POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: 'Crunch Week' For Osborne

22/04/2013 08:15 BST
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LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 02: Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne listens to a speech by the Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King during the opening of the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) on April 2, 2013 in London, England. The PRA is now responsible for the regulation of approximately 1,700 financial firms including banks, building societies, credit unions, insurers and major investment firms. (Photo by Lefteris Pitarakis - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The ten things you need to know on Monday 22 April...

1) 'CRUNCH WEEK' FOR OSBORNE

The Telegraph says this is the "crunch week" for the chancellor of the exchequer:

"George Osborne enters a crucial week for the economy with a slew of data showing that the squeeze on household finances has started to intensify.

"With economists divided over whether Thursday's first–quarter GDP figures will reveal that Britain escaped a triple–dip recession, research from data group Markit showed that British family finances worsened in April. The group's household finance index fell to 37.7 in April, down from 39.3 in March.

"... Most City economists expect that Mr Osborne will escape the dubious honour of being the first British chancellor to preside over a triple dip, with a consensus view predicting a 0.1pc rise in output."

Triple dip or no triple dip, the key point to highlight is that growth has gone. That much, at least, is indisputable.

The chancellor will try and mount a fightback this week by announcing a big extension of the Bank of England's cheap credit scheme, the Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS), in an attempt to revive growth. He won't be too pleased, therefore, by the splash on the front of the FT - "Banks dash Osborne's hopes for credit push". The paper says;

"Banks have put a damper on George Osborne's hopes that an expansion of the Funding for Lending Scheme will spark a rush of credit to small and medium-sized companies as the chancellor finalises plans to revamp the programme."

Some banks, reports the FT, have highlighted "weak demand for credit from cautious households and businesses as the biggest obstacle to lending".

2) TROUBLE AT THE TOP

Thanks Sir Jeremy! From the Times:

"Britain's most senior civil servant has laid bare stark differences at the top of Government over how to revive the flagging economy. Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, revealed a 'diversity of views' in the highest ranks of Cabinet at a recent private meeting with bankers.

"The four most senior members of the Cabinet all champion different projects and policies, he revealed, stoking fears that the coalition may have lost focus.

"He told top bankers that David Cameron is prioritising exports, free trade and micro and small businesses.

"Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, wants greater concentration on regional growth and city-specific initiatives.

"Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, blames the banks, suggesting that lack of finance is holding back growth and wanting greater transparency on the banking sector.

"George Osborne, the Chancellor, is concentrating on infrastructure investment and long-term finance, and attracting overseas business to Britain. While not openly criticising his Cabinet masters for this, or suggesting that the ideas contradict one another, one of those present said that Sir Jeremy was nevertheless being unhelpful to the Government by suggesting divisions."

Now there's an understatement...

3) DARLING OF THE TWO EDS

Some good news on the economic policy front for the Labour leadership: former chancellor Alistair Darling has refused to join Tony Blair, David Blunkett, John Reid and others on the right of the party who have called on Ed Miliband to move away from the politics of opposition in recent weeks.

He turned up on Sky News yesterday to defend the two Eds - from the Times:

"Alistair Darling, the former Labour Chancellor, has attacked the coalition for continuing to 'lumber on' with failing economic policies. No 10 had lost credibility, he said, insisting that Labour would be 'very wise' to 'wait and see what he [Mr Osborne] comes up with' rather than laying out its spending plans now."

Meanwhile, the Telegraph reports:

"Ed Miliband has 'a way to go' before voters see him as a prospective prime minister, a senior Labour MP has said.

"David Watts, the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, said Mr Miliband's standing was being affected by principled but 'unpopular' decisions on issues such as welfare."

4) ON CHILD POVERTY, PUT UP OR SHUT UP

Shock! Horror! Austerity policies will drive up the number of poor children living in the UK. That's the conclusion not of the 'usual suspects' on the anti-austerity left but of arch-Blairite Alan Milburn and Tory peer Gillian Shephard - both former cabinet ministers, incidentally.

From the Independent's splash:

"The number of children growing up in poor families could rocket to more than three million during the period over which ministers have pledged to eradicate the problem, the Government’s advisers on child poverty warn tomorrow.

"In their first interview since taking over as chairman and deputy chairman of a new Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, Alan Milburn, Labour’s former Health Secretary, and Baroness [Gillian] Shephard, the Conservative former Education Secretary, told The Independent that there was no chance of the Coalition hitting its target, enshrined in law by the previous Labour government, to abolish child poverty by 2020.

"Although all the main parties have signed up to the 2010 Child Poverty Act, Mr Milburn said: 'I don’t think there is a cat in hell’s chance that the 2020 target will be hit.” He added: “They [the parties] should either put their hand in their pocket or stop pretending.'"

