Sunday, 23 December 2012

Heart of Darkness

The opposition - and in particular an opportunistically scurrilous performance by Ed Miliband at PMQ's - effectively acted as the parliamentary wing of the Police Federation. The media — with the honourable exception of Channel 4 — and despite Leveson, failed in its job of scrutinising the powerful and served only the interests of the baying mob.

And if this can happen in the heart of Whitehall, to a senior government minister, then most assuredly it can happen to any one of us, anywhere.. Robert Harris on Plebgate.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Cameron ends year on the up..

Good morning. For the last morning briefing of the year, it's worth considering how fares David Cameron as he heads for a well-deserved break. He'll be delighted with Peter Oborne, who has laid in to the B-list, low-character MPs busily handing the next election to Labour on a plate with their incessant bleating. The Oborne analysis sounds a bit like Mr Tony's 'what have the Romans ever done for us lament', which he used to mock his critics. Tim Montgomerie has unsurprisingly replied with verve, his point being - I digest for effect - forget the monkeys, blame the organ grinder.
The bad blood between Tory backbenchers and Dave is a source of growing fascination to Ed Miliband - Labour is looking for further ways to exploit it. Quite why so many Conservatives despise Dave and want to see him fail is indeed fascinating. I have a lot of sympathy with Peter O's argument (and you won't hear me say that very often...): voters tend to punish divided parties that seem to prefer the certainties of opposition to the necessary compromises of government.
Mr Cameron would argue that the Tory position is stronger now than it has been in a while. The omnishambles of the summer has been left behind. In his speech to conference - and George Osborne's important autumn statement - he has provided his leadership with a harsh but compelling rationale (if only No10 could find ways to deploy it). Labour is in trouble with an economic strategy that has no credibility - 2013 could be a very difficult year for Ed Miliband as his party realises it is stuck up a dead end. The Government is pressing ahead with reforms that are both far-reaching and necessary, building up a record of admirable achievement that will stand well with voters in 2015. Lynton Crosby is back (that got the biggest cheer at Mr Cameron's final address to the '22 this week). As Lord Ashcroft pointed out in his research on polling, voters want action on immigration, welfare, the deficit, and these Mr Cameron is delivering. No wonder his aides say he feels buoyant, and untroubled by the whingers behind him. The first half of the year was a disaster, but he has recovered, and enters 2013 in better shape than we might have expected back in August.
The Sun's YouGov polling, published this morning, puts the situation at year-end in perspective. His party are 13 points behind Labour, and under pressure from the right with Ukip polling 10pc. Despite that, the Autumn Statement was a success in the court of public opinion. The cap on the rate of benefits increases is held to be "fair" by two thirds of the Sun's respondents, while the Independent's ComRes poll puts the figure at 49pc. The public, if anything, are pulling further to the Right, 81pc believe that the Government should lower taxes. This is fertile ground for Tory policies, and Dave will be hoping to start the New Year with a bang when he finally makes his Europe speech midway through January. 
This is the last morning briefing of 2012. If we can bear it, and remember to set our alarms, we'll be back on Monday January 7. On behalf of Thomas Pascoe, who does the hard work, I wish you a peaceful, restful and digital free Christmas.
As I wrote in my blog post yesterday, Andrew Mitchell is on his way back to the big time. The politics of the allegations against him caused his fall, and it is politics that will bring him back. Watching him at PMQs yesterday, it was notable how many of his colleagues made ingratiating gestures towards him. He has many more friends on the backbenches than he did in October, even Simon Hughes (to Guido's consternation).
