Politics Summary: Wednesday, July 21st

The Conservative-led Treasury Select Committee expressed fear that the austerity set out in the Budget could hurt the poor disproportionately, according to the Financial Times. Although the findings stopped short of challenging the government’s plans for more rapid deficit reduction, it raised concerns that Budget was less “progressive” than the chancellor had claimed. The report also reiterated concern over the newly created Office of Budget Responsibility: “It is unfortunate that the independence of the OBR has been called into question”.

The Guardian focuses on the reports finding that, “George Osborne’s austerity budget has increased the risk of Britain sliding back into recession and is unfair on the least well-off”. The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail both focus on the increased risk of a “double-dip” recession. The latter says, “The findings from the Tory-dominated committee are embarrassing for the Chancellor, who brushed aside warnings from Labour that the Budget would send us back into recession and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

The Guardian reports that that “Conservatives accused of U-turn on ‘death tax’ to care for elderly”. The paper outlines that, “Only months after waging a Tory poster campaign against the Labour plan, [Health Secretary, Andrew] Lansley established a new independent commission that will be free to examine compulsory funding of long-term care.” Lansley announced that the economist Andrew Dilnot would chair a commission on the funding of care and support that will report within a year. A Department of Health spokesman confirmed that the commission would be free to examine a variety of funding options: “We do not wish to constrain the commission from considering other options, such as compulsory schemes. It is important that the commission has the space to rigorously consider this complex social policy issue in full.” The Daily Telegraph‘s front page reports that “Elderly could still face ‘death tax’ to pay for care” while the Daily Mirror calls the move a “major U-turn”. Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, said: “Today’s announcement is yet another example of the Tories changing their tune only weeks after the election.”

The Independent’s front page focuses on former MI5 chief, Eliza Manningham-Buller’s evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry into Iraq. She revealed that there was such a surge of warnings of home-grown terrorist threats after the invasion of Iraq that MI5 asked for – and got – a 100 per cent increase in its budget. She told the inquiry: “Our involvement in Iraq radicalised, for want of a better word, a whole generation of young people – a few among a generation – who saw our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as being an attack on Islam.” The paper says her words are in “stark contrast” to the claim that Tony Blair made in front of the same inquiry on 29 January: “If I am asked whether I believe we are safer, more secure, that Iraq is better, that our own security is better, with Saddam and his two sons out of office and out of power, I believe indeed we are.” The Guardian calls her testimony “devastating”.

The FT‘s front page reports that the Ministry of Defence “looks at cutting 30,000 troops”. The paper reports that military planners are examining cutting Britain’s land forces from eight to five brigades, in a radical restructuring option that would hand the army operational command of the Royal Marines. The paper calls the proposal “an extreme scenario that underlines how a fierce budget squeeze is shaping the defence review.” The review is said to “already [be] raising tensions between the services.” A senior army figure told the paper, “We’re all quite clear that Afghanistan makes early reductions in numbers impossible”. Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute said that under a 20 per cent budget reduction, the “cuts in capability have to be very serious indeed and they would have to include sharp reductions in total service personnel, including in the army.” Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that, “Up to one in two of the staff at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are to be made redundant as part of the cuts programme submitted to the Treasury by the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt.”

All the papers cover David Cameron’s meetings and press conference with President Barack Obama. The FT’s front page says “Cameron shields BP over Lockerbie” while the Guardian says, “Cameron tells Obama he will release Lockerbie files”. But Mr Cameron rejected calls made by many US senators for a fresh public inquiry. He argued an inquiry had already been held by the Scottish parliament, and there was no point holding an inquiry when he said it was known the decision was wrong. “I don’t currently think that another government inquiry is the right way to go, frankly. I don’t need an inquiry to tell me what I already know, which is that it was a bad decision.” The Prime Minister said he was in “violent agreement” with President Obama over the wrongfulness of granting any compassion to a man who had shown none to his victims, a phrase picked up on The Times’ front page. The Daily Telegraph covers the same story but asks, “On first name terms, but will it be a special relationship?” The Daily Mail takes a different angle outlining “Obama’s ray of hope for Gary” – a reference to the plight of Gary McKinnon, the British Asperger’s sufferer who the US want extradited on hacking charges.

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