5) 'SHORT SESSIONS MAKE MPS LOOK LAZY'

That's the headline on the front of the Guardian, which reports:

"MPs risk accusations of laziness and poor value for money because the number of hours they work in Westminster appear to be shrinking, according to the senior MP responsible for scrutinising public spending.

"Margaret Hodge, who chairs the public accounts committee, said that the coalition should lengthen the parliamentary calender because MPs are spending less time in Westminster scrutinising policy.

"In an interview with the Guardian Hodge warned of a growing 'democratic vacuum' and said that parliamentary sessions are now so short 'it feels as if we are hardly working'."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a baby hedgehog going to war with... a T-shirt!

6) THE COALITION VS TANNI GREY-THOMPSON, PART 2

From the Times:

"Baroness Grey-Thompson, Britain's trailblazing Paralympian, has been rejected by the Government from a key role in delivering the 2012 legacy.

"Ministers will announce today that the new head of Sport England will be Nick Bitel, chief executive of the London Marathon.

"... Although a crossbench peer, she had the support of many Labour peers and MPs. The former wheelchair athlete has used her seat in the Lords to voice criticism of the Government's benefit reforms and the decision to spurn her will be seen by some as revenge. Some Tories feared that she would be too political."

The Mirror reminds us:

"The revelation comes after the Mirror revealed George Osborne ducked a TV debate with Lady Grey-Thompson because he was scared she would attack benefit cuts."

7) ARE WE ABOUT TO BE INVADED?

From the BBC:

"The coming lifting of work restrictions for migrants from Romania and Bulgaria has had little impact on the numbers of people planning to move to the UK or wider EU, BBC Newsnight polls suggest.

"The countries joined the EU in 2007 but many member states put limits on their citizens working which end this year.

"This has raised concerns in the UK that many will now come to seek jobs.

"But BBC surveys in each country, both of more than 1,000 people, suggest most would move only with a firm work offer."

It's a fascinating survey - and the Times reports on another aspect of it:

"More than 70 per cent of Romanians who intend to move to Britain said that restrictions on their entitlements would affect their decision. However, Bulgarians planning to come said that it would not influence their plans at all."

8) FORGET THE WORLD'S POOR

More evidence that Tory modernisation has ground to a halt. From the Times:

"David Cameron has ruled out enshrining his controversial increase in aid spending in law this year, fuelling fears that he is preparing to ditch the pledge.

"The Queen’s Speech next month will omit the promised legislation to fix international development spending at 0.7 per cent of national output, The Times understands."

9) BURMA VIOLENCE

From the BBC:

"The BBC has obtained police video showing officers standing by while Buddhist rioters attacked minority Muslims in the town of Meiktila.

"The footage shows a mob destroying a Muslim gold shop and then setting fire to houses. A man thought to be a Muslim is seen on fire.

"It was filmed last month, when at least 43 people were killed in Meiktila.

"Meanwhile the EU is expected to decide whether to lift sanctions imposed on Burma, in response to recent reforms."

I'm all in favour of engaging with 'rogue' regimes and rewarding good behaviour, but shouldn't sanctions relief be explicitly linked to a reduction in violence on the ground?

10) GOOD RIDDANCE

From the Sun:

"A Tory councillor quit the party last night after an astonishing attack on immigrant children.

"John Cherry, 73, hit out at plans by a South London academy to open a boarding school near his constituency in West Sussex.

"While he praised Chinese and Indian children, he said that Pakistani kids would not "rise to the top".

"... He also claimed the school would be a 'sexual volcano' and pupils would try to escape.

"Last night Mr Cherry quit the party and apologised for his rant."

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"I’m sure Ed has more important people to meet than George Galloway. There are a few members of his own party he could be meeting.” - Labour MP Kate Hoey reacts to news of Miliband's meeting with the Respect Party parliamentarian.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 40

Conservatives 32

Lib Dems 11

Ukip 10

That would give Labour a majority of 92.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

‏@iankatz1000 Good fact from @BBCr4today: only 1 in 5 workers in Pret a Manger stores British

@TomHarrisMP At least we can all agree that in the event of a "No" vote next year, there shouldn't be another referendum for at least 25 years, yes?

@BevaniteEllie Great to cheer on London marathon today...Wonderful atmosphere in solidarity with Boston. Well done all who did it-better men/women than I.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Jeff Randall, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Labour lacks a plan, as shown by its failure to capitalise on Osborne’s current misfortunes."

Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says: "To beat the Left, Tories must aim for its heart."

David Graeber, writing in the Guardian, says: "There's no need for all this economic sadomasochism."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol