Wednesday, 31 October 2012
A day of intense strain for the Coalition. The EU vote in the Commons later on is bad enough, because it exposes an area of increasingly acute disagreement between Conservatives and Lib Dems. Then there's John Hayes taking an axe to wind farms in a speech last night (to a renewables conference - cute!) without telling his boss Ed Davey, which will set off another blistering row over who runs energy policy after David Cameron re-wrote it by accident at PMQs. On top of that there's the curious case of the Lords row over boundaries that broke late last night - apparently Lib Dems said they would vote for a Labour amendment to postpone the reduction in the number of MPs, which would have precipitated a defeat for the Government: did Nick Clegg know? I suspect we've had enough of weather cliches, but think perfect storm: a Coalition that is always finely balanced must navigate three disputes which individually would be enough to prompt crisis meetings of the Quad. A busy day in No10 ahead.
ONSHORE WIND PUFFED OUT
But first, wind power. "Enough is enough" when it comes to the onshore wind turbines which have "peppered" Britain, John Hayes said last night. We have full details in our Splash. In a damning indictment of previous Coalition policy, he added that it seemed "extraordinary" that they had already proliferated so far.
Mr Hayes' speech did not happen by accident. It is tempting to conclude that he acted knowing he had high level support. No10 and the Treasury profess surprise, but Lib Dems will be suspicious that the energy minister is being encouraged to steer policy away from wind farms. Which may delight those who say they are a costly and pointless blight on the landscape. But it makes for scrappy looking government. And then there's the difficulty of the agreements the PM entered into on energy policy with his partners. Will Mr Hayes, who delivered Cornerstone for Dave and is one of the so-called 'untouchables', be slapped down?
In any case, this strike at the Coalition's environmental energy consensus is only possible now that the Japanese firm Hitachi has invested £700m in Britain's nuclear industry through its purchase of Horizon Nuclear Power. Will that translate into further investment in the next round of nuclear energy, allowing the Coalition to fulfil Ed Davey's promise yesterday to move further away from gas in the energy mix? It's a prospect the Telegraph's leader sees as bizarre:
"A decade of dithering by Labour – abetted by the Liberal Democrats’ previous hostility to nuclear power – has left Britain at the mercy of events.Mr Davey cited Hitachi’s decision as proof that ... international investors have 'a huge amount of confidence' in the Government’s strategy. It is gratifying to learn that someone has."
Still, if anything could be calculated to restore confidence, it would be an explanation of Dave's energy tariff pledge. One duly arrived courtesy of Greg Barker yesterday, who explained that the Prime Minister was speaking about "the intent, not the detail", according to the Guardian. That clears that up then.
TARZAN SWINGS TO THE RESCUE OF THE REGIONS
The much anticipated report by Lord Heseltine into stimulating economic growth outside of London is released this morning. His ideas are nothing if not independent minded, many kicking firmly against the prevailing Tory mood. Britain, he says, should adopt a protectionist approach to foreign firms acquiring industrial targets in the UK, reduce barriers to immigration in areas such as engineering, £50bn of Whitehall spending devolved to the regions, more co-operation with Brussels and clarity on energy and airport policy. So far, so New Labour? It has certainly won the backing of Chuka Umunna, who argues that while the Government should be listening, it has in fact been briefing against Hezza, a man he described on Twitter as the last remaining "wet" in the Conservative ranks. Try telling that to Ken Clarke. Writing in theTelegraph, Lord Heseltine defends his vision against critics who claim the Government should never meddle in the market:
"There are those who hanker for the old rules of free trade, for the market to look after itself, who want to shut the Business Department and for government to have a minimal role.... No other leading country or emerging nation believes it can work. The US, our European cousins, the BRICs – they certainly don’t practise it. Why should we be out of sync with the rest of the world?"
As the Times (£) reports, Tarzan acknowledges that his suggestions, particularly with respect to airports and energy, however, "there is an unavoidable need for a decision" and David Cameron needs to make up his mind "pretty sharpish". Perhaps he has caught the Prime Minister at the right time - with the chest beating being directed at Europe, and probing of Lib Dem tolerance levels in areas such as green energy, Dave seems ready to carry the fight to his opponents at the moment, and the rising chorus of calls for action on London's airports might give him little choice.
HYSTERIA REIGNS AS RECKLESS AMENDMENT GARNERS SUPPORT
Mark Reckless and Mark Pritchard's amendment requiring the Government to seek a real terms decrease in the EU's budget has sent an inexperienced team of Conservative whips into a frenzy at the thought of losing a vote to an unholy coalition of Labour and the Tory backbenches. According to the Telegraph , at least 35 Tory MPs will vote against the Government. Yesterday saw an attempt to draw the fire through a rival motion backed by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Peter Bone, with discreet Doiwning Street support, which would "regret" the increase in the UK's net EU contribution to date, but implicitly allows for a budget rise in line with inflation when it calls on Dave to veto anything else. This already appears to be Number 10's position, with increasingly thick hints being dropped that the Prime Minister will use his veto.