This morning's Telegraph carries news that there will be a new Scotland Yard investigation into allegations of conspiracy in the handling of Thrasher's case, while the Times (£) is one of a number of papers reporting that senior Conservatives (Mr D. Davis) are seeking to pull apart the police log in the light of CCTV footage. Sir Jeremy Heywood receives a mild kicking in the Mail for failing to request a copy of the police log, although Number 10 seem to have no appetite to see him take the blame. Steve Richards in the Independent believes that Mr Mitchell should be invited back to Cabinet:
"One of the great myths about British politics is that ministers cling to their posts outrageously, refusing to let go under any circumstances. The opposite is closer to the truth. Too many of them – particularly members of the Cabinet – are forced out prematurely."
Ed Miliband is edging closer to agreement with Dave and Nick over the form of post-Leveson press regulation, the Guardian reports. Labour sources claim that ministers have conceded that a parliamentary underpinning might be necessary for a Royal Charter approach to go ahead. Nick Clegg is proposing that any legislation require a two-thirds "super-majority" to be amended. But isn't it the fundamental tenent of British democracy that no Parliament can bind its successor? Ask for a report into phone hacking, get a new constitution. 
Pippa Tips seem to have taken over the internet following her book launch, now prepare for Pickles Tips, as the Secretary of State has sent 50 money saving ideas to councils throughout the land, following hisdecision to cut local government budgets by 8.8pc next year. TheGuardian reports that Mr Pickles suggests ditching drinks at meetings, consultants, away days, and town hall newspapers. Instead they should be opening coffee shops in libraries, letting town halls out for weddings, and allowing advertising on council staff pay slips. Most intriguingly, he suggests that councils stop spending money translating documents into foreign languages as this "undermines community cohesion", an apparent nod to Ed Miliband's speech last week.
It is "bloody obvious" to Ken Clarke that a minimum price per alcoholic unit of 45p will do nothing to combat binge drinking, the Telegraph reports. The Minister without Portfolio joins a number of colleagues, thought to include Andrew Lansley and Jeremy Browne, in opposing the scheme, while the Treasury has raised objections to its practicality.
Dave met his backbenchers last night and told them that the party would go into the next election "with a clear Eurosceptic position". TheTelegraph reports that his speech to the 1922 Committee also contained a promise to have a paid campaigner in each of the party's target seats under the 40:40 strategy.
The speech was greeted by a great deal of banging of tables, suggesting that the message went down well. Another reconciliation with an old friend takes place on the front-page of this m0rning's Mail, which refers to itself as "victorious!" in the wake of two concessions from the Prime Minister - on war medals for veterans of the Arctic Convoys, andprotection for children from online pornography. 'Tis the season for goodwill, after all.
Mark Carney will be paid three times as much as Mervyn King, andreceive a housing allowance of £5,000 a week, the Telegraph reports, with a total package of £874,000, 33 times the size of the average British salary. Knight Frank have been enlisted to help him spend his £250,000 per year allowance, although sadly, as one estate agent tells the FT (£), "that kind of money gets you very little in the centre of town these days" and would "barely" cover a three bedroom apartment in Kinghtsbridge. Hard times.
Having won over the European Budget, Douglas Carswell has set his sights on wind farms:
@DouglasCarswell: "Energy Bill disaster: big corporate rent-seekers will do very well. This Coalition cld have been reformist, ends up backing crony capitalism... If decarbonising economy will pay, why the need for the subsidy? Crony capitalism never being trapped in a chapter of Atlas Shrugged, listening to looters and moochers, Jim Taggart, Wesley Mouch ..."
The Sun/YouGov: Con 30%, Lab 43%, Lib Dem 11%, UKIP 10%

In the Telegraph
Klaus Dodds - What's in a name?
Best of the rest

Pope Benedict XVI in the FT (£) - A time for Christians to engage with the world
John Redwood in The Times (£) - The City has not yet seen off the EU threat

TODAY: Commons rises for recess. Pensions Minister Steve Webb to introduce and publish the Benefit Uprating Bill.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Ashcroft - rise of UKIP must be taken seriously..

Good morning. The Queen will attend Cabinet this morning as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations. She will find Dave in a disconsolate mood. Despite becoming increasingly daring on Europe, saying yesterday that an eventual exit was "imaginable", the Prime Minister is still dogged by the rise of Ukip. Although his concession that Britain could quit Europe at some point inspired the Sun's headline writers to "imagine there's no Belgium, it's easy if EU try", Conservative voters seem to no longer trust Mr Cameron's instincts in this area.
Both the Independent (which puts Ukip on 9pc), and the Times (£) (which has it on 10pc), report that Ukip surging, their vote share preventing the Conservatives making any impact on Labour's lead in the polls. The Times estimates that the Conservatives have now lost one sixth of their support in the last two months, largely to Nigel Farage's party. Ukip's line on the EU is also proving the more popular in the court of public opinion, with only 18pc reporting positive views, but more than one third now subscribing to Britain being "better off out".
Nor are the voters who are abandoning the Tories single issue "fruitcakes". This morning's Mail reports polling by Lord Ashcroft indicating that only one in four prospective Ukip voters believe that the EU is the most important issue facing the country. Lord Ashcroft himself writes on ConservativeHome that Ukip voters are the great disengaged:
"Many of those who are drawn to voting Ukip recognise the wilful simplicity of the party’s rhetoric: that we could cut taxes, increase defence spending and balance the budget all at once...They have effectively disengaged from the hard choices inherent in the democratic process, though they still want formally to take part in it. They say that being remote from power means Ukip can say what they really think, though there is a tacit acknowledgement that it also means they can say what they like and never be called on it."
Until now the default mantra of the Tory leadership has been that for eveRy vote they gain from tacking towards Ukip, they lose two among voters who don't want the party to strike extreme poses. But as these polls show, Ukip is attracting voters not so much for their clear-cut - though uncosted - 'EU out' policy but because they speak blunt truths about wider issues, most notably of late on gay marriage. Tory MPs in marginal seas fear Ukip's capacity to deprive them of votes and therefore their seat. They also report mass desertions among activists enraged by David Cameron's casual approach to marriage. Lord Ashcroft's poll is at first glance particularly troubling, not least because he has long been a leader among those cautioning the party against a lurch to the right. Here his research suggests that voters are crying out for more plain speaking on the issues that worry them. But as he makes clear, even if Ukip does well in the 2014 Euros, it does not mean disaster for the Tories in 2015. Voters are more concerned about immigration, the deficit, welfare, growth and the deficit than Europe. Here Lord Ashcroft echoes Mr Cameron's argument that the choice ultimately is between easy answers and tough decisions. Against Ukip, and Labour, Mr Cameron has to show that he is capable of taking the tough decisions he keeps talking about (airports, anyone?) and that they produce results.
The Commission on a British Bill of Rights will report today, and the noises are not positive from a Conservative perspective. The weekend's papers speculated that not only would the panel's recommendations fail to provide a rationale for leaving the ECHR, but that a minority report may even call for the continuance of the status quo. With the panel split, there's no hope for the Coalition parties. This looks like another shambles in the making. Chris Grayling is undeterred, however, and his op-ed in today's Telegraph calls for a "common sense" approach to human rights:
"In future there needs to be an absolutely clear balance between rights and responsibilities in law. 'I know my rights' has to stop being a defence against unacceptable behaviour."
We may be none the wiser as to what the Liberal Democrats are, following Nick Clegg's speech yesterday, but at least we know what they are not. "We are not centre-ground tourists," he told CentreForum, "under pressure we have moved to the centre". As the Guardian notes, the intention seemed to be to show that the party has not lurched to the Right, it has simply outgrown opposition for opposition's sake. As I write in my Telegraph column, this in itself poses a challenge to the instincts of many in the party:
"Mr Clegg was indulging in a spot of triangulation – defining himself as a centrist against the purported extremes of his two rivals... The heart of his speech was the choice he put to his party, between becoming 'a more permanent fixture of government' and the 'comfort and relative irrelevance of opposition'."
Ed Miliband may join Dave in offering his party a free vote on gay marriage after a fractious meeting of the shadow cabinet in which party veterans argued that a whipped vote would be a breach of religious freedoms, the Telegraph reports. Two religious shadow ministers are thought to have objected to plans for a party vote. Support for gay marriage in the wider party is strong, although Mary Glindon, Jim Dobbin and Joe Benton all signed a letter to the Telegraph yesterday opposing the plans.
On the other side of the House, the Coalition is running into more problems of its own. Divorce lawyers are claiming that unless statutes governing adultery and consummation of a marriage are changed to include same-sex couples, they may cease to be grounds for dissolvingmarriages for heterosexual couples, the Telegraph notes. Meanwhile, theMail reports that Muslim groups are now demanding a CofE style total exemption from the legislation.
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right...Dave must sometimes feel as though he's stick in a Stealer's Wheel song. While most of his party can be induced to vote through green initiatives only under extreme duress, Tim Yeo has popped up in this morning's Guardian threatening to rebel over the new Energy Bill because it doesn't include a decarbonisation target. As the Prime Minister is finding, the centre ground can be a lonely place. Just ask Nick.
Given that Dave seems wedded to his Royal Charter idea, Ed Miliband's call for a meeting of party leaders to hammer out the detail of press regulation may be doomed to fall on deaf ears. The Guardian reports that the Labour leader wants a "substantive discussion" with Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg given fears in his party that the Coalition will delay implementation. Given that the Lib Dems are briefing that have dropped their objection to a Royal Charter in principle, it seems that whatever discussion remains to be had, it won't be on the substantive points.
Planning approvals are up by one third since the Coalition reformed planning rules in England in March. The Telegraph reports that figures from the Home Builders Federation show a 36pc increase from July to September this year.
Michael Fabricant gets his work-out in:
@Mike_Fabricant: "Great exercise for thighs standing up &down for over an hour b4 was called to ask PM a question. Not complaining.Was called early last time."
Populus / Times: Con 29%, Lab 40%, Lib Dem 11%, UKIP 10%, Other 10%
ComRes / Independent: Con 31%, Lab 41%, Lib Dem 10%, UKIP 9%, Other 9%

In the Telegraph

Benedict Brogan - How long can Clegg rock the boat without going over the side?
Best of the rest

Steve Richards in The Independent - As Clegg seeks a purpose, the Coalition falters
Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) - Can our leaders find their inner Hercules
Polly Toynbee in The Guardian - The Tories are losing their vile war on 'scroungers'


TODAY: Energy Secretary Ed Davey to provide the Government Response to the Maitland Review on oil and gas security.  The Queen will attend Cabinet as an observer. The Queen will become the first monarch to attend the weekly briefing since Queen Victoria and will sit next to the Prime Minister during the 90-minute meeting.
09:30 am: Inflation figures for November are published by the Office for National Statistics.  
10:30 am: Paul Silk, Chair of the Commission on Devolution in Wales, gives evidence to the Commons Welsh Affairs Committee. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.
02:45 pm: UK Border Agency chief executive Rob Whiteman and Immigration Minister Mark Harper give evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
03:30 pm: Energy Secretary Ed Davey gives evidence to the Commons Energy Committee on the Doha climate change talks. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
04:15 pm: Home Secretary Theresa May gives evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Clegg relaunches as the voice of reason..

We will witness the birth of Clegg 2.0 this morning as the Lib Dem leader gives a speech at the Commonwealth Club in which he sets out his vision of a "fair" society and puts some solid ground in between himself and Dave. Marking the fifth anniversary of his leadership, this is an important speech for Mr Clegg personally. The Independent reports that his deputy Simon Hughes has acknowledged "chatter" in the party about the leadership, and two separate polls yesterday put UKIP at least 5pts clear of the Lib Dems on 14pc. In the Guardian, Richard Reeves assesses the balancing act the party must now pull-off:
"Coalition act two is not about trying to reassert a Lib-Dem identity c 2010. It is about establishing a new identity, and winning people to the party's side for new reasons...A party that garners respect for having walked through the fire and not only survived but come out fighting."
The headline announcement will be a commitment to means testing benefits for the wealthy elderly, as the Telegraph reports. Under the Coalition Agreement, universal benefits for the over-65s are protected until the next parliament, which leaves Dave in the odd position of being a Tory Prime Minister defending the universality of the benefits system from an attack from the Left.
Mr Clegg's other announcements give the gist of what will be his election strategy. He will argue that the Lib Dems have restrained "extreme" Tory cuts, reducing the planned welfare cut in the Autumn Statement from £10bn to £3.8bn, while acting responsibility in the national interest. Positioning themselves as the moderates between Labour profligacy and Tory axemanship, the Lib Dems will contest 2015 as the Voice of Reason Party.
Of course, Mr Clegg assailing government policy is well-known and well-loved Westminster tradition. But the question remains: what are voters to make of a party and a leader who stays in coalition yet claims to hate its works?
Overnight a police officer with the diplomatic protection group has been arrested for leaking police records of the Andrew Mitchell "pleb" rant (Telegraph story here). The arrest has set off alarm bells in Fleet Street. The coincidence with talks to agree a post-Leveson settlement is uncomfortable, to say the least. 
Dig (housing foundations) for Victory still hasn't become the trump card Dave hoped it would be at the start of his term. Despite his backing for Nick Boles' scheme to build the equivalent of two Greater Londons in the countryside, there has been a precious lack of, er, building as yet. A group of 20 Conservative and Lib Dem MPs are now bidding to ensure that remains the case. The Telegraph reports that the group wants an amendment to the Government's Growth Bill which would require local councils to consider how existing infrastructure, particularly sewers and roads, would cope with the additional strain. Nick Herbert leads the charge with an op-ed in today's Telegraph:
"There are worrying signs that local authorities feel unable to set the housing numbers they want, for fear of being overturned by the Government’s planning inspectors. Communities who were promised a "fundamental shift of power from Westminster to people" will not be pleased if Labour’s unfeasible housing targets are merely replaced with ones set through the back door."
There are now 137 Conservative MPs willing to defy the wishes of the party leadership in the vote over gay marriage, the Telegraph reports. Given firm support from Labour and the Lib Dems, however, the Commons vote will be a side-show, however damaging to Mr Cameron's authority. The real battle will come in the Lords, where peers will argue that the Government has no mandate for the changes, and thus will not be able to use the Parliament Act to overturn a rejection by peers. A number of peers, including Labour and cross-bench Lords, have signed a letter to the paper asserting exactly this. Many Conservative MPs are privately saying that they would prefer a quick and dirty fix over gay marriage, getting it on the statute book, off the front pages, and moving on. The peers are of a different opinion. This will roll on well into the New Year.
The good news for Dave is that Bo-Jo told the Marr show that a return to Parliament by 2015 is "not going to happen". Less helpfully, he also slapped down Theresa May over the impact immigrants have on house prices, and said that an in/out EU referendum in the life of this parliament would be "fantastic". He's also talking immigration in this morning's Telegraph column:
"We need to stop moaning about the damburst. It’s happened. There is nothing we can now do except make the process of absorption as eupeptic as possible. What matters is not the colour of your skin or the religion of your great-grandfather. It’s whether you speak English; whether you have a loyalty – a love – for the country that has adopted you."
The Conservative campaign to divide the strivers and the slackers in the public imagination is clearly having some effect. Grant Shapps'  targetedonline banner advertising contrasting "hard working families" and "people who don't work", linking to the Conservative home page, have been described as "mislead[ing]...dishonest...offensive" and many things besides by Michael Dugher in today's Guardian. Catchier that "predistribution", isn't it?
The Justice Secretary is embroiled in a dispute with senior judges over Mr Grayling's power of patronage over the position of president of the Supreme Court. The Guardian reports that the challenge will come through an amendment to the Crime and Courts Bill tabled by Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers which will be debated on Tuesday. The Lord Chancellor vs an unelected lawyer on a point of constitutional refinement. One for the purists.
Theresa May, Andrew Lansley and Jeremy Browne are all among a number of Cabinet ministers who are sceptical over Dave's alcoholic unit minimum pricing plan, the Sunday Telegraph reported yesterday. Seen as a "tax on the poor" by a broad coalition in Cabinet, the plans now look unworkable, with Whitehall sources claiming that an "exit strategy" is now the main priority. File that one away under "omnishambles".
Second home owners should not receive a discount on council tax once local authorities are handed the right to charge higher rates in April, Eric Pickles has said. The Telegraph reports Mr Pickles is happy for local authorities to have the "freedom and responsibility" to set their own discount rates.
One of the problems with Twenty First Century austerity is that there is very little left to sell. The Autumn Statement saw the Chancellor book a healthy £3.5bn anticipated profit for the sale the 4G mobile spectrum when the winners are announced in Spring 2013. That only leaves £116.4bn to go and we can break even for the year. Fortunately, George has it covered. The FT (£) reports that the Chancellor's latest wheeze will be selling off a chunk of Britain's military airwaves for £1bn. Unused frequencies across government will be auctioned before 2020, with the MoD sale preparations beginning late next year, the Chancellor will announce in a statement today.

With editor Anna Wintour possibly on her way to Paris as American ambassador, there may soon be a position for a fashion-savvy commentator at the head of Vogue, something which hasn't escaped Diane Abbot's attention. She was watching the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards last night:

@HackneyAbbott: "Bradley Wiggins in a super sharp suit and carefully feathered hair cut...Ellie Simmonds. Lady in red. Olympic superstar...Denise Lewis looking fabulous...Chelsea's Didier Drogba looking ultra smooth..." 


In the Telegraph

Boris Johnson - Let's not dwell on immigration but sow the seeds of integration
Best of the rest

Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun - Time for truth on immigration
Edward Luce in the FT (£) - Obama's year of reckoning approaches in Iran


10:00 am: Nick Clegg speech to Centre Forum on delivering a strong economy and a fair society, followed by Q&A. Commonwealth Club, 25 Northumberland Avenue.
04:00 pm: Home Secretary Theresa May gives evidence to parliamentary committee on the National Security Strategy. Committee Room 4A, House of Lords.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Friday, 14 December 2012

Triple A rating in doubt..

The man the FT calls G-Dawg had some more bad news overnight. Standard & Poor's joined Fitch in putting the UK's AAA rating under review with a negative outlook (Telegraph story here). Just as well the Chancellor appeared before the Treasury Select Committee to explain why ratings were only part of the picture given that "my job is to maintain credibility".
Mr Osborne's quest for credibility is taking to him to increasingly radical places. As the FT (£) reports, he has made a point of praising Mark Carney's suggestion that central banks avoid interest rate targeting and look to improve GDP instead, although he will leave public leadership of the debate to Mr Carney when he takes on his new role. George's earlier innovations come in for some uglier assessments today. The Telegraphreports that top-earners will be £1,000 a year worse off thanks to single tier pension reforms. By contrast, those relying on state working age benefits will be a cumulative £6bn worse off thanks to the cap on the rate of increase, according to the Mirror.
While George is battling the headwinds at home, Dave is helping Europe save its economy in Brussels. The Prime Minister is enthusiastically pushing the idea of a two tier Europe on the grounds that a tightly wound core will give him the freedom to extract concessions at the fringe of the wider grouping. It will be tough work, argues Jeremy Warner in today'sTelegraph. He believes the Euro, and hence the current form of the EU, is doomed:
"No one can admit failure, so they trumpet the mere fact of the euro’s survival as evidence of success. Once upon a time, the single currency was meant to be about mutual economic advancement and cooperation; today, merely getting through the next year seems purpose enough."
Ed Miliband will apologise for the ghettoisation caused in some cities by uncontrolled immigration under the Blair and Brown governments in a speech today in south London. According to the BBC, Mr Miliband will say that Labour did "too little " to discourage segregation in cities, and insist that universal proficiency in English is vital to the realisation of his "One Nation" ideal. Councils should be able to cut spending on translation rather than front-line services he will add. 
The speech has already been attacked for failing to go far enough. Sir Andrew Green appeared on this morning's Today programme to argue for an outright apology. Even so, Ed's political antennae is proving sounder than many Tories first supposed. Relying on an implosion in 2015 appears an increasingly risky strategy on its own.
The Prime Minister is under pressure to give Alan Turing a posthumous official pardon following a letter to the Telegraph signed by Prof. Stephen Hawking and ten other signatories. Mr Turing died from cyanide poisoning in 1954 after being convicted of gross indecency at a time when homosexuality was still illegal, and an inquest found he had committed suicide. There is currently a Private Members' Bill going through parliament, however the Coalition turned down a request for a pardon in February and may be loath to grant it sufficient time to pass.
The Sun carries a mischief making interview with Nick Clegg on the subject of drug reform this morning. The Deputy Prime Minister argues that the war on drugs has failed and and says that "I'm anti-drugs - it's for that reason that I'm pro reform". He also implies a row with Dave over policy, adding:
"I told the Prime Minister that this was a missed opportunity. He knows my views on this. He and I don’t agree on this. For too long, people in politics have worried that saying something differently can somehow look like you’re being soft. It’s important now to pluck up the courage to speak out."
Although Mr Clegg's position is pro-liberalisation, not blanket legalisation, he has sent Jeremy Browne on a fact-finding mission to Portugal, Amsterdam, several US states and Latin America in an attempt to find sufficient evidence to persuade the Prime Minister to give way to calls for a Royal Commission on drugs. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.
Maria Miller will be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards following our revelation that she claimed over £90,000 in taxpayer-funded expenses for a second home in which her parents lived. The Telegraph reports that John Lyon's inquiry will decide whether there is a case to answer for the minister. We have also published a timeline of the interactions between the paper and Mrs Miller and those representing her.
The Government is going all-in on its fracking drive. Yesterday's announcement that the Government would lift the temporary ban on fracking, imposed after minor tremors in the Blackpool area following a frack last year, signals the resumption of the search for commercial deposits after an 18-month hiatus. As a sign of it's commitment to Dave's shale "revolution", the Coalition may remove control over planning permission for major shale projects from local councils, the Independentreports. The move is being considered as part of the forthcoming Growth and Energy Bill. The Telegraph's leader calls for the Government to "confront the scare stories being peddled by opponents of shale gas", although cartoonist Adams has a different take. Countryside campaigners probably don't know whether to laugh or cry. The wind turbine is dead. Long live the hydraulic fracking drill tower.
Eric Pickles has lost his appetite for 26ft extensions exempt from planning permission, one of the Treasury's bright ideas, the Telegraphreports. Mr Pickles was known to have doubts about the change pressed by the Treasury in part because there had already been a Whitehall settlement on planning reform.
New regulations may limit single story extensions to "considerably less" than 19ft or 26ft, depending on the property, he told House magazine. "We haven't come to a final decision about how far we will allow the permitted development to go out. The [distances] we were suggesting were pretty much a maximum," he added. Unless, of course, your extension houses fracking machinery.
Relations between the state and the established church are already strained owing to the clash between theological and political imperatives on the topic of women bishops. Now they have become further heated as it has emerged that the Government did not warn Lambeth Palace before announcing its "quadruple lock" on gay marriage. As one of the locks specifically forbade the established church from offering gay marriage, this seems an odd oversight. Maria Miller was due to meet with Church of England representatives last Thursday, but cancelled at late notice. TheGuardian insists that churchmen are in "complete shock" and would have preferred the Government not to have offered its protection without a consultation.
With wedges springing up everywhere, Fraser Nelson argues in today'sTelegraph that the crazy world of American culture wars has arrived on these shores:
"Some of his party say they will not rise to Cameron’s bait, believing this to be a ploy to make them go on national television and sound like lunatics. Some are past caring, and are doing it anyway."

Television's Chris Bryant finds Question Time can sometimes overwhelm a man:

@ChrisBryantMP: "Oh god. Drugs with hitchens and self. Might have to go to bed." 


In the Telegraph

Fraser Nelson - Britain is getting a glimpse of the crazy world of culture wars
Best of the rest

Philip Collins in The Times (£) - Disraeli was wrong. Coalition has worked
Simon Jenkins in The Guardian - North Korea's toys are not a threat - but our reaction is
Mary Dejevsky in The Independent - Wake up: these new sources of energy will change the world
TODAY: European Council summit.
12:00 pm: Lord Hunt, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, to outline steps being taken following the Leveson report. Briefing off-camera, on the record for specialist correspondents. DAC Beachcroft, 100 Fetter Lane.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Eurozone banking union agreed..

In the early hours of this morning, EU finance ministers struck a deal on the first steps towards a banking union for the eurozone (Telegraph storyhere). The ECB won new powers to supervise the largest banks in Euro denominated countries, and intervene directly in smaller ones. Direct supervision would apply to around the 200 of 6,000 eurozone banks which have assets of over €30bn and should be implemented by March 2014. The move will hit the City, but only indirectly, as so many European banks have offices in London.
Even if the deal does not represent "a Christmas present to the whole of Europe", as one tired finance minister gushed, it does provide a more serene backdrop to Dave's latest European venture. The Prime Minister heads to Brussels today for a two day summit in which the EU's heads of government will be regaled with Herman Van Rompuy's vision of how closer federation between member states will look. The first steps to a super-state? Yes, argues the Telegraph, given that Mr Van Rompuy's plans are expected to include removing the rights of eurozone member states to set their own budgets.
Oddly, given that his tantric approach to European policy will soon climax in a speech announcing an attempt to claw-back powers, Mr Cameron is disinclined to block the proposals. The fact that Dave is comfortable with integration around the eurozone core, while attempting to pull back the boundaries at the periphery, suggests that the long-feared two-tier Europe is now an article of government policy. Still, as this morning's Times (£) reports, Britian's membership bill over the life of the EC/EU membership will soon hit £100bn, and every move from the centre is also an argument against higher contributions still. It also acts as a good prelude to the Europe speech which increasingly feels like the title of a film, with Dave as the frustrated leader trying to just spit. it. out....
Yesterday's revelation that Maria Miller's special adviser Joanna Hindley had pointed to the minister's influence over press regulation in a bid to prevent news of a £90,000 expenses claim against a home occupied by her parents has been augmented by the news that Number 10's director of communications Craig Oliver also raised Mrs Miller's role in the Leveson negotiations with the Telegraph. Number 10 have briefed their own, not entirely accurate, version of the conversation to the Guardian.
Mrs Miller is already under investigation by the parliamentary expenses watchdog over the claim on her parents' home. The Telegraph also discloses today that she did not declare a home rented from a major Tory donor despite it being possible for the arrangement to represent a perceived conflict of interest.
Baroness Warsi has written to Maria Miller demanding answers to questions posed by the "large volume" of correspondence she has received over gay marriage in her role as Minister for Faith. The Mailreports that Lady Warsi has asked specifically for reassurance over the limitation of "unintended consequences" stemming from the Bill, particularly in terms of legislative and financial support for churches if they are sued. The paper's editorial objects to the proposals on different grounds, however. It's the wrong law at the wrong time, it argues, and "there are much more important issues to engage [Mr Cameron's] considerable talents".
