A tough but successful day for Mr Cameron, but a terrible day for the No10 operation, which instead of basking in the plaudits of the good employment news, but now faces the fall out from its mishandled green announcement. It really is a minishambles, and on a vital policy area. All the good work to get the show back on the road has been undone. Those who bang on about the lack of political grip in No10 can fill their boots. But more later. He knew it was coming, but when it arrived, it was brutal. David Cameron took plenty of bullets for his Chief Whip yesterday, indeed theCommentator’s Harry Cole described it as a "bloodbath" for both sides, as Mr Cameron lashed out angrily in defence of Thrasher. The Prime Minister defended Mr Mitchell in the teeth of Mr Miliband’s insistence he resign, he also batted away suggestions of wrongdoing over Thrasher’s £16m parting gift from the international aid budget to Rwanda, although, as the Mailreports, this came hours after the UN savaged the regime there. As theTelegraph’s Michael Deacon put it in his sketch:
"What a din. Funny to reflect that, after the story seemed to have died down, Mr Mitchell withdrew from last week’s Tory conference to 'avoid being a distraction'. Yet a distraction is what he’s been ever since. He’s a distraction when he’s present and a distraction when he’s not."
In the Times (£), Ann Treneman adds that Dave "turned purple" with rage as Mr Miliband called the Chief Whip "toast", while the Guardian’s Simon Hoggart found the experience to be akin to bear baiting. If so, the Prime Minister better get used to it. Although the Guardian reports that he has urged Mr Mitchell to build bridges with MPs, it looks like it may be too late. Today’s Telegraph names Philip Davies, Anne Main, Andrew Percy, former whip James Duddridge and Sarah Wollaston, as suggesting to the 1922 Committee that Thrasher considers his position. As one anonymous Tory MP writes in today’s Independent:
"If David Cameron won't act, perhaps somebody else will hand Andrew Mitchell the proverbial pearl-handled revolver - but then, he's so stubborn that he’s likely to take the revolver and turn it on the person who handed it to him."
At least the Prime Minister can escape the bear pit for a week now. As theFT (£) reports, Mr Cameron jets off to Brussels for an EU summit today, with plenty on his mind, not least the need to defend the City in discussions about the new eurozone banking union. He gave himself a few fresh headaches at PMQs, too. A major announcement on energy market reform, the Telegraph’s report is here, was not properly briefed in advance and came off as seemingly made on the hoof, with energy companies reported to be baffled by the lack of forewarning. The green element to the announcement, that households will be able to choose green only energy sources and pay a higher tariff has also largely been lost.
Mr Cameron also hinted strongly at committing the country to a submarine based, permanently at sea, nuclear defence after the Vanguard submarines are withdrawn in a decade, a move praised by the Telegraph’s leader column, but which appears to prejudge the official review.
Not the start that Mr Cameron would have wanted after a storming conference, but he knew when he decided not to take action against Thrasher that he was inviting yesterday’s scrutiny. He must believe that his Chief Whip is worth taking the heat for, but the calculation appears an odd one at this distance.
FRESH EXPENSES SCANDAL BREWING
The Telegraph front-page carries the story that John Bercow is attempting to block the publication of MP’s expenses which are believed to show that some rent their taxpayer-funded homes to each other.
Publication of the names of MPs taking advantage of the loophole was supposed to have taken place today, however in a letter to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority released last night, Mr Bercow argued that publishing the names of MP landlords would jeopardise their security.
Echoes of Michael Martin’s doomed rearguard action? It feels that way. With public trust in politicians still dangerously low, the revelation that some have been funding property nest-eggs at taxpayers' expense will go down like a lead balloon.
BORIS JETS IN THE LAWYERS
So much for Heathrow. The new battleground in the airport expansion wars will be at Gatwick. Plans announced yesterday for a second runway at the Sussex site could not be acted upon until 2019 at the earliest, thanks to the terms of its separation from Heathrow. However, as the Guardianreports, campaigners argue that having two hub airports in London, with limited connections between the two, could hinder London’s aviation growth, not aid it.
In the meantime, Dave’s old chum Boris is refusing to let his island airport dream go quietly into the night. The FT (£) reports that the Mayor warned Mr Cameron about potential legal challenges and judicial review in a phone call earlier this week. Boris is aggrieved that no decision on London’s airports will come before 2015.
MILBURN CALLS FOR RETURN OF THE EMA
Speaking to the Guardianthis morning, Alan Milburn says that the Coalition made "a very bad mistake" when it abolished the EMA grant for 16 and 17-year-olds who stay on at school. The Government’s advisor on child poverty also warns that there is no evidence that money being spent on tuition fee waivers for poorer students is "in any way" effective.