William Hague is among those complaining about Labour's cynicism, given that the party previously supported rises in the EU budget. Cynical or not, the move has been effective. There is almost no domestic support for an increase in the EU's budget at a time of austerity at home. The alleged extent of the threats being made by the Conservative Whips Office, the Spectator reports that one MP was even told that voting for the amendment would lead to a vote of confidence in Mr Cameron, speaks of panic in the engine room. Quite a reaction, given the amendment is non-binding. With ministers returning and errant MPs being offered personal meetings with the Prime Minister and Chancellor, the stakes have been raised to artificially high levels. The debate should begin around 4pm this afternoon, expect fireworks.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SETTING BOUNDARIES
The boundaries dispute is sketchy - James Kirkup has the story (not yet online) - but Tories say they spotted an ambush planned by Lib Dems today in the vote on voter registration. The LDs planned to back a Labour amendment that would have put off the boundary review to 2018. You see the difficulty: voting against the Government is a Coalition no-no. The Government would have been defeated, so today's business has been pulled rather than risk it. There'll be time enough to ponder what this tells us about Lib Dem attitudes to boundary reviews. But Tories are wondering what Mr Clegg knew about what his colleagues in the Lords are up to. One for the Quad, no doubt.
LABOUR SHOULD BE ASH-EN FACED
So says the Mail, who report that ministers in the last Labour government knew about the threat to our ash trees four years ago but "hid behind European laws" in order to avoid taking action. They may be making a bold pitch for the fiscal austerity platform, but it looks like they still have some way to go before they are the party of the countryside.
ESCAPE AUSTERITY - JOIN A UNION
Research by the TaxPayers' Alliance show that £113m of tax money goes to fund trade union activities, with the largest part devoted to paying public sector workers who perform union duties while nominally at work, City AM reports.
THE FIFTH BEATLE VISITS PRIDE OF BRITAIN AWARDS
It's back! Milimania, that is. After emerging from conference hailed as the greatest orator since Churchill, Ed Miliband has been on an upward curve. Now he has blossomed into a celebrity, complete with those two sure-fire signs of celebrity status - autograph hunters and a picture spread on Mail Online.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Michael Fabricant has the solution to the eurozone crisis up his sleeve :
@Mike_Fabricant: "Time for Greece to pay its debts. Give us the Parthenon instead and we'll reunite it with the Elgin Marbles. Put it in Parliament Square?"
In The TelegraphMichael Heseltine - The market can't deliver growth without help
Mary Riddell - Why cheaper daycare could land Miliband in Downing St
Song Tao - Together, China and Europe will be stronger
Allister Heath - Our crippling tax system needs radical simplification
Best of the Rest
Alice Thomson in The Times (£) - The Rolls-Royce has become an Italian bank
Simon Jenkins in the Guardian - Cameron's pro-EU charade cannot go on much longer
John Kay in the FT (£) - Scotland's independence debate lacks seriousness
Christopher Booker in the Daily Mail - Ten years too late, it's good riddance to wind farms - one of the most dangerous delusions of our age
11:00 am: Immigration Minister Mark Harper gives evidence on the EU's global approach to migration and mobility. House of Lords Home Affairs, Health and Education EU Sub-Committee, Committee room 3.
11:00 am: Release of Heseltine Report on regional growth. Birmingham Town Hall, Victoria Square.02:45 pm: Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin appears before House of Commons Transport Committee on now-scrapped West Coast rail franchise. Transport Department Permanent Secretary Philip Rutnam also appearing Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
03:00 pm: Home Secretary Theresa May gives evidence to the Parliamentary Draft Data Communications Bill Committee. Committee Room 4, House of Lords.
Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Hurricane Sandy made landfall overnight, striking the East Coast of America just south of Atlantic City. For the latest news, read our live coverage which can be found here.
EU'RE NOTHING BUT TROUBLE
David Cameron is facing a "trouncing" come tomorrow's EU budget vote according to the Times (£). The Prime Minister risks being outflanked by Labour who may join forces with the Conservative awkward squad to push through an amendment calling for a cut to the EU budget being pushed by Mark Reckless, Mark Pritchard, John Redwood, Bill Cash, Sarah Wollaston and Zac Goldsmith. Labour have not formally announced a decision to support the amendment, but it would sit consistently by yesterday's Times op-ed by Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander.
Fortunately, Britain's last remaining europhile has ridden to the rescue. Tony Blair has warned that a two speed EU heralds "a path to break-up". The solution? A directly elected EU president, according to Mr Blair. As the Independent notes, however, it is difficult to think of the populist statesman with sufficiently broad appeal who would fill the role, certainly now that Silvio Berlusconi has been sentenced to prison. Perhaps Mr Blair has someone in mind?
At any rate, the break-up of the EU can no longer be resurrected as the bogeyman of British politics. Although still distinctly the minority, increasing numbers at Westminster are coming around to the view of Daniel Hannan who writes in today's Telegraph that:
"Parliamentarians in all three parties know what their constituents think of giving more money to Brussels. They know, too, that there is no dishonour in representing the views of the people who elected them."
AN ATOMIC ROW
Philip Hammond "jumped the gun" in indicating Coalition support for the continuation of Trident, according to Nick Clegg. The Deputy Prime Minister is reported by this morning's Guardian to be "angered" by Mr Hammond's apparent disregard for the Coalition agreement which postpones any decision on the sea-based nuclear deterrent until 2016. Mr Clegg pulled rank on the issue yesterday saying "the coalition agreement is crystal clear: it stands, it will not be changed, it will not be undermined."
Well that told everyone. The fact that Mr Hammond's new £350m investment in Faslane naval base is also a useful gambit for the Unionist team in the Scottish independence debate did not go unnoticed either. The FT (£) reports that Nicola Sturgeon described the sum as "squandered". However, it is not just the Coalition with a Trident problem. As Polly Toynbee writes in the Guardian, Labour must leap onto the fence:
"Is Labour really going to sign up to [this]? Few who know his mind think Ed Miliband will, though he may have to reshuffle his cabinet to abandon Trident... If some cheaper unreality emerges – a bomb in a cupboard – Labour and Lib Dems should both seize it."
TARZAN TAKE II
As details emerge of Lord Heseltine's report tomorrow on regional economic growth, it becomes increasingly clear that one of the original Big Beasts can still cause quivers of alarm to run down the Whitehall jungle telegraph. The FT (£) reports that Hezza will recommend a significant strengthening of England's 39 local enterprise partnerships and call for greater involvement from businesses in deciding how money is spent. In the Telegraph, Jeremy Warner is sceptical:
"The truth is that most of what has come to be termed 'industrial policy' is a form of protectionism. Yet the real cause of Britain's competitive disadvantage is not that it is a free trade nation, but that it has been too reliant on internal, domestic sources of consumption to fuel demand."
A report published this morning by the Joseph Rowntree Foundationsuggests that Iain Duncan Smith's Universal Credit may actually make the benefits system more complex. The reforms incentivise part-time work, but not full-time roles, fail to simplify emergency loans and risk IT failures, the authors suggest.
DON'T HIRE LYNTON CROSBY!
So says Lord Ashcroft, writing on ConservativeHome. The peer believes that with the economy on the up and Dave's conference strategy beginning to pay dividends, the existing Tory team is looking more formidable than it has for a while. Don't change a winning formula, he urges:
"I do not think [Mr Crosby] is needed and would become a distracting influence. Cameron and Osborne and their team have started to develop the strategy; Grant Shapps and the incomparable Stephen Gilbert will see that it is put into effect on the ground."
CHILD BENEFIT CUTS "MAY BE ILLEGAL"
The Coalition's child benefit cuts for higher income families may break European law, the Telegraph reports. Ministers have been warned by the Institute of Chartered Accountants that the changes could fall foul of EU discrimination law. The EU, saviour of middle England? Who would have thought?
OFFICIALS KNEW OF FRANCHISE FLAWS
The interim statement by Sam Laidlaw found that officials were well aware of flaws in the West Coast Main Line bidding procedure prior to the tendering process, the Telegraph reports. If the flaws had been identified, it raises the question of whether they were deliberately concealed from ministers, or whether the right questions simply were not asked. Awkward questions which may have some awkward answers by the time the full report is published.
A GOOD POLICY WASTED
Janan Ganesh, writing in today's FT (£) is scathing on the subject of police commissioners, which he sees as a fine idea, poorly executed. The chance for a "defining policy" not characterised by fiscal austerity has been wasted, he argues, adding:
"The idea is authentic Cameron. Long before austerity, in his early years as Tory leader, he espoused a different vision of government: not so much smaller as looser and less centralised. He insisted on the distinction between society and the state, and defined himself not against debt but dirigisme."
Still, he is not quite as scathing as Dominic Lawson is when recounting the career of one aspiring police and crime commissioner. In theIndependent, he reviews the career of John Prescott, warning readers, "don't be surprised if this terrible man triumphs again". A must-read.
CHALLENGING THE "UNTOUCHABLES"
Austerity, the final fronteir. With parents losing child beneft and the young struggling, Rachel Sylvester in the Times (£) suggests it is time for the elderly to take their share of the Coalition's medicine:
"Tackling the final taboo in politics is long overdue... the number of wealthy pensioners is rising rapidly, with almost 2 million people over 60 in households with assets above £1 million and 988,000 millionaires over 65. Its analysis concludes that the Government is spending about £500 million a year on winter fuel allowance and free bus passes for millionaires. That can’t be right."
WOMEN: KNOW YOUR PLACE
That's the advice from Austin Mitchell who took to Twitter yesterday to pronounce his verdict on Louise Mesch's public spat with her husband over her reasons for abandoning her Corby seat half-way through Parliament. The Telegraph reports that Mr Mitchell wrote:
"Shut up Menschkin. A good wife doesn't disagree with her master in public and a good little girl doesn't lie about why she quit politics."
Mr Mitchell later clarified that he was being "ironic". Harriet Harman has yet to comment.
OCCUPY WERE RIGHT
A senior Bank of England official has claimed that Occupy were morally and intellectually right in targeting the City, according to the Telegraph. Andrew Haldane suggested that the "hard-headed facts...are problems of debt and rising inequality".
BIG BEN GOES PINEWOOD
At times of austerity, the Coalition is keen to have every arm of government paying its way. Yesterday saw the announcement by Francis Maude that the Cabinet Office is on track to deliver £8bn of savings this year, part of a £20bn austerity drive in the department prior to 2015. However, as the Daily Mail reports, the money saving drive may soon hit Big Ben, which could be let out for use as a film set. The move could apparently garner an additional £3m a year.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Emily Thornberry celebrates 50 years of Bond:
@EmilyThornberry: "Watch last bit of You Only Live Twice. So many unanswered Qs. At what stage in the big volcano fight does Bondgirl change into her bikini?"
ComRes / Independent: Con 33%, Lab 44%, Lib Dem 12%, Other 11%
In The Telegraph
Daniel Hannan - A day of judgement looms as the House loses its taste for Brussels
Philip Johnston - The tax wheezes that drive motorists mad
Rupert Short - Persecuted throughout the world
Peter Foster - Playing politics with a hurricane? Surely not
Best of the Rest
Janan Ganesh in the FT (£) - Another good idea botched by sloppy government
Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) - Think the unthinkable about the untouchables
Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail - A lethal arrogance
Polly Toynbee in The Guardian - On Trident, Miliband needs to be brave and jump ship
09:30 am: Ofgem and Energy Minister Greg Barker give evidence to the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee on Ofgem's energy tariff proposals. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
10:00 am: Boris Johnson to launch the largest ever London Poppy Day appeal. HMS Severn - docked at South Quay, Canary Wharf, London.
02:00 pm: Danny Alexander speech to conference on growth. Conference, hosted by Local Government Association, British Property Federation and Local Partnerships, Pinsent Masons, 30 Crown Place, Earl Street.
02:45 pm: Commons Home Affairs Committee takes evidence on localised grooming and e-crime. Witnesses include ACPO and SOCA. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
03:30 pm: Senior military commanders give evidence to the Commons Defence Committee on Afghanistan. Committee Room 8, House of Commons.
Monday, 29 October 2012
One of the hypotheticals beloved of political strategists is what might happen were Labour to outflank the Conservatives in their euroscepticism. We may be about to find out. A Times op-ed by Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander, published this morning, calls for real-terms cuts to the EU budget, including significant savings in areas like the CAP which the authors call an "obstacle to trade liberalisation". They add:
"Labour will argue against the proposed increase in EU spending and instead support a real-terms cut in the budget. We believe these goals are difficult but achievable with the right leadership and the right approach from the UK."
One Labour MP who has gone the distance and called for a full withdrawal from the EU is Gisela Stuart. The German born MP said that Britain "ultimately...has to go" its own way when speaking on the BBC at the weekend. Although no longer a Labour front bencher, Mrs Stuart's intervention underlines the point made by Charles Moore in the Telegraph on Saturday, that far from being the pet obsession of marginalised Tory MPs, talk of a Brexit is now being taken seriously by influential figures across the political spectrum.
Mr Cameron now faces being squeezed by both sides ahead of Wednesday's Commons vote on the British government's negotiating position. Dr Liam Fox is pushing him from the Tory Right, telling the Times (£) that wages in the EU are "obscene" and that there should be no real-terms budget increase. Caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea, a British veto of the European budget is becoming a serious possibility for Mr Cameron, and as much a question of domestic political necessity as anti-federalist principle.
TWO TIER MOTORWAY PRICING FLOATED
The Daily Mail reports that ministers are considering varying road tax rates for those who wish to use motorways. The Treasury is facing a budget shortfall given the number of families switching to cars which incur a lower road tax. A source tells the paper that the Government is attempting to make the roads "more like utility companies" in terms of funding and fee payment. Given the fiasco over rising gas prices, the comparison is unfortunate, although paying more to use a motorway will certainly make the reforms as popular as utility companies given that motorists are already facing a 3p fuel duty rise, as theTelegraph reported at the weekend.
GRAYLING DETERMINED TO DEFY JUDGES
One Conservative determined to stand up in Europe is Chris Grayling. Parliament is able to reject the European Court of Human Rights' ruling on votes for prisoners, the Justice Secretary told the Marr show, adding that reforming the ECHR would be a Conservative priority at the next election, theMail reports.
PICKLES CHAMPIONS PRESS SELF-REGULATION
In an interview with Sky News, Eric Pickles has argued that Parliament should be "very, very, very reluctant" to pass laws which allow the state to regulate the press, the Telegraph reports. The Communities Secretary spoke as the issue of press regulation took on a political character with Harriet Harman demanding state regulation by a "truly independent body" in an interview with the BBC. In today's Telegraph , Boris Johnson, meanwhile, offers a clarion call in defence of press freedom and the print version of the Guardian:
"We will always need a real and not a virtual Guardian. Guilt-ridden Lefties will need it to swat the mosquitoes in Tuscany, or to light the wood-burning stoves in their second homes, or to line the tuck boxes of their little ones as they guiltily pack them off – like dear Polly Toynbee – to their fee-paying schools. And it would be a calamity for us Conservatives if we no longer knew what the enemy was thinking."
HEYWOOD TO LEAD WHITEHALL'S UNIONIST EFFORT
Sir Jeremy Heywood has expanded his Whitehall reach further still by taking charge of the Government's campaign against Scottish independence, theTimes (£) reports. He will oversee reports being produced by 13 different government departments which will argue Scotland is better off in the Union. Elsewhere in the Times (£), Jill Sherman describes Sir Jeremy as a "brain box and a workaholic", adding that he attracts unfair criticism from the Conservative Right. The point which Ms Sherman is making is the right one, though. Tories who complain about the political power of Heywood are in fact complaining about the the consequences of Tory policy: it was Cameron, Osborne, Maude, Gove who wanted rid of special advisers and more responsibilities handed to civil servants. Heywood is forced to manage politics because Mr Cameron has chosen to have an insufficiently strong political operation at the centre.
CHILD BENEFIT LETTERS GO OUT
George Osborne's polling indicates that child benefit cuts are popular even among those set to lose out, the Guardian reports this morning. As letters go out to the families affected, the poll shows that 82 per cent of the electorate and 74 per cent of households earning more than £69,000 agree with the move. The changes will effect 15 per cent of families, with those with three children losing £2,500 per year.
HESELTINE TO CALL FOR RESTRICTIONS ON FOREIGN TAKEOVERS
Lord Heseltine has kept the contents of his report on economic growth, due to be published on Wednesday, close to his chest as he is worried that the Whitehall machine will brief against him in advance. One detail emerges in today's Mail , however. Tarzan will call for a public interest test to be introduced where British companies are subject to takeover bids by foreign interests. The Government has previously ruled out a 'Cadbury law' because it smacks of protectionism. Given the outpouring of grief on both sides of the House when the BAE deal was mooted, Lord Heseltine should find a receptive audience.
ONE NATION: THE RETURN
Denis MacShane wrote to Ed Miliband's office last week to argue that since he debuted his potent 'One Nation Labour' vision, nothing had been heard of it in the public pronouncements of the rest of the Labour hierarchy. Be that as it may, Ed is not for turning. He gives a speech at the Royal College of Psychiatrists this morning in which he will apply he apply One Nation to mental health. The Guardian reports that Ed will take on titans of public health policy such as, um, Jeremy Clarkson and Janet Street-Porter as he criticises those who use their celebrity to demean the mentally ill.
Mr Miliband will also announce a mental health policy taskforce, charged with coming up with some policies in the area. This will be a relief for Labour. TheIndependent reports that the party has taken £1m of taxpayers money from the Electoral Commission in order to fund "policy development". Some wags on the government benches say that the Electoral Commission is due a refund given a lack of strong outlines for Labour policies so far. Surely nothing a taskforce or two won't fix.
POWER TO THE POLIS
Nick Clegg is expanding the City Deal. The eight largest cities outside of London already have the right to borrow, and control over their transport and skills budget. Now a further 20 cities will be able to take on these powers, with a competitive bidding process used to determine the allocation, according to the Independent.
The Coalition will hope that the recpeption is more enthusiastic than that which has greeted George Osborne's infrastructure plan. Today's FT (£) reports that the new Pensions Infrastructure Plan has garnered only a third of the subscriptions it was projected to raise from pension funds - £700m of a £2bn target - so far.
PREZZA TAKES IT PERSONALLY
Lord Prescott has taken last week's attack by Lord Wasserman personally. The Prime Minister's police and crime commissioner said last week that they would "kick themselves" when they woke up to find Prezza commanding their local police. Lord Prescott has written to today's Times (£) to complain about the "personal political attack".
TWEETS AND TWITS
Start the week with a joke from Chris Heaton-Harris:
@chhcalling: "What do you call a three legged donkey? A wonkey."
In The Telegraph
Boris Johnson - Newspapers are worth fighting for - even when they are wrong
Jeff Randall - Armageddon? It doesn't look like it to me
Charles Moore - A small royal saga, and a blow to spirituality
Zoie Brennan - The queens of Washington
Best of the rest
Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander - Standing still isn't enough. The EU needs cuts.
Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail - Stop this hysteria! Why should the state pay for women on benefits to have more than two children?
John Harris in the Guardian - Omnishambles strikes again - and this time it's personal
Trevor Kavanagh - BBC's Lord Smug has lost our Trust
09:15 am: Nick Clegg speech announcing new wave of City Deals. The Deputy Prime Minister will jointly host a conference with the Centre for Cities announcing the second wave of City Deals. The Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace.
11:00 am: Labour leader Ed Miliband speech on the need for a One Nation approach to mental health. Followed by a Q&A. Royal College of Psychiatrists, 17 Belgrave Square.
05:00 pm: Boris Johnson speaks at Jamaican and Trinidad & Tobagonian Independence Jubilee Reception. London's Living Room, City Hall.
Friday, 26 October 2012
Despite being rebuked by the chair of the UK Statistics Authority for his early hints about the GDP figures, the Prime Minister would have considered yesterday a very good day. A 1 per cent rise in GDP in the third quarter beat market expectations and was the best performance since the crisis started in 2007. Tied to positive employment, inflation and borrowing news, there is now a sense of momentum building behind the Coalition. The impression is that the pain is starting to yield a real gain, with British growth projected to outstrip that of France and Germany in the next two years. The Telegraph's leader hailed the figures, arguing that they present Labour with an uncomfortable choice:
"For Labour, this is a difficult moment. In place of a coherent economic policy, it has relied on the absence of growth to justify its call for more spending and borrowing. That fox has now been shot..."
The headline number did not tell the whole story, though. Writing in theTelegraph, Jeremy Warner argues that despite the "unambiguously good news", a combination of public and household debt means that the road ahead will be long and painful. The Times (£) says there us still no "convincing account of how Britain will, in the long term, earn its way in the world", while on Telegraph Blogs, Thomas Pascoe argues that broken down, the GDP figures show the economy is still dependent on "big finance and big government". There is also the ongoing productivity puzzle. As Samuel Brittan argues in the FT (£):
"Despite David Cameron’s incredibly silly optimistic response to a much predicted Olympics-based short-term variation in quarterly estimates, UK gross domestic product is still 3 per cent below its 2008 peak. Yet there has been virtually no change in employment. As a matter of arithmetic this has involved stagnation in productivity, defined as output per person... On the basis of past relationships, productivity would have been almost 15 per cent higher."
Reservations aside, it was a good day for the Conservatives who had failed to draw the maximum benefit from prior economic statistics. Yesterday, a couple of questions about train tickets aside, the credit was all theirs.
CLEGG SWAPS DOUBLE-DUTCH FOR DUTCH AS RUMPY PUMPY COMES TO TOWN
Nick Clegg spoke fluent Dutch in his meeting yesterday with Herman Van Rompuy, the Telegraph reveals. He also spoke the language of Coalition unity. The FT (£) reports that Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron presented a united front in their meetings with the President of the EU, insisting that Britain retains its £2.7bn rebate, and refusing to budge on demands for a freeze in the EU's budget. Quite aside from the British threat to veto a budget rise, the rebate has become a hot issue in Europe given Denmark's recent insistence that it would require a rebate of its own if "rich" nations like the UK continued to receive one.
While talks with Mr Van Rompuy were cordial, the same cannot be said of Britain's ongoing dispute with that other continental institution - the European Court of Human Rights. The Independent reports that Dominic Grieve has chosen to escalate the row over votes for prisoners despite Dave's assertion of a position best summarised as "over my dead body" at PMQs earlier this week. Mr Grieve is a passionate believer in the role of the ECHR, but with the issue now framed as question over "who governs Britain?", he will find it hard to win a sympathetic audience elsewhere in Cabinet.
LAWS ATTACKS CULTURE OF LOW EXPECTATIONS
Prior to today's announcement of tougher English and Maths tests for teachers, Schools minister David Laws has attacked the "depressingly low expectations" he sees as holding back children in remarks to theTelegraph. Mr Laws added that modest expectations operate as a "cap on achievement", saying:
"If you think it is really important to get three A*s to get into Cambridge and the City, you will be much more motivated than if you think you just need three Cs to go into the local medium-ranked employer."
CHAIRMAN IAIN'S TWO CHILD POLICY MEETS OPPOSITION
Iain Duncan Smith's welfare reforms took on a distinctly Chinese flavour yesterday. The plan to limit benefits after a couple's first two children will only effect new claimants, the Independent reports. The stumbling block, as ever, is the Liberal Democrats, who have dismissed the exercise as "Tory kite flying". Writing in the Telegraph, Fraser Nelson adds that the IDS reforms face an even larger obstacle when taken in the round - the client state quangocrats bequeathed him by Gordon Brown:
"Only now, long after the election, do we begin to realise how clever Gordon Brown really was...[He] had a team in Downing Street devoted to appointments in public bodies, carefully building what would become a kind of government-in-exile. And if the Tories tried anything radical – like welfare reform – then Labour’s new fifth columnists would strike."
COALITION HANDED A BASHING OVER BADGERS
Handling the Coalition's badger policy would try the patience of most men, particularly when the cull has already been postponed because, ahem, there are too many badgers living in the areas affected. Given this, Owen Paterson's declaration that he "can't stand any more of this", made as he left the chamber half way through a seven hour debate on a motion to abort the shootings, is perhaps understandable. The Government lost the vote by a large margin, although as the Telegraph reports, it has no binding impact on policy. Mr Paterson was said to have been frustrated by the lack of serious debate. Fortunately, the Telegraph's Michael Deacon has recapped the salient points:
"The debate was long but can be easily summarised. Anti-cull: 'The science is on our side.' Pro-cull: 'No, the science is on our side.' Anti-cull: 'No, the science is on our side. Anyway, our proposed solution will cost less money.' Pro-cull: 'No, our proposed solution will cost less money.' And so on."
SALMOND ANNOUNCES INVESTIGATION INTO HIMSELF
The vogue for independent inquiries reached its logical conclusion yesterday with Alex Salmond referred himself for investigation under the ministerial code after allegations that he lied about receiving formal legal advice onwhether an independent Scotland would gain automatic entry into the EU. More galling still for Mr Salmond is the mockery directed at him from all sides of the house in Westminster. Andrew Lansley told the Commons yesterday that Mr Salmond would be best advised to give up looking for the advice he claimed to have been given and start searching for his credibility. Ouch!
TWEETS AND TWITS
As if the BBC doesn't have enough on its plate, Glyn Davies has turned TV critic:
@GlynDaviesMP: "Newsnight having real problems coping with economic news better than expected. The tieless Paul Mason embarrassing. As was Chris Leslie."
Today's Morning Briefing was edited by Thomas Pascoe.
In The Telegraph
Fraser Nelson - Brown's secret army could well doom the Coalition's reforms
Jeremy Warner - It's still a long, hard toil to the sunlit uplands
Tim Stanley - Why the Simpson's vote counts
Jemima Lewis - There's no way to shield chilren from porn
Best of the rest
Polly Toynbee in The Guardian - This withering assault on wages is a race to the bottom
Philip Collins in The Times (£) - The world will be scarier without America
Samuel Brittan in the FT (£) - An explanation for Britain's puzzling economy
Stephen Pollard in the Daily Express - Now's the time for Britain to make an exit from the EU
TODAY: The Future Homes Commission, chaired by British business leader Sir John Banham, will publish the findings and recommendations of its year-long national inquiry into new homes.
Douglas Carswell's European Communities Act 1972 (Repeal) Bill has its second reading.
Thursday, 25 October 2012
BREAKING NEWS: Iain Duncan Smith has appeared on the Today programme to defend his plan to ensure that working pays more than a life on state benefits. IDS told the show:
"We have accepted for far too long in this country that people do not have to go to work. It's not a surprise that we are in massive debt and have a deficit if we simply write these people off.
"This is all about saying we will give you massive support to find work, and we'll help you get that right. But you can't just sit there and gather more and more on benefits. Unless you are chronically sick, benefits should be a temporary thing and then you move on."
REJOICE, IT'S GDP DAY
It's good news day! Or rather, time to cheer "dip slip hooray", as the Sundoes. The UK's GDP figure for the third quarter is announced at 9:30 this morning, and the Prime Minister dropped a heavy hint at yesterday's PMQs that the country would see a strong return to growth. Such a heavy hint, in fact, that he is set to be investigated, the Telegraph reports. TheMail's Quentin Letts got the message loud and clear, "'good news will keep coming'. Cue strings. Sunlit skies. Fade."
Coming at the end of a series of positive announcements on employment, inflation and borrowing, the return of the economy to growth will be aboost for David Cameron's government, particularly given the pernicious impact the recession has been having in the real economy, with today's Times (£) claiming that the average Briton is £1,800 worse off each year since the start of the financial crisis. It will also help spare the Chancellor the indignity of hearing Ed Balls attack his record on debt and borrowing. The Coalition claim on financial competence has legs.
The only problem now is expectation. The Telegraph reports that growth is expected to come in at 0.7 per cent of GDP, the joint highest quarterly rate since Q2 2007. Despite efforts by leading Coalition figures to sound a note of caution, such a blistering pace may be hard to sustain.
IDS: TAKING A JOB IS A MUG'S GAME AT PRESENTIain Duncan Smith's benefits crusade continues today with a speech at Cambridge Public Policy, a think tank associated with the university. TheTelegraph reports that IDS will attack the "dysfunctional behaviour" encouraged by the present welfare system and urge a return to the principles outlined by William Beveridge, particularly the idea that welfare recipients cannot expect to draw on a bottomless pit. Mr Duncan Smith will say:
"Our failure to make each pound count has cost us again and again over the years, Not only in terms of a financial cost – higher taxes, inflated welfare bills and lower productivity, as people sit on benefits long term. But also the social cost of a fundamentally divided Britain."
NO VOTES FOR PRISONERS
On the day that campaigners in period dress staged a suffragette style protest outside Parliament, the European Court of Human Rights's own crusade to enfranchise prisoners appeared to die a death at PMQs. Mr Cameron ruled out prisoners getting the vote "under this Government", in a passage the Sun describes as a "humiliating slap down" for Dominic Grieve.
That attitude is popular both on the backbenches and in the press. Today's Telegraph leader urges the Prime Minister to resist votes for lags "at any cost", while the Daily Mail insists that Britain should not pay any ECHR fine and calls Mr Grieve "pedantic and pusillanimous" for good measure.