Immigrants push up house prices, Theresa May argued yesterday, delighting tabloid headline writers everywhere. Over a 20 year period, mass immigration added around 10pc to house prices, she claimed, although as the FT (£) reports an analysis by the Migration Analysis Committee earlier this year suggested the impact was somewhat lower. Mass immigration or a house price collapse. Which is the lesser of the two evils? Over to you, middle Britain.
The Prime Minister's desire to place Britain "at the heart of the revolution" when it comes to fracking for shale gas has, to date, been somewhat obstructed by the ban on, er, fracking. As the Telegraphreports this morning, however, Ed Davey, who will announce the plans in a statement to the Commons this afternoon, is an avowed sceptic and is likely to demand tough regulations if the move goes ahead.
The Bank of England could receive a new mission statement and a new target related to the size of the economy, the Telegraph reports this morning. George Osborne is also being prodded by advisers in the Treasury to encourage further QE in a bid to improve the dismal growth outlook. Bold, or buck-passing, depending on your cynicism level.
Good news for the Government on the unemployment front as the number of people out of work declined by 82,000 in the three months to October, hitting 2.51m. On the other hand, as the Independent reports, a separate ONS survey suggested that 100,000 people fewer were actually in work in October. Some of the out-of-work may be going on disability living allowance, the Sun suggests that the number of claimants has nearly trebled since 1992, one of the reasons why 60pc can expect to lose some or all of their benefits once the face-to-face interview system comes into place.
Michael Gove is in dispute with the teaching unions, however implausible that may sound. The Guardian reports that the Education Secretary has written to head teachers at every state school in England urging them to take "robust" action against teachers taking "irresponsible industrial action". Predictably, the unions are furious that their "measured response" is under fire from Mr Gove. Anyone would think they didn't get on.
Question Time is in Bristol tonight. The panel will consist of: Justine Greening, Stella Creasy,Will Self, Peter Hitchens, and Lord Bilimoria, founder of Cobra Beer.

Iain Stewart with a warning to all budding politicos. Being an MP isn't all fact-finding trips to the Maldives and expensing your parents' house. Sometimes you have to go to Germany:

@Iainastewart: "The glamorous side of political life! Heading to LHR at 0430 for a day visit to Frankfurt as part of transport cttee inquiry into airports " 


In the Telegraph

Peter Oborne - The cowardice at the heart of our relationship with Israel
Best of the rest

Martin Kettle in the Guardian - The English, bereft of history, have lost their self-respect
Steve Richards in the Independent - Why Cameron prefers tantric to wham bam thank you, mam
Stephen Glover in the Daily Mail - Immigration and Labour's unforgivable betrayal of the British people


09:00 am: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg gives evidence to Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. Grimond Room, Portcullis House, London.
09:30 am: Home Office to publish draft anti-social behaviour Bill.
09:45 am: Commons Public Accounts Committee takes evidence on award process for West Coast rail franchise. Witnesses: Philip Rutnam, Permanent Secretary, Department for Transport, and Clare Moriarty, Director General Corporate, Department for Transport. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.
10:00 am: Culture Minister Ed Vaizey to visit the, new Newspaper Storage Building of the British Library before it is filled with robotic shelving and becomes the home of the UK national newspaper collection. British Library, Boston Spa, West Yorkshire. Words and video planned
10:00 am: George Osborne gives evidence to Commons Treasury Committee on Autumn Statement. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House, London.
10:30 am: Charles Clarke, Lord Heseltine and Lord Reid give evidence to the Commons Political and Constitutional Committee on the effectiveness of ministerial reshuffles. Grimond Room, Portcullis House, London.
06:00 pm: Jon Cruddas speech on "the good society" to Centre for Social Justice. SJ Berwin, 10 Queen Street Place.