Monday, 17 September 2012

IDS rides wave of public support for welfare reform..

BREAKING: Tony Blair has just been on the Today programme discussing the present unrest in the Arab world. The former Prime Minister was firm in his rejection of the grievances of the protestors and the need for pluralism in the wake of the Arab Spring:

“[Rushdie] is absolutely right. The film is wrong and offensive, but it’s also laughable as a piece of filmmaking. What is dangerous and wrong is the reaction to it.

“I just see a region in a process of huge transition. There is a struggle between the forces of modernisation...and these very powerful forces of reaction based on perverted religion.

“When you lift the lid off of repression, what comes out is a whole lot of tribal influences which have to be moulded to be compatible with the modern world. Having taken away these oppressive dictatorships, further modernisation is still required.

“This is a big problem and it will take a generation to sort out. Democracy is not just a way of voting, it’s a way of thinking. It’s about a education...the economy...[and] a view of religion that is pluralistic. It doesn’t mean that you’re an infidel because you disagree with me.”


Iain Duncan Smith is appearing before the Commons Work and Pensions Committee on Universal Credit this afternoon. This morning’s papers report that Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, is amongst those understood to be nervous about the plan, with the Times (£) one of many papers following up the story in the Sunday Times that Sir Jeremy would prefer to focus on economic growth, not reform.

Mr Cameron tried to move IDS to the MoJ, it is said, because he doubted his willingness to deliver another round of welfare cuts, which are now accepted as inevitable. Some said that in fact the Treasury doubted Chris Grayling's reliability and was delighted that he got shifted instead. Whatever, universal credit has the makings of a belter of a row.

Mr Duncan Smith will be delighted to find his case bolstered by the British Social Attitudes survey which finds growing hostility to welfare dependency. As our leader noted:

“If there are fainthearts in the Government questioning these reforms, Mr Duncan Smith should face them down, secure in the knowledge that most people share his views.”

This will cheer CCHQ,  where public antipathy to handouts is to play a big part in the 2015 campaign. The survey's finding that the public is prepared to pay higher taxes for more public spending - not so much. As theIndependent puts it:

“In 2002, 63 per cent of the public wanted more money invested in public services, even at the expense of tax increases. That figure has been steadily falling for a decade, bottoming out in 2010 at 31 per cent. But the 2011 survey, which involved interviews with 3,311 people on a variety of subjects, showed the first increase in 10 years, with the figure climbing to 36 per cent. The majority – 55 per cent – wants public spending to stay at its present level.”


Sir John Major appeared on the Marr show on Sunday in a bid to dampen leadership speculation as Parliament prepares to rise for the conference season. As we report, Sir John concentrated on the good news, comparing the “green shoots” in the economy to those in the early 1990s. Sir John told the show that:

"Since I'm no longer in politics, I can say something that perhaps as a politician I wouldn't.

"Norman Lamont was taken to pieces by commentators for suggesting there were green shoots, but in retrospect, we can see that Norman was right. Recovery begins from the darkest moment.

"It's worth making the point that David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg aren't imposing these cuts out of some malign wish to hurt people.

"They're imposing these cuts because the last government left the cupboard bare. The money was gone, the gold was gone. They had no choice but to take tough medicine, and I think people need to understand that is why they are doing it.

The former Prime Minister has long had a discreet arrangement with David Cameron whereby whenever the Tory leader needs some heavy artillery in support, Sir John steps forward. He nurtures his public appearances, so they have impact. His call for a settlement of the EU question in his article for the Telegraph on Saturday was a big moment, as reflected by Trevor Kavanagh in the Sun:

“Sir John sees many parallels. Now, as then, the party is riven by disagreement over Europe, the economy and its leadership. On Black Wednesday’s 20th anniversary, he warned squabbling Tories not to make the same mistakes again.”

But it was Sir John’s detection of 'green shoots' on Marr that has made headlines this morning. He's getting out a message the Coalition is desperate to hear, but one that is still too risky for Mr Cameron or George Osborne to promote themselves. And with reason: before we get the maypole out, let's remember the whacking great overhang of public and private debt, America's sluggishness, the unresolved euro crisis, not to mention various global hotspots in Iran and the Sea of Japan.


Sir John also spoke out against the Tory regicide habit, doing so as plots began to thicken nicely ahead of October’s party conferences. Patrick Mercer outed himself as the letter-writer to 1922 Committee chairman Graham Brady, apparently disregarding Sir John’s advice that:

"If the Conservative Party has learned anything in the last 20 years, it's learned that regicide is not a good idea."

If the situation was not already complex enough, we revealed on Saturday that the plotters have a continuity candidate in mind if Cameron does fall. Step forward....Graham Brady, the man who would have to oversee any leadership election. 

Still, leadership grumbles are not solely the province of the Conservative Party, though. As Tim Montgomerie writes in the Times (£), Labour have problems of their own:

“Whatever question I ask David Cameron’s advisers, I get almost exactly the same two-word answer. What will you do, I ask, if the economy does not return to robust growth? “Ed Miliband,” comes the reply. Surely, I say, you can’t win if you don’t recapture the ex-Tory voters who are defecting to UKIP? “You’re forgetting Ed Miliband,” is the comeback.”


The long-awaited announcement of Michael Gove’s new O-level style exams for 16-year-olds will take place today, with Nick Clegg riding shotgun with the Education Secretary. The Times (£) reports that the new exams will be longer and tougher with an increased emphasis on essays and an end to controlled assessments.

The Lib Dems can claim two major victories, as we report today. There will be no separate exam for less able pupils, an idea which had originally split the coalition, and the exams will not come in until 2015, with the first pupils sitting them in 2017.
Although the reforms have been generally welcomed in the press, Margaret Thatcher’s Education Secretary Kenneth Barker is quoted in today’s Independent saying that they do not go far enough in terms of practical education.

Even so, judging by the reception so far, Gove’s latest examination resulted in a qualified pass.


Mr Cameron’s delight at the support offered by Sir John Major this weekend would have been tempered by the news that the rest of the grey vote is drifting away from the Conservatives. We report that the poll of 10,000 SAGA members found that: 

“David Cameron has been voted the third least favourite post-war Prime Minister, and only the sixth best qualified to lead Britain out of the current economic downturn, in a poll of voters over the age of 50.

“The current Prime Minister is also deemed to care less about the UK and its people than eight former leaders, including James Callaghan, Gordon Brown and Harold Wilson.”


It seems that Dave has nailed his colours to the mast when it comes to the American presidential election. We report that Oscar-winning producer Harvey Weinstein told the BBC:

“I witnessed Prime Minister saying to a group of people, myself included, that Mitt Romney had that unique distinction of uniting all of England against him with his various remarks.” 

Ever the diplomat, at least Mr Cameron has that in common with Mitt.


The Mail splash this morning is the news that new International Development Secretary will go through the aid budget “line-by-line”. She has received some heavyweight support this morning from Lord Ashcroft who writes at Conservative Home:

“In truth, all this aid from Britain and other Western nations undermines progress. As it is often said, you cannot build democracy on other people’s money. Aid corrodes civil society and encourages corruption and conflict. By doling out vast sums to often-dubious foreign regimes, we ensure they have less need to respond to their citizens’ needs.”

One item she might like to turn her attention to is the new foreign aid headquarters in New Delhi. The building is under construction despite the fact that the UK’s aid programme in India is due to come to an end in 2015, rendering the 18 meeting rooms and 280 desks somewhat redundant.


"As one Clegg ally puts it, since the parties started publicly criticising each other, 'David Cameron has been hurt, Nick's been hurt and the Labour leader has grown'." James Forsyth in the the Mail on Sunday .

"Johnson's autumn addresses will unsettle Cameron, who is already worried that others around him, including education secretary Michael Gove, are manoeuvring. A cabinet minister said last week that the word was that the PM deliberately sacked two of Gove's ministers in the reshuffle without his say so because Gove had leaked several policy stories without telling No10 first. It was a message about who was running the show." Toby Helm in the Observer. 

"Boris is not Prime Minister material. The public want a PM who looks like one. They don't want him to ressemble a dishevelled buffoon. Let's end the silly speculation. Boris is the John Prescott of the Tory party." Shipley MP Philip Davies in the Mail on Sunday’s Black Dog .


And finally... Michael Gove was rumoured last week to be put out that he had lost almost all of his team in the recent reshuffle. Still, it could have been worse. The Sunday Times reports that the one surviving member of Team Gove, education minister Lord Hill, had tried to resign in the midst of the reshuffle. Fortunately for Gove, the paper reports that:

“Hill started to explain why he wanted to resign...but the Prime Minister was apparently not paying attention. Cameron was so distracted during Hill’s spiel that he appeared not to hear. 

“Instead of accepting his resignation, or even protesting, Cameron praised him for his hard work, told him to carry on and strode out of the room - after being told that he was late for a photocall.”


Roger Williams puts the dream of mule ownership on the backburner as a sacrifice to his constituents:

@RogerWilliamsMP: “Good Welsh Mule sale in Builth Wells yesterday. Had hoped to buy some but parliamentary work priority. There will be another sale....”


YouGov/Sunday Times results, 14-16 September: Con 34%, Lab 44%, Lib 9%, UKIP 7%

Government approval rating: -36% 


In The Telegraph

Boris Johnson - British businesses are taking an unfair whacking from America 

David Blair - This deadly dialogue of the deaf

James Delingpole - Arguments for wind power are just hot air 

Roger Bootle - We can have affordable housing if we have the political will to change

Best of the rest

Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) - The Tory guns are ready to find their target

Lawrence Summers in The FT (£) - Britain risks a lost decade unless it changes course

John Kampfner in The Guardian - Nick Clegg can now define himself against the cabinet's red meat 

Bruce Anderson in Conservative Home - The ERM was an economic success but a political disaster


Today: Michael Gove and Nick Clegg launch new exams to replace GCSE’s. Rightmove publishes its monthly house price index.

3:15 pm: Treasury permanent secretary Sir Nicholas Macpherson gives evidence to Commons Public Accounts Committee on Northern Rock sale. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.

4:30 pm: Iain Duncan Smith gives evidence to Commons Work and Pensions Committee on Universal Credit. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.