The five things you need to know on Friday 12 July 2013...
1) OSBORNE'S '100% CUTS' PLEDGE
Both the Telegraph and the Times splash on George Osborne's announcement on austerity yesterday, first to the Treasury Select Committee and then to the parliamentary press gallery lunch:
"No more tax rises Osborne pledges," is the headline on the front of the Times.
"Osborne: I won't raise taxes if we win the election," is the Telegraph's splash headline.
The Times reports:
"George Osborne fired the first salvo in one of the next election’s key battles yesterday by vowing to avoid further tax rises to plug the deficit."
"In a move designed to steal a march on both the Liberal Democrats and Labour, the Chancellor said that he would eliminate the £23 billion hole in the public finances after the election by cutting spending."
“'I’m clear that tax increases are not required to achieve this,' he told the Treasury Select Committee. 'This can be achieved through spending reductions. I don't think we have reached the end point in reforming welfare.'"
Let's be very clear - 1) the only reason we need austerity post-2015 is because Osborn failed to balance the books as he'd originally promised to; 2) austerity which revolves around only spending cuts, rather than tax rises, disproportionately hits the poor - especially those who rely on benefit payments to get by; 3) the empirical evidence suggests that spending cuts have a bigger, more negative effect on economic growth than tax rises; and 4) a '100% cuts' approach to deficit reduction is extreme both by international and historical standards. Remember: the previous Tory chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, in the mid-1990s, guided the UK economy out of recession and towards balanced budgets with a 50:50 spending-cuts-to-tax-rises deficit reduction strategy.
Meanwhile, on a side note, my HuffPost colleague Asa Bennett reports:
"Under questioning today from Labour MP Teresa Pearce of the Treasury Select Committee, Osborne admitted: 'No, I have not visited a food bank.'
"... Peter Strauss, from the London Street Food Bank, told the Huffington Post UK that Osborne’s admission was further proof that ministers were 'out of touch'.
“'They need to come and visit one and get a reality check.'"
2) WE TAG DEAD PEOPLE
The Mirror's splash headline is: "The £50m tag blag." The paper reports:
"Blundering firm G4S faces a police probe after charging ministers to monitor tagged crooks who were in prison or even dead.
"The company, whose ex-boss Nick Buckles left after last year's Olympic security fiasco, could have made £50million in the rip-off, along with Serco."
This is the latest in a long line of scandals and blunders involving the word's biggest private security firm - remember how G4S cocked up the security situation at the Olympics last summer and forced the government to bring in the army at the last minute?
The Telegraph reports that "Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, has called in the Serious Fraud Office... his Labour shadow, Sadiq Khan, described the situation as 'potential fraud'."
So, what's going to happen to the coalition's outsourcing revolution? To Chris Grayling's plans to privatise big chunks of the courts and probation system? Do we still think private always good, public always bad?
As the Independent's James Moore writes:
"Mr Grayling will no doubt say he is asking tough questions, but what he probably won’t do is ask the questions that ought to be asked – namely, whether the mania for outsourcing to companies like these, and others that have grown fat off our taxes, really represents good value in terms of quality or cost. It is episodes like these we ought to remember when people like the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, talk about handing schools over to profit-making enterprises. Would you want to be sending your son or daughter to G4S First School? The very thought of it makes my blood run cold."
3) ET TU, SIR BOB?
From the Independent:
"David Cameron is trying to force the head of Britain’s civil service out of his job because of his frustration at the slow pace of Whitehall reform, The Independent has learnt.
"Sir Bob Kerslake is understood to have been told that the Prime Minister would like to replace him in the role he has held for less than two years, after failing to successfully implement the Government’s civil service reforms... It is believed that the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood has been asked by Mr Cameron to draw up a shortlist of possible successors. In a significant break with tradition, the successful candidate could come from outside the civil service... Insiders suggest the move has met resistance, with some saying Sir Bob is 'refusing to go quietly'."
Meanwhile, in other civil service-related news, the Mail splashes on:
"Civil servants put £1.1billion on taxpayer-funded credit cards last year despite David Cameron’s pledge to curb their use.
"More than 137,000 Whitehall officials, quangocrats and town hall chiefs used the cards to splash out on plush hotels, gourmet meals and fine wines.
