Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Morning briefing..


The Coalition is at war over Nick Clegg's decision to allow his MPs a free vote on the investigation of Jeremy Hunt.  We've splashed on it -  as has the Guardian, its splash reads:  "Clegg leaves Cameron high and dry", and the Mail who lead with  "Clegg accused of 'act of war'" .

Nick Clegg's decision to desert Dave over Jeremy Hunt is a shock to the Coalition. He has an eye to his appearance at Leveson at 10am today, but it also reflects his long standing distaste for the way the Tories abased themselves before Rupert Murdoch, and his anger at not being consulted.

We hear there were several shouting matches between him and Dave. Mr Clegg is seething over the way the Prime Minister rushed to clear his friend Mr Hunt over the BSkyB business by ruling out a referral to Sir Alex Allan. But is he justified in his anger? Or is all of this just a manifestation of a truth about the Coalition, namely that internal party affairs are just that, a matter for the individual leaders?

Dave might say that he kept out of the Chris Huhne business, recognising that it was a matter for Mr Clegg alone, and in turn was entitled to dispose of Mr Hunt as he saw fit. By that measure of course Mr Clegg is perfectly entitled to let Mr Hunt hang: why should the Lib Dems help the Tories with their dirty business?

Some will say this isn't about whether he should support the Culture Secretary, but whether he is obliged to support the Coalition under any circumstances. The Agreement says nothing about circumstances like these. Objectively, it is hard to see how Mr Cameron can expect Mr Clegg to back him, in particular as he didn't consult the Lib Dem leader in the first place.

Where does it leave relations this morning? "Business-like," No 10 folk say, which sounds ominous. "It's part of the Coalition rough and tumble. We'll all get over it." Will Nick Clegg sit next to Dave at PMQs? Will Tory MPs turn on their Lib Dem colleagues?

Today's vote on a Labour motion is not binding, and the Government will win it (the Tories are taking it quite seriously - they're even dragging one poor MP back from honeymoon). Mr Clegg will have made his point. The public, already indifferent to Leveson, will scarcely notice. But it will weaken Mr Cameron's defence of Mr Hunt. And it will leave a bad taste among Tories - and perhaps even those sanguine folk in Downing Street - who will conclude that Mr Clegg is not a man to go tiger shooting with. But that's the point: he never was. If the Tories have any sense they will recognise that it's only showbiz, and the Coalition is an alliance of convenience with a deadly enemy, not a friendship or a pact of loyalty.


But the Government are unlikely to find much party support for its latest claim. Downing Street are briefing that 'the people don't want a referendum' - didn't they see last week's Times' poll showing that 80 per cent of people did? This will anger a lot of Tory MPs, not to mention voters. You can read our report here .

But Daniel Finkelstein in the Times  preempts the storm, warning us not to get referendum happy in his column. He says we should know where Europe is going before we call for a vote.

No 10's view is surprising, given that George is busy stoking up Greek exit tensions (something that he hinted will force a referendum).  The FT has splashed on this, using the Chancellor's comments at a business event yesterday, he said:

"I ultimately don't know whether Greece needs to leave the euro in order for the eurozone to do the things necessary to make their currency survive...  I just don't know whether the German government requires Greek exit to explain to their public why they need to do certain things like a banking union, eurobonds and things in common with that."

The President of Greece's Syriza coalition has other ideas though. In a column for the FT he says he will keep Greece in the eurozone and restore growth. At least he's optimistic...

George also got animated about tax cuts at yesterday's event - he warned businesses that they must shout louder for the merits of lower taxes or the Government will be unable to cut the top rate of income tax to 40p. The Times  has splashed on this with "Chancellor to business: back us on lower taxes".


Meanwhile, Dave is encouraging other referendumselsewhere - namely in the Falkland Islands. He's pleased that they're going to vote on whether or not to remain British. The hope is that a vote in favour will garner international support against Argentina's claim to the islands.  You can read our report  here.


The Times is also previewing George's Mansion House speech tomorrow. It says:

"In his Mansion House speech the Chancellor is expected to back the concept of a banking union in the 17-member region while insisting that Britain will not take part. Mr Osborne is expected to insist on safeguards to protect the UK financial sector amid warnings from his own party that Europe's ambitions could damage the City."


And as if the Coalition wasn't in a delicate state,  Desmond Swayne and Crispin Blunt have come out in favour of allowing churches to marry gay couples. An interesting move by Crispin Blunt,  who recently left his wife because he was gay. Does he have re-marriage plans?  

We have a column by  George Carey, a former archbishop, saying that this threatens the bonds between Church and state. He also questions the Government's competence, saying:

"The enduring legacy of the consultation on same-sex marriage may be to raise questions about ministerial competence. The Church of England's response points out a number of matters where ministers' judgment can be questioned. Crucially, it shows that proposals for same-sex marriage would create mutually contradictory versions of matrimony within English law."

The Mail's leader has come out staunchly against the plans, saying:  "How can he [David Cameron] fuss with this irrelevance, when he has yet to do anything about honouring his promise to give families and social stability a boost by recognising traditional marriage in the tax system? This is displacement politics of the most shameful kind. The U-turn can't come soon enough."


And the war with the opposition within rumbles on. The Times  reports that radical reforms to transform Whitehall staff into professional "purchasers" of private services are to be announced next week. Tensions are high though - the Government will"flounder and fail" if David Cameron fails to give them his full backing.


And finally, Cheryl Cole has revealed she would have gone hungry if the pasty tax had been introduced when she was a teenager. She told  the Sun: "It was ridiculous. I would have been penniless as a teenager — and hungry — if I'd been taxed every time I had a hot pasty."

How someone so slender was raised on fatty snacks is marvel, really.


Louise Mensch explains her membership of Labour Party in the '90s:

"@LouiseMensch: RT @James_Macintyre: Major: In many ways Blair was "to the right of me". <~~ exactly why I joined New Lab in 1996"


Latest YouGov/The Sun results: Conservatives 33%, Labour 43%, Lib Dems 8%, UKIP 8%

Overall government approval rating:  -35


In The Telegraph

Benedict Brogan:  Osborne can only pray as the storm in Europe rages

Louise Mensch:  Toxic trolls should have no hiding place

Leader:  Winsor offers the police a professional future

Leader:  A waste of experience

Best of the rest

Alexis Tsipras in the Financial Times: I will keep Greece in the eurozone and restore growth

Daniel Finkelstein in the Times: If you want out, don't demand a vote too soon

Christina Patterson in the Independent: This gentle muddle of Church and State may be as good as it gets 


Today: Opposition day debate (first allotted day) on the referral of Jeremy Hunt to the Independent Adviser on Ministers' Interests

Today: Chris Grayling will announce the expansion of Mandatory Work Activity with a  boost of an extra £5m to create an additional 9,000 places

Today: Grant Shapps will set out proposals on social tenants on high salaries paying a fair level of rent for the privilege of living in a social home

Today: Andrew Mitchell is travelling to Washington DC for the US Aid conference

Today: Vince Cable will speak at The Investec Entrepreneurs' Summit. Intercontinental Park Lane, London

9.30am: Children's Minister Tim Loughton will launch a consultation on the principle of shared parenting following divorce or separation 

9.45am: Sports and Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson will publish the final update on the Olympic budget before the Games begin next month

10am: Nick Clegg and Alex Salmond give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry. The Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London

10am: Boris Johnson at London Mayor's Question Time. City Hall, The Queen's Walk, London

10am:Rebekah Brooks to appear in court. Court 1, Westminster Magistrates Court, 181 Marylebone Road, London

11.30am: Cabinet Office Questions

12pm: David Cameron at PMQs

1pm: Iain Duncan Smith gives speech on skills and youth unemployment at the IGD Skills Summit, Millennium Gloucester Hotel, London

4.30pm: Defence ministers Peter Luff and Nick Harvey give evidence to the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee on the potential impact of independence. Grimond Room, Portcullis House, London