Monday, 16 July 2012

Morning briefing..

David Cameron and Nick Clegg are planning to heal last week's rift over Lords reform with a massive spending spree on infrastructure. The Cabinet will be travelling across the country today, laying out plans for £9 billion investment in the rail network and a boost for housebuilding. This will include the complete electrification of the main line beyond Bedford to Sheffield, as well as the suburban railways out of Cardiff, known as the “valley lines”.  It's an interesting call, particularly as none of the impact will be felt until at least 2014. Will it be too late to give the economy a boost before the election? And where will these homes be built?

Justine Greening was just on the Today programme. She was a bit vague about how the Government was funding today’s infrastructure announcements, but confirmed that it would be partly taxpayers money and savings from “waste and inefficiency”. She also attacked Maria Eagle’s view that the whole rail network needed re-organising. Interestingly, Miss Eagle refused to rule out re-nationalisation. Miss Greening said this was “last thing” that the network needed.

Still, both parties certainly do need to calm the tension. Lynne Featherstone warned on her blog that "there will be consequences" for the Tories  who voted down the Lords Bill and Sir Menzies Campbell said that his party would not “simply form up” to vote for Conservative-backed proposals in future, again suggesting the boundary review would fail. And Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee, has told the Telegraph that the Coalition won't make it to the next election, suggesting that the two parties should have a “moment of separation” well before the election in order to set out distinct policies to voters.

Our leader calls the Lib Dems' manoeuvring over Lords and Commons boundary reform "cynical", but says that it should have been expected: "They [the Lib Dems] have long been masters at cloaking political opportunism in the garb of high principle. We should never lose sight of the real reason Nick Clegg produced his ramshackle plans for a reformed Upper House in the first place. It was a shameless attempt to ensure that his party, the also-rans of British politics, who on just four occasions since the last war have secured more than a 20 per cent share of the popular vote in a general election, would enjoy a king-making role in perpetuity."

Still even if they haven’t got their way on the Lords, they might at least make commuters happy.


With 11 days to go to the Olympics, it's hardly encouraging to see The Times 's splash that reveals that the MoD put 4,000 military personnel on standby for Olympic duty as long ago as April because it was concerned over a possible shortfall in private guards. This builds on yesterday's Independent  story on how the Home Office was warned 10 months ago in a private report, throwing into doubt Theresa May's claims that shortfall was a surprise that emerged last week. Could Mrs May have got her dates confused again? She'll be expecting further jokes to that effect today: Labour has called the House to clarify the exact extent of the G4S staff deficit.

But the farce might not end there. On Andrew Marr yesterday, Jeremy Hunt called it a mere "hitch", but admitted the Government might still need to deploy more troops to fill the gap (you can read more here ). His comments about G4S being "quite honourable" for putting its hands up is likely to solicit a response from Labour. It's calling on the security firm to pay for troops to receive an Olympic bonus, as are the military's top brass, according to the  i's splash. It might not be such a bad idea. We carry a letter  from Air Vice Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, General Sir Michael Rose and Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham criticising the government's use of troops, saying that it's caused morale to plummet.

Despite all this Jeremy Hunt wants to keep his job. He also told Marr yesterday that he'd like to stay put at the next reshuffle. He might not be so lucky though:  David Wooding  reports that a Downing Street study has suggested axing his whole department to save £1.3 billion. The report also suggests merging the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Offices and confining the Department for International Development to the Foreign Office. That's bound to make Mr Hunt and Andrew Mitchell nervous.


In case you were worried, the government is still "listening" - but this time it’s listening to the Americans and preparing to U-turn on an existing U-turn. The Sun  reports that Dave could be forced to scrap Britain’s plans for new aircraft carriers because a US congress report reveals that the F35B Joint Strike Fighter is “likely” to be chopped under coming spending cuts. This would push the MoD into a third complete redesign for the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, since the ships’ decks would have to be torn up again to fit catapults and traps so that conventional jets that don’t hover can take off and land. Dave and Philip Hammond must be wishing they had "dithered" longer on that one. The existing U-turn was only 12 months ago.


Meanwhile, Iain Duncan Smith could be having a good day. He's in the papers saying that the benefits cap is already pushing the jobless back into work. His figures show that 1,700 people who would have been affected by the £26,000-a-year cap have taken up work since being warned about next year’s limit.  We report that private Conservative polling suggests that the plan is one of the Coalition’s most popular ideas. No wonder then that IDS has a column in the Mail  saying that he's laying plans to bring the cap into law.


We've splashed  on potentially another rigging scandal - this time on petrol prices. A G20 report, published last month by the International Organisation of Securities Commissions, warns that traders have opportunities to influence oil prices for their own profit. Robert Halfon and a group of 100 MPs have called on the Bank of England to investigate. It's an interesting time for them to do so - former Barclays executive Jerry del Missier and FSA chairman Lord Turner give evidence to the Commons Treasury Committee today, followed by Sir Mervyn King tomorrow. Will they implicate the Bank of England further?


And finally, Michael Gove gets the examiner’s treatment from Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief examiner of schools.  Sir Michael Wilshaw told  The FT: “The examination system that we have has got to be seen to be ruthless and stretching all pupils,” but it was possible to do that “within the existing system”. Has he spoken to the Secretary of State about that?


Conor Burns MP is reassured by a true Tory:   

“@Conor_BurnsMP: Lovely visit to Lady T. Massively supportive on my stance on Lords and thinks I have done 'exactly the right and proper thing'”

I wonder how would she have reacted if he had rebelled against her?


Latest YouGov/Sunday Times results: Conservatives 34%, Labour 43%, Lib Dems 9%, UKIP 7%

Overall government approval rating:  -39


In The Telegraph

Boris Johnson:  To avoid the Olympic weather forecast, please look away now

John Yates:  The Olympic Games baton has passed to the police

Leader:  This political blackmail is par for the course

Leader:  Clinton in Cairo

Best of the rest

Jackie Ashley in the Guardian: Beware the coming storm: cuts will break this coalition

Wolfgang Munchau in the Financial Times: The eurosceptics have the best lines again

Libby Purves  in the Times:  Watch those ‘partners’. They want your money

John Kampfner in the Independent:  The price of our safety shouldn't be our freedom


2.30pm: Defence Questions

4pm: Former Barclays executive Jerry del Missier and FSA chairman Lord Turner give evidence to the Commons Treasury Committee on Libor manipulation. Wilson Room, Portcullis House, London

4.30pm: Chris Grayling gives evidence to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee on youth unemployment. Committee Room 5, House of Commons, London