BREAKING: Iain Duncan Smith has just been on the Today programme to discuss David Cameron’s speech on welfare cuts today.
He insisted the speech was about starting a debate and “changing a culture”. “Building on” the reforms the government have already implemented.
He stressed it was “reasonable” to have the conversation, and that “these are things we could implement”. And that the details would be announced in the lead up to the election.
He said “the whole government accepts we need to find more welfare cuts” (he has clearly changed his mind from a few weeks ago when he said the focus needed to be on pensioners’ benefits).
MORE WELFARE CUTS
In a speech in Kent today, David Cameron will say that the welfare systems needs redesigning, causing an almighty stir with this snippet:
“Quite simply, we have been encouraging working-age people to have children and not work, when we should be enabling working-age people to work and have children.”
He’ll also say that unemployment benefit may be “time-limited” and the £26,000 cap on welfare handouts for each household may be further reduced.
But universal benefits for pensioners, such as the winter fuel allowance and the free television licence, are safe, despite pressure from Lib Dems and Iain Duncan Smith for them to be means-tested. Dave will say: “two years ago I made a promise to the elderly of this country and I am keeping it. I was elected on a mandate to protect those benefits – so that is what we have done.”
It’s trailed across all the papers, with different degrees of enthusiasm. This, of course, is the culmination of a process begun by Steve Hilton, who before he left persuaded the PM to agree a programme of further cuts and restrictions.
Our leader column welcomes the plans, saying that his speech today is “something unusual in British politics: a statement of high principle, built on a foundation of brute mathematics.”
The Mail leader column hopes Dave might for once do something rather than just talk about it (Melanie Phillips dares to hope this is the start of a new tougher Dave), whereas the Indy says it's “The return of the nasty party”. The interesting thing is what it tells us about Mr Cameron's thinking about the second half of the Parliament and the next election.
Patrick Wintour in the Guardian says this is “likely to be seen on the left as the death knell for Cameron's brand of compassionate conservatism.”
It’s worth noting a couple of things things about the announcement though. First, he is explicit that this is second term stuff: as the Guardian details, he makes a point of saying that he is speculating about what might be in the next Tory manifesto. This is about reassuring his own side, which wants some proper Tory action. Patrick Wintour explains that he is asking his side for 'strategic patience', not something they are keen on. Jackie Ashley argues along these lines in her column today: Cameron is showing how he'd rule without the Lib Dems.
Second, it also gives us a hint about how the Coalition will approach the next round of spending decisions. Robert Winnett says welfare will form part of the next CSR, which he suggests will cover 2014-17, which is further into the next Parliament than, say, Vince Cable has in mind.
But it Dave sounds like he’s hoping that the Lib Dems will co-operate, saying: "given the scale of change I've suggested, and the long time-frames involved, I am exploring these issues not just as leader of a coalition but as a leader of the Conservative party who is looking ahead to the programme we will set out to the country at the next election".
In a very chillaxed manner, Danny Alexander said yesterday on The Sunday Politics that he was "relaxed" about the Prime Minister's suggestion of slashing benefit. He said simply that the Government's existing reforms should have time to "bed in" before any further measures are considered. Patrick Wintour describes this as “wonderfully patronising” in the Guardian.
The Lib Dems are treading carefully. They badly need Dave's help on Wednesday when the Lords reform bill is be published. Dave has pledged to stick to his promise to them, whipping the Lords proposal through both houses, but the Guardian reports that as many as 100 Tory MPs are eager to rebel, with the Mail adding that this includes up to five ministerial aides.
The FT says that, crucially, the Shadow Cabinet will not decide until tomorrow whether to vote for the programme motion, which will affect the thinking of Tory rebels. The Indy however says Labour will vote against it, which would mean disaster for Nick Clegg.
Patrick Wintour in the Guardian says: “Ministers are expected to respond to a joint committee report on Lords reform by reasserting the supremacy of the Commons over a mainly elected second chamber and highlighting new government legal advice that the existing Parliament Act will prevail in the event of a dispute between the two houses.”
In his Telegraph column today, Boris Johnson raises this concern, saying that if the Lords decided to “take on their green-benched colleagues in the Lower House, as they inevitably will, who will be able to shut them up? A direct mandate is a powerful thing. Look here, mate, a senator will be able to say to a poor old MP, you were elected by 70,000 people. I have 570,000 people in my constituency – and I don’t have to worry about them kicking me out.”
Coalition members are already kicking off, though. Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott appeared on Murnaghan yesterday to say it was "utterly outrageous" that hereditary peers were allowed to sit in Parliament, while Michael Fallon said it was reasonable to have a "good shot" at Lords reform despite it not being a Government priority.
Today Alistair Darling is launching the Better Together campaign and will promise to make the positive case for keeping Scotland in the United Kingdom. He’ll claim that a vote for independence is like buying Scotland's children a one-way ticket to uncertainty. On the Today programme this morning, he likened the notion of having separate countries but a single currency to the eurozone. He said:
“Why on earth would you want a currency union? Everyone knows that it leads to political and economic union eventually, but only after a lot of difficulty and disruption.”
However, he insisted that he wanted to “fight a positive campaign” drawing attention to what binds us together.
Margaret Hodge has a column in the Times today on tax avoidance, saying that “if the taxman was made accountable, we could crack down on avoidance with more vigour”. She lays in to HMRC but says nothing about either the groaning complexity of Gordon Brown's tax system that drove people into avoidance, or the way Labour in power encouraged the wealthy to have their way. Funny that.
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that Danny Alexander is saying that ending avoidance would save taxpayers 2p on their tax bills.
Worth noting two details from yesterday's commentary. First, Matthew D'Ancona in the Telegraph claims his understanding is that Dave did in fact know about Michael Gove's idea to scrap GCSEs, and thought it a 'good strong plan'.
But my favourite is a titbit from Dominic Lawson's excellent column on the Jimmy Carr business. He tells how he once was chatting to Jeremy Hardy, Lefty comedian, scourge of Tories and fat cats, and member of the Socialist Alliance, who advised him on how to claim his newspaper bills against tax and then told him "he had even been able to claim his dental repair bills against tax". As they say in my corner of SE11, nailed.
STICK A JACK ON IT
And finally, the Sun reports that Andrew Mitchell is stamping the Union Jack on British aid, replacing the previous ‘less colonial’ one with a government crest.
Astonishingly, it has emerged that designing the old symbol cost taxpayers £97,480 in 2008. The new one was knocked up for free on a ministry computer.
The announcement looks like it’s going to make more of an impact than his insistence yesterday on yesterday’s Andrew Marr Show that 0.7% of the UK's GDP on aid would be "enshrined in law".
TWEETS AND TWITS
Labour MP Gloria De Piero takes the mantra “you are what you eat” to a new level:
“@GloriaDePieroMP: I'm having German socialism on toast for brekkie thanks to a gift from my old mate matthew laza http://yfrog.com/oebflccj”