Media Watch 30/3/15

By Rowan Williams

Campaigning for the UK’s general election on 7 May is to begin in earnest on Monday, with the Prime Minister to visit the Queen for a final audience before the dissolution of parliament. At a speech outside Downing Street in the afternoon, David Cameron is expected to warn voters that a Labour government could cause “economic chaos” for Britain. Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband, meanwhile, is to set out his party’s business manifesto today and warn that the Conservative Party’s proposed EU referendum would damage Britain’s influence throughout the world. Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg will aim to portray his party as the reasoned centre ground of the political spectrum. Observers have noted that the election race is one of the closest in living memory, with a likelihood that smaller parties could hold the balance of power in a coalition. Major issues for this election campaign include the economy, immigration, the NHS and Britain’s EU membership.

In Switzerland, intensive talks on Iran’s nuclear programme have resumed  as representatives push to reach an agreement ahead of Tuesday’s deadline. Ministers and representatives from the the US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany will restart their first full session of talks with Iran on Monday. The current deal that is emerging aims to keep Iran one year away from producing enough fuel to produce a nuclear weapon. Economic sanctions would be lifted from Iran in return. While a framework for an agreement appears closer than ever before, disagreements remain over the pace at which sanctions should be lifted, and the length of restrictions on nuclear research. Restrictions would include rigorous inspections, and could last at least a decade. Iran maintains that its nuclear programme is peaceful. Representatives have refused to rule out the possibility of a crisis as negotiations continue.

Activity in China’s factory sector appeared to contract for its third consecutive month, an early poll has showed. The news raises expectations that further policy easing by China will be required to support growth. While China has already cut interest rates twice since November, analysts have said that the signs of the usual post-Lunar New Year rebound in activity have not been observed this year. At the same time, stocks in China neared a seven-year peak on the back of hopes for higher infrastructure spending and stimulus. Shares in Shanghai jumped by 1.9 percent, approaching highs last seen in May 2008. Zhou Xiaochuan, Governor of China’s central bank, warned yesterday that China needed to be vigilant in the face of falling inflation.

The Papers

With UK parliament to be dissolved on Monday and election campaigning to start in earnest, political stories make several front pages this morning. The Times leads with a warning from the Prime Minister that if elected, Labour “will raise tax bill by £3,000” for every working family. The paper writes that the Prime Minister is hoping “calm jingling Tory nerves” with his attack. Problems for the Labour Party make the front page of The Daily Telegraph, after a “top donor” of the party moved to back the Conservative Party instead. Donor Assem Allam said that the Conservatives were “best for business”, and that “Labour must stop demonising wealth”, the paper writes. On the counter-offensive, The Guardian leads with a warning from Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband that an EU referendum “will play havoc with business”. Miliband hopes “to win over a reluctant business community” with his warning, the paper writes. The Independent, meanwhile, leads with news that Labour is seeking “legal advice to stop PM ‘squatting’ in No 10”; Ed Miliband “fears Cameron could stay in Downing Street for weeks even if Labour wins more seats”, the paper reports. In other stories, the Financial Times leads with news that tensions are escalating in the Middle East “as pressure builds over Yemen”. Arab nations hope to increase pressure on Iran by forming a joint military force, the paper writes.

British Media on China

On China’s economy: A few China-related economic stories have received coverage from the UK media today. The Financial Times reports that China’s leaders were “focused on the consequences of slowing economic growth” at China’s “Davos-style” Boao Forum. China’s President Xi highlighted the Silk Road Economic Belt and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank during his keynote speech on Saturday, the paper reports, adding that Xi “admonished the world not be too concerned with the cooling economy”. The BBC, meanwhile, reports that Italian luxury goods manufacturer Prada has seen a 28 percent fall in profits, with falling sales in Asia, particularly Hong Kong, contributing to the fall. The BBC attributes the sales slump in Hong Kong to 2014’s pro-democracy protests in the city and the mainland’s corruption crackdown.

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