"The bill for 2012-2013 was four times that of 2002. It was also no lower than in Labour’s last year in power – even though the number of civil servants has fallen."
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this awesome video of a guy dressed in a Spiderman costume take on - and beat - a bunch of guys on a basketball court. Amazing ball skills...
4) PM IS 'CRASS AND GRUBBY', SAYS TORY MP
Of the three main party leaders, only David Cameron has refused to say that he won't take the pay rise heading every MP's way come 2015. That isn't enough to keep irate Tory MPs off his back - from the Huffington Post's Ned Simons:
"Conservative Charles Walker has accused David Cameron and Nick Clegg of 'hiding in their bunkers' while pushing their MPs towards the "machine guns" after both men criticised proposals to give politicians a pay rise.
Yesterday the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) proposed that MPs see their pay increase from £66,396 to £74,000 in May 2015.
Both the prime minister and deputy prime minister have sharply criticised the regulator for the suggestion - arguing MPs should not see a pay rise at a time the government was squeezing public sector pay.
However Walker said the pair were being 'crass' and simply 'trying to make capital off their MPs' for political gain.
The Broxbourne MP told BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight programme late on Thursday evening: 'I know many people in the tea room in House of Commons who are deeply hurt and deeply upset by their leaders... I find it pretty grubby when leaders of our parties once again hide in their bunkers, hide behind their MPs and push us towards the metaphorical machine guns,' he said."
It isn't just the PM and his deputy feeling the heat - so, too, is Ipsa. The Independent reports on its front page:
"Education Secretary Michael Gove dismissed the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) as a 'silly organisation' and said they could 'stick' their proposed 11 per cent salary hike.
"Others questioned whether Ipsa itself, which costs £4 million a year to run, provides good value for money, and called for a vote in the House of Commons on whether it should be abolished... At the heart of MPs anger is the way Ipsa has managed to drag out the debate on Parliamentary salaries for over a year – stoking public resentment over how much they are paid."
As I have said before, there is a legitimate case to be made for raising MPs' salaries - especially given the rates of pay fro GPs, headteachers and council bosses - but Ipsa's timing, in the midst of a public sector pay freeze and off the back of the MPs' expenses scandal, couldn't be worse.
5) HOW DOES GIDEON SLEEP AT NIGHT?
Ed Miliband has sleep apnea which may keep him awake at night; George Osborne, however, has the Up bracelet which helps him sleep at night.
The Up what?? From the Daily Mail:
"George Osborne has started wearing a hi-tech wristband which makes sure he gets a good night’s sleep.
"The Chancellor of the Exchequer revealed he uses the UP wristband to monitor his sleep patterns and track his fitness regime.
"The black plastic Jawbone wristband links up with a smartphone app to allow users to take a ‘holistic approach to a healthy lifestyle’."
It costs around £100 and helps with weight reduction, too - but the chancellor didn't pay for it himself.
"Mr Osborne explained why he was using it as he addressed a press gallery lunch with journalists in Westminster.
"He said: ‘It was a birthday present. It measures how far you walk but it also measures your sleep patterns, your deep and light sleep.
"‘I was pleased to note yesterday that Michael Gove was also wearing one.’
"Asked how it is helping him to relax at night, the Chancellor replied: ‘I always sleep well.’"
I bet he does...
“They thought I had ordered from Byron because Byron delivers, when in fact it was because McDonalds had run out of McLobster." - George Osborne speaking to journalists at the press gallery lunch in the House of Commons yesterday
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From today's Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 10
That would give Labour a majority of 92.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@ChiOnwurah If huge private sector companies like G4S & Servco can defraud the public sector we need to rethink what contracting is supposed to achieve
@ShippersUnbound Most political journalists think MPs should be paid much more than they are. But that is not a view shared by newsdesks and voters
@David_Cameron A sad day with the funeral of Fusilier Lee Rigby, who was killed in Woolwich. My thoughts are with his wife Rebecca and his family.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Isabel Hardman, writing in the Telegraph, says: "The Archbishop of Canterbury knows that benefits do not fix everything."
John Kampfner, writing in the Times, says: "Clegg is set to be kingmaker again in 2015."
Andy Burnham, writing in the Mirror, says: "UK's finest asset, the NHS, is in sick hands."
Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ned Simons (email@example.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol