Thursday, 20 September 2012

Laws blames Coalition for breaking tuition pledge..

BREAKING NEWS: David Laws has been on the Today programme defending the 'pupil premium' in the wake of a critical Ofsted report . He spoke about Nick Clegg's apology for reversing his tuition fees policy:

"Every Liberal Democrat MP has collective responsibility. This was not just a promise from Nick. All of us appreciated that it was a tough budgetary environment... We ought to have reflected in our manifesto that the only way we could have implemented this policy was in a coalition government and the other two parties were committed to increasing fees.

"If the Liberal Democrats had won 500 seats...of course it would have been technically possible to deliver this policy. It wasn't possible after the election...and that is why Nick has apologised."

Mr Laws has also been attempting to set out a vision in which there is "oversight" but not instruction when it comes to making sure schools allocate the funds properly.

"We will give the money to schools and headteachers who ought to know best how to use the money in the best interests of pupils... We're not going to tell a headteacher precisely how to help a disadvantaged pupil."


Just when sorry seemed to be the hardest word, Nick Clegg produced a Youtubemea culpa last night, apologising for his party's failure to stick to its promise not to raise tuition fees. A contrite looking Clegg addressed viewers from his home in Putney, saying:

"There's no easy way to say this: we made a pledge. We didn't stick to it - and for that I am sorry. When you've made a mistake you should apologise. But more importantly - most important of all - you've got to learn from your mistakes. And that's what we will do. I will never again make a pledge unless as a party we are absolutely clear about how we can keep it." 

Is his apology a sign of weakness, or evidence of political smarts? The Gordon Brown school of dividing line politics says never apologise, never concede, remain behind your dividing lines. Mr Clegg calculates however that the public want something different, namely politicians who are prepared to speak truthfully about the problems they grapple with and the mistakes they make. 

Mr Clegg knows that tuition fees remain a toxic issue for him, particularly on the left. By apologising for breaking his promise - but not the policy itself - he hopes he can draw a line under the disaster: three months spent facing party audiences have left him in no doubt about grassroots fury. He will feel he has performed a necessary act of public penance, and got it out of the way before his conference. Actually, the interesting question is where this gesture leaves David Cameron, and Ed Miliband for that matter. What might they like to apologise for?

If Clegg was hoping for an understanding audience in the morning papers, he was wrong. Although there is support from the Times (£), headline writers elsewhere have had a field day. The Sun goes with "Clegg Grovels", theIndependent with "Clegg eats humble pie over broken promises", and the Mailwith "Humiliated Clegg says sorry for his tuition fee U-turn".

The reaction from Labour has been uncompromising, too. Harriet Harman labelled the apology "crocodile tears" in a vicious statement which suggests that however close Labour may now be to Vince, Nick is a different proposition.

Not everyone is critical. Steve Richards in the Independent argues that the Lib Dems have achieved more than is usually recognised and that regicide at the party conference is extremely unlikely, especially given that Vince has followed Nick into government:

"I do not see how Vince Cable can mount a challenge when he is in the same Cabinet as Clegg, and doubt whether Cable will resign in order to make his insurrectionary moves."

Mr Cable certainly seems to be onside. Speaking on Newsnight last night, Vince said that he had been "sceptical" about the policy of the time and thought it an "unwise commitment".


Contrition was the order of the day at the top of the party, but not all Lib Dems could move themselves to stand by the apologies of the leadership. Richard Reeves, Mr Clegg's former right-hand-man, has broken his silence in today'sNew Statesman to stand-by his leader's bigot comments and call for the Lib Dems to fight the "forces of conservatism". 

Mr Reeves' comments on the direction of the party are interesting given their timing and his former proximity to the Deputy PM. Mr Clegg, he writes is:

"A radical liberal, fiercely committed to opening up British society, attacking the hoards of power that disfigure our politics and economy, and to keeping the state out of private lives. Opportunity, not equality. Liberty, not fraternity. Citizens, not subjects."

This decisive figure contrasts sharply with the one painted by James Forsyth in the Spectator:

"Going into the last election, many of Nick Clegg's closest allies and, I suspect, the Lib Dem leader himself found the tuition fees pledge embarrassing. It was precisely the kind of opportunistic policy that they had tried to wean the party off.

"But when it came to the election and it was still, despite their best efforts, party policy they decided to run with it. 

"But when the Browne review came in with its recommendation for £9,000 fees, Clegg — partly, at Vince Cable's urging — compounded the problem by not exercising the Lib Dem's coalition agreement opt-out on the matter. Instead, Lib Dem MPs were whipped to vote for the increase."

Indecision, internal strife... and you thought the Conservatives had problems.


Today sees the publication of an IPRR report calling for £14bn of cuts to public spending over and above the £10bn of benefit spending cuts being targeted. TheFT (£) reports that study shows dramatic cuts will be needed elsewhere if the coalition continues to protect spending on health and international aid. An even distribution of cuts would mean a £3.7bn cut to the education budget, equivalent to 80,000 teaching jobs.

Meanwhile, the Treasury has begun the process of cutting child benefit bills, sending out letters warning those earning over £60,000 that they will either lose their benefits or see the cash clawed back through the tax system, today'sTimes (£) reports.

Still, if George Osborne were to re-examine his health cut exemption, he might find an area more susceptible to cuts than the others - today's Guardian reports that the NHS is currently sitting on £4bn of cash reserves.


Another day, another poll, another Labour lead. Ed Miliband's party polled 41pc to the Conservative's in yesterday's Ipsos MORI poll for the Evening Standard. It is not all good news for Ed, though. The Labour leader is less popular than his party, whereas the opposite is true for David Cameron.

The FT (£) see this as signalling open season on the Labour leader:

"Conservative strategists say they have no qualms about making "ad hominem" attacks on Mr Miliband, saying Labour did the same thing with Tory leaders including Mr Cameron, William Hague and Michael Howard.

"The plan to target Mr Miliband was discussed on Monday at a Chequers meeting to debate coalition strategy. George Osborne, the chancellor, and Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, were among those present."

Labour's leader already faces a tough decision imposed on him by coalition politics, as I wrote yesterday:

"How does [the Labour Party] respond to the next spending review, which everyone expects will cover the first years of the next Parliament? There are those who are pressing for a big symbolic statement that would see Labour accept whatever cuts the Coalition proposes for after 2015. They are also concerned that on policy the party is still doing its thinking, and is not ready for the scrutiny that will come in the coming months as Westminster's expectations adjust to the possibility that Labour might be back in power faster than initially thought."


…goes to Chris Grayling. The new Justice Secretary features heavily in today's tabloids refuting Ken Clarke's comments earlier this week that the department would persevere with the latter's  more liberal approach to criminal justice. 

In the Sun, Mr Grayling can be found having a Michael Howard moment:

"I want to be the Tough Justice Secretary... Am I planning to reduce the number of prison places? No, I'm not."

The Daily Mail is impressed. Its leader column says that for the national good, Mr Grayling "must prove Ken Clarke wrong." The substance of Mr Grayling's changes remains opaque, however, and it remains to be seen whether Mr Clarke, ever the wily old fox, was right when he said on Tuesday:

"The rhetoric may change, but the substance will stay the same."


David Cameron's 'Red Tape Challenge', launched in April 2011 to scrutinise 6,500 pieces of regulation, publishes the result of its consultation with small business today. Key proposals include an independent body to push for deregulation, encouraging self-regulation in peer-to-peer finance, and a new consumer rights directive.

Institute of Economic Affairs director general Mark Littlewood has also written a paper for the initiative, available here, which is much more radical in scope, talking of treating staff in 'challenger' businesses as self-employed under various thresholds in order to avoid the inflexibility of labour market laws.

With green shoots firmly back on the agenda following positive jobs and inflation data, the small business, anti-regulation focus will stand in contrast to Labour's perceived preference for big-state solutions, predistribution notwithstanding.


The BBC are reporting that Tory led Richmond council will to defy the Government's instructions to relax planning rules. Council leader Nick True, an influential Tory peer, former special adviser, and a wise voice at Westminster, told colleagues:

"I have already asked the chief executive with officers to consider what this council might be able to do if we are not successful in getting these, in my view, very foolish proposals changed."


Today's Spectator carries an insider's view of what it's like to be on the wrong end of the reshuffle from an anonymous former minister:

"Tentatively, I turn up at Dave's office....What follows was horribly like what one's wife might say before booting you out. It went something like this: 'You have done a fantastic job. You have led a fantastic reform programme. I have no complaints about anything, you've done nothing wrong.' The political equivalent of 'it's not you, it's me.'

"I respond in the manner of jilted husbands down the ages. 'Is there someone else?'

"'Well, to be honest, there's actually 303 someone elses and I've got to keep them all satisfied, and that's no mean feat. I'm sure you understand.'"


And finally...The Independent 's diary reports Francis Maude has taken over Michael Heseltine's old office. Since Tarzan retired, the room has been used as a meeting room, but now an influx of ministers at the Cabinet Office (including Minister Without Portfolio, Ken Clarke) has led to Mr Maude being the proud occupant of the largest office in Whitehall.


Tom Harris takes IDS to task over his comments that Scotland could not afford its own welfare bill. A career in the SNP press office beckons :

@TomHarrisMP: "Don't you understand, IDS? In an 'independent' Scotland, there will be no welfare budget because we'll all be rich! You scamp, you! " 


Ipsos MORI / Evening Standard: Con 30%, Lab 41%, Lib Dem 11%, UKIP 4%


In The Telegraph

Paul Goodman - Pinstripes, plain views – and a real problem for Cameron 

Philip Johnston - Do we really want to arm our police? 

Jeremy Warner - Money printing has only allowed governments to duck their problems 

Damian Reece - As fast as the Bank is printing money, it's disappearing down a pension black hole

Best of the rest

Martin Kettle in The Guardian - No exaggeration: Ukip is now a force to reckon with

David Miliband in The Times (£) - Why fuss over exams at 16? No one else does

Steve Richards in The Independent - They don't need to dump Clegg, they need to tell us who they are 

Alex Brummer in The Daily Mail - A shameful deal that would rip the heart out of Britain plc


Today: Conservative co-chairman Grant Shapps to make announcement on the future of the Government's Behavioural Insights Team. 

Culture Secretary Maria Miller announcement on super fast broadband. 

Department for Education to publish Key Stage 2 (Sats) results for 11-year-olds in England. 

Iain Duncan Smith and Steve Webb launch pensions auto-enrolment scheme. 

Launch of the Government's 'Red-tape challenge' with Institute of Economic Affairs report.

9:30 am: Court hearing for former Energy Secretary Chris Huhne. Huhne denies perverting the course of justice over a speeding case. Southwark Crown Court.

9:30 am: Retail sales figures for August are published by the Office for National Statistics. 

9:30 am: The Council of Mortgage Lenders publishes its gross mortgage lending figures for August.

11:15 am: Business Secretary Vince Cable to speak at the MADE festival for entrepreneurs. City Hall, Sheffield.