Politics Summary: Friday, January 15th

David Cameron will today publish plans to “join up” the international development and defence budgets as part of his party’s National Security Strategy. The FT reports that, “A Conservative government will examine shifting money from the international aid budget to part-fund a new military-backed ‘stabilisation and reconstruction force’ for warzones such as Afghanistan.” The Telegraph outlines that, “some Tories believe the party can honour [their commitment to Labour’s aid budget] by counting some spending done by the Ministry of Defence as development aid.” The plan has, however, been thrown into doubt by in-fighting in the Shadow Cabinet: Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, and Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, are both said to be reluctant to accept a shared fund. Meanwhile, the Government will today publish a draft International Development Spending Bill to enshrine into law its promise to raise the share of UK national income spent on aid to 0.7 per cent by 2013. Writing in the Independent, Gordon Brown says, “2010 is a test of the world’s concern for the poorest – and their faith in us. In conscience and in our own self-interest, for their sake and ours, we dare not fail. We must act now to give the entire world back its future and its hope.”

In an interview in the Independent, Kim Howells, chair of the Commons international security committee, called for a fundamental rethink of the nation’s place on the world stage. He argued that the energy and resources used on fighting distant wars should be channelled instead into tackling security threats directly facing Britain. He also criticised President Obama’s surge in Afghanistan and said he was not a “great enthusiast” for profiling air travellers in efforts to thwart terrorists. Meanwhile, armed forces minister Bill Rammell has warned British governments faced increasing resistance to any use of military power: “We, sadly, face a series of threats, the nature of which will require the projection of power beyond our borders to protect our national security … My great fear is that we as a nation will become so risk-averse, cynical and introverted that we will find ourselves in inglorious and impotent isolation by default.”

George Osborne last night identified the first public spending cuts he would make if the Tories win the general election. At the London School of Economics, he targeted spending on advertising and consultants, spending on tax credits for people earning over £50,000, and spending on child trust funds for better-off families – the cuts would amount to less than £1 billion. Labour’s Liam Byrne said: “Tonight was another missed opportunity to come clean on how he’ll pay for the £34bn of unfunded tax and spending policies.” The FT outlines that “the difficulty in effecting changes to Whitehall mean the next government is likely to find it hard to achieve savings in departmental spending before 2011-12.” Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg writing for the paper says: “Significant cuts are necessary. But the hawks must accept that cuts should come only once tests confirm the resilience of the recovery: jobs, growth, credit availability, international conditions and the cost of government borrowing. The timing of fiscal contraction should be governed by economics, not political dogma.”

The Telegraph reveals that John Nash, the chairman of Care UK, gave £21,000 to fund Andrew Lansley’s personal office in November. The Times speculates that Care UK – which runs a network of GP practices, NHS walk-in centres, out-of-hours services and NHS treatment centres – would be well placed to benefit from a Conservative promise to make it easier for private providers to perform more NHS work. Health Secretary Andy Burnham is planning to write to David Cameron about the donation. A Labour source said: “How can the public trust Cameron on the NHS when his health secretary is hand in glove with a big beneficiary of Tory health policy?”

Barack Obama revealed plans for a tax on the the largest financial institutions in the US, reports the New York Times. In order to recover taxpayer losses used to fund the bailout and quell anti-Wall Street sentiment, the tax could raise up to $117 billion over the next 12 years.  Obama spoke directly to bank chiefs when revealing the tax: “What I say to these executives is this: Instead of sending a phalanx of lobbyists to fight this proposal or employing an army of lawyers and accountants to help evade the fee, I suggest you might want to consider simply meeting your responsibilities.”
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