Still, U-turns are not unheard of, and with Britain on the front foot with its efforts elsewhere to renegotiate its European commitments, it would not be a surprise if a deal deferring the move was eventually tabled. If the worst does come to the worst the Conservatives can expect the now traditional bun fight with the backbenches. Given that, they could do a lot worse that take Sue Cameron's advice in today's Telegraph. Mr Cameron, she argues "doesn't have a Willie - and it shows". A Willie Whitelaw, that is:
"The PM cannot be expected to referee every policy dispute – he does not have the time and it would sometimes put him in an impossible position... Perhaps [the Quad's] role could be expanded to call in relevant ministers and sort out the spats. Unless a way is found to give greater coherence to the Government's policies, then, as Willie once said, it will succeed only in 'stirring up apathy among the voters'."
WATSON CLAIMS "PAEDOPHILE RING" OPERATED IN NUMBER 10
Tom Watson's question at the end of PMQs suggested that the can of worms opened by the Jimmy Savile inquiry may include allegations of wrongdoing by former MPs. Mr Watson asked the Prime Minister to investigate "clear evidence" that a Number 10 aide under a previous administration was linked to Peter Righton, convicted for importing child pornography in 1992. He added he believed that there was "clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to parliament and No 10", the Guardian reports.
Mr Watson later clarified some of his remarks on his blog, confirming that the Number 10 source was not the man Edwina Currie alleged had sexual relations with teenage boys:"Within the material seized at Righton's home were letters from known and convicted paedophiles. The contact, who has seen the letters, claimed that one paedophile in particular was of great concern. He said that the paedophile, who worked with children, boasted of a key aide to a former PM who could help get hold of indecent images of children. I am not naming the person for obvious reasons but for clarity it is not former MP, Peter Morrison."
INDYSHAMBLES CONTINUES APACE
North of the border, Alex Salmond's SNP have been enjoying an omnishambles of their own. Today's Guardian warns that hopes of EU accession for an independent Scotland have been further dashed by a hardline attitude from the Spanish government. The Spanish are unwilling to set a precedent which would encourage the breakaway movement in Catalonia.
Although an independent Scotland would clearly need to reassess its diplomatic strategy, the same could be true for what is left of the UK and its defence strategy, MPs will warn today. The eTimes (£) reports that, according to the Scottish Affairs Committee, the rump of the UK could be forced to deactivate its nuclear deterrent "within days". With both halves set to lose out in a separation and the polls firmly in favour of the Union, it has been an ill starred start to Mr Salmond's Braveheart movement.
YOUNG ALREADY MOTORINGSentences you never thought you'd write: encouraging news for the Conservatives from the office of the Chief Whip. Sir George Young has demonstrated what would, under other circumstances, best be described as the "common touch". In one of his first acts in his new role, Sir George cancelled the order for a new Jaguar XF costing £100,000, the Sunreports approvingly. Sir George feels able to transport himself the 300 yards between his office and Parliament without the services of a "swanky limo", the paper notes.
VOTE, OR ELSE!
Well, they've tried the carrot approach without much joy. Time for the stick. The public should take an interest in the police commissioner elections because if they don't then they will "kick themselves" when they find Prezza in charge of local policing, Lord Wasserman tells the Times(£):
"[A low turnout] won't happen the next time because when they realise how much power these people are going to have [the public will] be kicking themselves that they allowed John Prescott to win in Humberside as opposed to someone else. They'll just kick themselves."
TWEETS AND TWITS
Michael Fabricant takes the wrong George Young to task:
@Mike_Fabricant: "Very disappointed that despite my tweets of good wishes to the new Chief Whip
Today's Morning Briefing was edited by Thomas Pascoe.
In The Telegraph
Peter Oborne - Patten personifies everything that is wrong with the BBC elite
Sue Cameron - Cameron doesn't have a Willie - and it shows
Tim Luckhurst - Our press must remain free
Pavel Khodorkovsky - Free my father, Mr Putin, and respect the lawBest of the rest
Melanie Reid in the Times (£) - Yes or no: are you in the anti-English tribe?
Steve Richards in The Independent - So you're in favour of giving councils more power? Neither am I
John Gapper in the FT (£) - The Savile affair exposes a hole at the BBC's heart
Martin Kettle in the Guardian - If we are "better together", what kind of UK will we be?
TODAY: David Cameron in talks with European Council president Herman van Rompuy at Downing Street.
09:15 am: Photocall for David Cameron receiving Royal British Legion poppy. The Prime Minister will pose for a photo on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street.
09:30 am: First estimate of Q3 GDP is published by the Office for National Statistics.
10:15 am: Martin Wheatley, of the Financial Services Authority, gives evidence to the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. Grimond Room, Portcullis House
02:40 pm: Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt speech to National Children and Adult Services Conference. Mr Hunt is expected to make an announcement on dementia friendly environments. Devonshire Park Centre, Eastbourne.