The five things you need to know on Wednesday June 10, 2015...
THE NEW NORMAL
George Osborne is very much a political, as well as an economic, Chancellor. In the Mansion House speech tonight he’s moving quickly to exploit Labour disarray over its own fiscal credibility with an audacious plan to enshrine budget surpluses in law.
The key announcement is that a surplus would have to be run in ‘normal’ times, not just boom times. Together with the revival of the 'Committee for the Reduction of National Debt' (last seen in Victorian times), this has prompted lots of ‘back to the future’ charges. Of course economists scoff that this is all a gimmick given one Parliament can’t bind the hands of the next. Some also point out that it was growth not spending cuts that wiped our debts after the Napoleonic wars. It’s better productivity that will perhaps be the key instead.
But David Gauke, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, was on the Today programme insisting that the OBR would work out what was ‘normal’ or not. He also insisted no change in the 2017 date for ending the structural deficit. “We remain committed to the £30bn so we are not resiling from that. This is a more ambitious target in terms of having an overall surplus. Of course, growth is very important. In 2014 fastest growing major economy in the western world while reducing our deficit, of course the two can go together.”
Watch out though for the other big story in the Mansion House speech: an end to ‘banker bashing’. Osborne looks like he will try to tempt HSBC and others not to quit the UK by signalling an end to the banker levy hikes he has used to grab a few hundred million (Gordon Brown, stealth style) whenever he needs to plug a hole.
Chris Leslie has probably the toughest job of anyone in the Shadow Cabinet right now. How can he persuade people that Labour will again be trusted with their cash, while resisting Osborne’s plans?
THE MOD DELUSION
David Miliband’s five long years of pent up frustration over losing to his brother are more evident by the day. Last night on CNN, he let rip by declaring that Labour had ‘turned the page backwards’ under his brother Ed’s leadership. He warned that the party had “to find again that combination of economic dynamism and social justice that defined the success of the Labour party” under Tony Blair.
The Times has splashed on its own interview too in which Miliband says “We should liberate ourselves from the delusion that running away from three election victories is a route to success”. Call it modernisation, call it Blairism, it got Labour into power: that’s his message. And to misunderstand that is to be deluded.
Elsewhere in the Times, there’s a new account of election night with Team Ed. Miliband at one point turned to aide Rachel Kinnock and asked: “It’s not 1992, is it?” She said it didn’t feel the same because back then people had an inkling on the final day that Labour were going to lose. But given David’s new onslaught, there’s also a line that half an hour before the exit poll Miliband senior had phone his brother ‘to congratulate him on his campaign’.
But David Miliband’s words were as much a warning to the Labour leadership contenders as a settling of old scores with his brother. Andy Burnham made clear at the GMB hustings that he took a very different view of the Blair years, declaring that the 2015 manifesto “was the best manifesto that I have stood on in four general elections for Labour. I pay tribute to Ed Miliband”.
Burnham - who wasn’t uncritical of Ed M (he warned the party lost to UKIP by failing to get a grip on immigration) - is clearly not a ‘mod’ but a rocker in this race, believing the modernisers are themselves deluded if they ignore the way the world has changed since 1997. His remark about the manifesto came after the GMB’s Paul Kenny rounded on Lord Mandelson and Lord Hutton. "I have been absolutely sickened by the sight of old has-beens in the Labour Party lecturing us about the manifesto being too left-wing," he told his conference, claiming critics should go back to the museums "they have crawled out of".
In PMQs today, I’d be amazed if David Cameron didn’t quote at length Harriet Harman’s line to the Indy this week that even Labour voters were ‘privately relieved’ that Ed Miliband had lost the election. The only comeback Harriet could use is perhaps to seize on Cam’s former speechwriter Clare Foges calling yesterday for him to scrap the bedroom tax.
SCOTLAND THE BEHAVE
Remember Anna Soubry’s fury at being told ‘behave yourself, woman’ by Alex Salmond? Well, the former first minister defended himself on Newsnight, declaring that he was actually being non-sexist in updating his usual ‘Scottish idiom’ of ‘behave yourself, man’.
And in an interview with The Huffington Post during her trip to the US, Nicola Sturgeon has this morning also leapt to his defence.
Sturgeon tells us: "I understand it was language that not everybody thinks should be used but it was in a boisterous House of Commons debate. The fundamental question, 'does that language indicate that Alex Salmond is sexist?' Absolutely not, there’s no man I know who is less sexist."
BECAUSE YOU’VE REACHED THIS FAR...
‘Farcical scenes’ is a phrase we hacks often love to deploy but last night it rang true as the SNP’s Angus MacNeil was accused of locking himself in the loo after entering the wrong voting lobby. Check out Tom Blenkinsop’s tweet.
THE WOES HAVE IT
The PM is off to another Brussels summit later, this time with Caribbean and Latin American leaders.
The debate in the Commons on the EU referendum bill last night laid bare just what a fight the PM will have on his hands from Eurosceptics if there’s any backsliding with Brussels. Woe betide any Tory PM who upsets big beasts like John Redwood.
Boris didn’t exactly help yesterday when he told LBC that the PM should let ministers to express their own opinion in any referendum campaign. “It would be safer and more harmonious to say 'make your own minds up'. Do you really need to bind everyone in?”
But, as ever, it is the quietly authoritative figure of 1922 Committee chairman Graham Brady who worries No10 most. In the Telegraph today, he’s written that a free vote would be ‘the mature and rational’ thing to do, treating the issue “as a matter of conscience for front and backbenchers alike”. Labour has so far allowed the Tories to stew in their own juice on the PM’s chaotic line on Brexit and free votes. Will Harman resist today?
The Times has some good news for the PM. It has seen a European Commission report proposing changes to the Lisbon treaty to embed eurozone reforms by 2019. But will Eurosceps be bought off by ‘protocols’ promising such jam tomorrow?
The FT has a neat scoop on the whole airports expansion saga, revealing that ministers have decided they won’t actually make a full formal response to this summer’s Davies Commission until Christmas.
Heathrow and Gatwick, who have been spending huge sums promoting their respective cases, look like they’ll have to keep the cash taps running for a few more months. The decision to further delay the already delayed decision will give David Cameron time to work out the politics. Three Cabinet ministers - Justine Greening, Greg Hands and Philip Hammond - have opposed Heathrow expansion, while Boris has pledged to lie in front of any bulldozers that start work.
Another No.10 factor is the declaration yesterday by Zac Goldsmith that he will consult constituents on running for Mayor of London. Zac has pledged to resign as an MP if Heathrow gets the nod.
COMING UP LATER
We have Scottish Questions at 11.30am and with ‘The 56’ bound to pack the chamber, expect it to be a much more lively affair than in previous years.
After PMQs, the PM will deliver an oral statement on his G7 trip.
Labour has two Opposition Day debates, one on housing and one on climate change.
The elections that are the focus of intense behind the scenes lobbying, for select committee chairs, feature today. Nominations close at 5pm: will we see any surprise names?
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