning rate rises, double the number who increased taxes last year. Given that central government is offering a settlement which would be equivalent to a 1pc rise in rates, it’s fair to assume that the rises will be inflationary. No succour for the squeezed middle.
PURNELL LANDS BBC ROLE
Former Labour minister James Purnell has been appointed to a £295,000 per year role as the BBC’s new strategy director. As the Mail reports, there was no open recruitment process as Mr Purnell was viewed as the “ideal candidate” a move hardly likely to dispel impressions that the corporation leans left.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Labour’s Eastleigh candidate is getting into the swing of things:
@mrjohnofarrell: “Fear I have already turned into political robot. Valentines card to wife just said ‘Vote Labour in #Eastleigh for a One Nation alternative’.'”
In the Telegraph
Fraser Nelson – Slavery, not horse meat, is the real scandal on our doorstep
Graham Brady – Cut the taxes that are holding us back, George
Jeremy Warner – Yes to free trade – no to all the other guff
Telegraph View – Miliband hasn’t learnt any economic lessons
Best of the rest
Philip Collins in The Times (£) – Leave London and you’ll find fantasy island
Polly Toynbee in The Guardian – Ed has the makings of a brave and visionary leader
Philip Stephens in the FT (£) – Transatlantic free trade promises a bigger prize
Chris Roycroft-Davis in the Daily Express – It is madness to give Turkey this cash bribe
TODAY: Chancellor George Osborne attends G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bankers meeting. Central Exhibition Hall Manezh, Moscow. Parliament in recess. Both Houses of Parliament are in recess until February 25.
09:00 am: London Mayor Boris Johnson live phone-in on LBC 97.3 radio.
09:30 am: Retail sales figures for January are published by the Office for National Statistics.
01:30 pm: FSA to announce first results of tests on processed beef products. The results include the number of samples, the number of positive results and the affected products.