Some important developments to report from India.
We’ve discovered that David Cameron is scarily happy to recycle jokes.
At the end of a rather long and worthy address in Bangalore on Wednesday, he tried to lighten the atmosphere with a Casablanca gag about this being “the start of a beautiful friendship”.
You must remember this. (Don’t worry, only one more Casablanca crack to go.) It was exactly the same line he finished his first ever speech in India, almost four years ago. Read more
The Guardian’s story that Labour is planning to vote against the AV bill as it currently stands is an important development in the passage of electoral reform. But Labour won’t be able to block the bill. What is really worrying pro-reform campaigners is the growing movement to change the date of the referendum. The FT revealed this morning that Labour is close to agreeing with Tory rebels to vote for an amendment for such a change.
Electoral reform campaigners
The “yes” movement calculates the bill will get through the Commons – rebel Tories will be whipped into submission on that point by party bosses who know that without it the coalition is likely to crumble.
But if those rebels team up with Labour to force a change of date (something on which Tory whips might give them more leeway), Lib Dems and other AV campaigners know the chances of a “yes” vote are significantly reduced. At the moment, the referendum is scheduled for May 5, when there are regional elections in Wales and Scotland. That should boost the turnout in those places, where support for AV is strongest.
So what chance the government suffering its first Commons defeat on the issue of the date? Read more
Remember Manish Sood? He was the Labour candidate who called Gordon Brown the “worst prime minister in history” in the run-up to the general election. Read more
I spent a couple of hours at the Chilcot inquiry yesterday where Hans Blix was talking.
Like many people, I had understood that Blix thought Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction in early 2003 – encouraged by headlines such as this one in January: Hanx Blix warned Tony Blair Iraq may not have WMD.
The Blix position is in fact much more nuanced.
Yesterday he said he told Tony Blair one month before the Iraq invasion that he thought Saddam Hussein may still have illegal weapons in spite of his growing doubts on the matter. Read more
Tim Montgomerie at ConservativeHome offers some shrewd insights into a batch of three polls in the last 24 hours which all show the Lib Dems trailing and Labour closing ground on the Tories. According to Ipsos MORI the gap between the two main parties is down to 2 points – and this is before Labour has a new leader and the public sector cuts begin in earnest.
Yet the line in the MORI poll that jumped out at me was one implying the public may still be utterly naive in their expectations of the deficit reduction programme – and its real impact on people’s lives. Read more
David Cameron’s trip to India is the biggest diplomatic gamble of his premiership. He’s packed a plane with the cream of the cabinet and British business. It’s a bold play, but there’s a clear danger of overreaching. Here are some elephant traps for team Cameron:
1. Kashmir The quickest way to turn a charm offensive into a diplomatic fiasco. The basic rule: British ministers should say nothing. Don’t dare criticise, offer to help, or link bringing peace to tackling terrorism. Stray words have consequences. Just ask Robin Cook, Jack Straw, David Miliband and the Queen. Harold Wilson was also given the silent treatment by Indira Ghandi after giving some unsolicited advice on Pakistan. This isn’t just a Labour problem. Sayeeda Warsi, minister without portfolio, has already had a scrape with the Indian media for having the temerity to suggest that Britain should “play its due role” bringing peace to Kashmir. The Foreign Office didn’t show much sympathy for her views.
2. Poverty Terrible. More poor people than anywhere on earth. But not worth mentioning too loudly. Talk about the New India instead. Mention the aid review. A patronising tone is fatal. Definitely don’t say anything like this: “Parts of Soweto look like a paradise compared to that [Delhi slum].” Or this, from the same UK opposition leader: “This is the real contrast. You can see in the background the big buildings of new India, the smart financial centre. But here is a reminder of how deep the poverty is in this country….the huge squalor.” It may be right. But probably not wise to repeat it, prime minister. Read more
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It is hard to imagine David Cameron delivering a more flattering speech in Ankara. His paean to Turkey’s place in Europe even included a smattering of Turkish phrases, which will have greatly impressed my Turkish grandmother watching at home. (It was a decent try, if lacking a bit of practice.)
On the political front, he tackled all the increasing number of areas where Britain is at odds with Turkey as gently as possible. He even included the extraordinary line that Turkey was the European country with “the greatest chance of persuading Iran to change course on nuclear policy”. Given they voted against toughening up UN sanctions on Iran earlier this month – which is Britain’s attempt to at persuasion – that is quite a claim.
Even so, the lovebombing will only go so far in Ankara. Read more
Mandarins are used to sudden changes of direction when the government changes. But even so, it must have been disconcerting for officials at the business department to see their former boss, Lord Mandelson, walk through the glass doors of their offices today to try and pick holes in policies they are currently defending.
Lord Mandelson and Pat McFadden, the current shadow business secretary, walked into the department to review the documents behind their decision to lend £80m to Sheffield Forgemasters, a decision the coalition has now controversially rescinded. Read more
Government officials told the FT over the weekend that today’s bank lending paper would be “very green” – essentially laying out a set of problems rather than solutions. And so it has proved.
The first 12 out of 39 pages deal with “context”: basically facts we already knew. It is not until page 13 that we get any concrete policy suggestions. And even then, they are couched in very cautious terms. Read more