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Budget politics

The Budget will, inevitably, be a mix of technocratic measures and political positioning. The former will see less action to counter ‘fiscal drag’ (where inflation bumps more people into higher bands without the Government having to do anything) and the latter will testify to Sajid Javid’s ability to push Hammond on housing. If he can, it will not only set a precedent for other Ministers, but also increase Javid’s own political stock considerably.

Dangerous liaison

Select Committees have repeatedly made headlines this year as Ministers give new insights on Government policy under scrutiny from their colleagues. By becoming chair of the all-important Liaison Committee that interviews the PM, Sarah Wollaston’s name is going to be in the papers a lot more – something that should be keeping advisers in Number 10 up at night.

The taxpayer pound (and dollar, and yen..)

Brexit watchers often focus on the potential for new international trade deals after 2019. More prosaically, this week’s draft Trade Bill sets out ambitions for independent membership of the ‘Government Procurement Agreement (GPA)’. This is the WTO system that gives companies a chance to bid for public sector contracts worth more than £1.3 trillion every year. It’s a helpful reminder that the chances of Brexit being a success will be determined outside the Berlaymont as well as in it.

Runners and riders

Penny Mordaunt’s elevation and Karen Bradley’s seat in the all-important marginal Midlands do nothing if not shorten the odds on the Conservatives having a third female PM before Labour has even had its first. It’s a busy field, though… After a few glasses of wine, a Cabinet Minister told us more than 20 names are in the hat for May’s replacement. The Tories will seek more consensus before acting, so as to avoid a drawn out race.

Patronage is power

Constitutionally, the Prime Minister doesn’t actually have much sway – the real power lies in the PM’s ability to determine other MPs’ careers. This is why Theresa May’s lack of room to reshuffle her Cabinet is important – and why her allies are trying to show she can still dish out jobs by appointing new ‘envoys’ to various industries this week. It is fair to question whether these newly created roles will demand as much loyalty as red boxes, though.

Local Authorities in for a shock

In answer to a Written Question, the Government confirms a new statutory code for Councils’ borrowing habits will be “in place early in 2018”. Whitehall has been careful to distance itself from some of the more ‘adventurous’ investments made by Local Authorities, especially around “land and property purchases”, saying these bets are made “without government consent”. The new code is likely to leave Councils fighting their own corner if investments turn bad – with an inevitable and significant impact on local public services.

Whitehall’s best laid plans

Single Departmental Plans (SDPs) were published with some fanfare just last year. These SDPS were due to run until 2020 and promised to “describe the government’s objectives for this Parliament and how departments are fulfilling their commitments”. Since then the Brexit referendum, a new PM, and a General Election have understandably got in the way – but that leaves an obvious question: what replaces them?

Division is not a British disease

When Donald Tusk, President of the EU’s Council of Ministers, told colleagues last night that he is worried about “the sense of powerlessness, where political interests, or bureaucratic inertia, stand in the way of achieving results”, he was not talking about the UK Government – his fire was aimed EU27 member states’ leaders.

It’s a helpful reminder that some commentators on the Brexit debate should raise their gaze to what’s happening in Brussels, too.

To address these obstructive ‘political interests’ in the Council, Tusk wants to publish ‘Decision Notes’ before each meeting, whereby he would explicitly list the divisions in the Council so that they can be addressed head on. This might or might not work but, either way, the chances of a potentially explosive document finding its way into the public domain would surely rise.

Full details of Tusk’s comments to EU leaders are here: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2017/10/17-tusk-invitation-letter-euco/?utm_source=POLITICO.EU&utm_campaign=939f38c2e2-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_10_18&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_10959edeb5-939f38c2e2-190078089

Going nuclear on Brexit

Senior figures across the EU27’s nuclear industry say they’re confident the UK can strike a deal with Euratom, essentially on the same terms as before, straight after Brexit. In our view, this reflects the most likely outcome of the wider talks – a series of independent agreements on some economic and security issues, acting as face-saving measures for what will basically be no-deal.

Entrepreneurial spirit

A junior Minister has called for the self-employed to face auto-enrolment in pensions schemes. There are good intentions behind the plan, but it has echoes of the NICs debacle – entrepreneurs tend to want less red tape, not more – and risks another wedge between the Conservatives and the aspiring working class voters who supported Thatcher and are, so far, proving most resistant to Corbyn.


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