Politics Summary: Wednesday, February 3rd

The Independent covers George Osborne’s eight key “benchmarks” but outlines that “under repeated questioning from journalists, he declined to put a figure on this year’s cuts.” Richard Lambert, director general of the CBI, said: “Business will now want to see more detailed plans explaining how these proposals could be delivered, and over what sort of timescales.” The Times agrees with a headline reading, “George Osborne’s eight-point plan for economy criticised for lacking detail.” The Telegraph see it differently with a gushing headling: “George Osborne has set out a series of pledges to secure Britain’s future prosperity, promising to repay public debt quickly and restore a savings culture to the heart of the economy.” But Osborne’s credibility was further undermined by the independent National Institute of Economic and Social Research who are quoted in the FT: “There is no reason for tightening fiscal policy now. People are worrying about long-term debt problems when they should be worried about short-term output problems.” A bad day ended with Lord Stern denying that he was taking up an advisory post with the Tories as trailed in Osborne’s speech.

Most papers cover Gordon Brown’s constitutional speech. In an article for the Guardian, Brown writes, “we will bring forward legislation to hold a referendum on moving to the alternative vote system, which should be held before the end of October 2011.” The paper says the move is opposed by many Labour MPs “in northern safer seats” including Tom Harris, the prominent blogger, who described it as “an issue for half a dozen Guardian readers in his constituency”. Academic Lewis Baston says that, “the idea that Labour will gain from AV is probably not correct.” The FT reports the Lib Dems accusing Brown of a “deathbed conversion” to electoral reform while William Hague said: “Gordon Brown is recycling old promises made in 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2007.” The Independent lists the other points of Brown’s speech including codifying all unwritten rules on government into a single document; producing a written constitution by 2015; and giving voters the power to expel crooked MPs. Later in the day, Brown told MPs that while he favoured lowering the voting age to 16, it could only be done in conjunction with wider reforms. The PM also refused to commit to a full vote on the Wright reforms of Commons procedures if they fail to pass the controversial process drawn up by Harriet Harman.

The Telegraph and Times outline that Harriet Harman has backed away from a confrontation with religious leaders over who they can employ, making clear that she will not force contentious amendments to the Equality Bill through Parliament. Writing in The Times, Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, says: “There are times when human rights become human wrongs … a political ideology, relentlessly trampling down everything in their path. This is happening increasingly in Britain, and it is why the Pope’s protest against the Equality Bill … should be taken seriously.” But Naomi Phillips, Head of Public Affairs at the British Humanist Association, said: “This latest attack on modern, liberal values is yet another reason why we will be opposing the Pope’s State visit to the UK later this year.” Left Foot Forward outlined last night why the equalities legislation would strengthen “natural law.”

Clare Short’s evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry is also covered by most papers. She said that Tony Blair was prepared to “deceive” Parliament while describing the government as being a “bit of a lunatic asylum.” Short described Gordon Brown as feeling “very unhappy and marginalised” in the run up to war. But a poll for the Independent found that 60 per cent of the British public believe Mr Brown should share responsibility with his predecessor for the conflict. Almost four in 10 people think Mr Blair should face a war crimes trial over the 2003 invasion.

The Times reports that the Chairman of the BBC will be the first casualty in a shake-up of the corporation if the Tories win the general election. An incoming Conservative government would scrap the BBC Trust, which is led by Sir Michael Lyons, and create a new body answerable to licence fee payers. But David Cameron faces an early battle, with sources close to the trust making plain last night that the ruling body would fight the changes.

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