MILIBAND SNR CALLS FOR CHEAPER PUBLIC SERVICES
In an article for the Guardian, David Miliband calls for extensive public service reform. He praises Labour’s emphasis on financial markets reform under his brother. Tellingly, though, he adds that the plan cannot succeed without "a different kind of state". Miliband D goes on to add:
"Our case depends on reform of government not just defence of government. A reformed state has clear national goals, decentralised power for consumers and staff over budgets and services, and the integration of services around people and across departmental silos. This is the way to free up money and meet the needs of tomorrow rather than yesterday."
OSBORNE SHELTERING FROM GREEN TALIBAN
The Chancellor thinks of parliamentary green activists as the "environmental Taliban", the Independent reports today. Mr Osborne is unconvinced that decarbonising the economy should take precedence over fighting the recession, with one Tory MP quoted as saying:
"It was fine to be talking about spending money on climate change in the good times but when energy bills are going up it doesn’t seem like good politics."
Mr Osborne will have taken heart from yesterday’s jobs release, however. A record number of people are now in work, and unemployment fell in September when measured by either claimant count or ILO measure. It is not all good news, though. Productivity per worker is still down 4 per cent on its 2008 peak, and as the Times (£) reports, the new jobs are largely part-time, accounting for the limited impact on GDP.
TORY REALISM ON EUROPE DOOMED?
That’s the view of Rafael Behr, writing in the New Statesman, who argues that Dave will be the last Conservative leader allowed to argue that Britain’s place is in Europe. At the European summit, Mr Cameron must:
"...fish around in the tiny pool of concessions that Britain can realistically demand from Brussels without leaving the EU. He will catch nothing there to satisfy his party. Most Conservative MPs say their preferred option is to stay in the Union, only on more favourable terms. Yet there has never been a concession to Tory euroscepticism that was not followed immediately by demands for something more. The trajectory is clear and irreversible.”"
Writing in the Telegraph, Peter Oborne takes the view that withdrawal from the EU, once too toxic for the Tory leadership to countenance, is now a mainstream opinion they may have to grasp for two reasons:
"The first reason is that government, which normally makes ministers more cautious and pragmatic, has made them more radical when it comes to Europe. Mr Gove, for example, has discovered that Brussels directives are making it harder for him to get rid of bad head teachers from British schools.
"The second reason concerns Ukip. Just as the BNP is backed mainly by natural Labour voters, Ukip is the Conservative Party in exile."
Either way, the Conservative leader goes to Brussels backed by domestic momentum which will make any threat to quit appear credible. Whether he can turn that credibility into a list of concessions which will satisfy Tory eurosceptics will be the key issue in determining where the growing quit campaign goes from here.
TO THE LEFT, TO THE RIGHT
The battle for the soul of the Conservatives is played out entertainingly between Tim Montgomerie and Matthew Parris in the pages of the Spectator this morning. Mr Montgomerie argues that the Tories can move to the right, and need no longer be hypnotised by the Clinton/Blair revolution:
"We must reject the idea that compassion is primarily measured by how much the state spends...it is about building independent citizens who possess large reserves of social capital. If we only talk about a smaller state and setting people free we will not satisfy the other, equally powerful desires for security, peace and justice."
Not so, cries Mr Parris, who argues that the Conservative electoral drought can only be ended by sticking to the centre ground:
"The more rigorous and uncompromising in questions of economics and state spending you have to be, the more psychologically important it becomes to be generous, warm and tolerant in everything else... This is the psychological case for aiming off towards the left when pitching the party’s message."
BENYON IN POISONOUS ROW
The Independent reports that Wildlife Minister Richard Benyon has been embroiled in a row over a potential conflict of interest, given his refusal to ban bird poison carbofuran. Mr Benyon has been accused of allowing his status as a shooting enthusiast to influence his judgement, given that the chemical is commonly used on predators hunting game birds.
LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS...
...or at the very least they tarnish the reformed image the Tories cherish. Two excellent examples in this morning’s papers. Firstly, Dominic Grieve who is quoted in the Sun as saying in an Oxford Union debate that practicing gays are "thought to be a little bit weird by large numbers of people". Meanwhile, the Telegraph reports that Mr Grieve's colleague Lord Marland explained to the House of Lords that he would be travelling to Africa on parliamentary business yesterday evening as he was "just trying to keep the sun tan up". The things they do for Britain.
HOTEL GORGEOUS GEORGE
A policeman took to crashing at George Galloway’s house when he’s out, the Respect Party MP has said. An unnamed counter-terrorism officer is also accused of sending malicious messages on Mr Galloway’s Facebook account. A Scotland Yard officer has been placed on restrictive duties pending an investigation.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Michael Fabricant charging to Thrasher’s defence after Ed Miliband’s PMQs barb, sort of:
@Mike_Fabricant: "I think I'd prefer a night in the cells to a night at the Carlton Club. (re Ed Miliband)"
THE AGENDA 08:45 am: Energy Secretary Ed Davey gives speech on energy market reform.
09:30 am: Department for Education to publish new statistics on GCSEs and A-levels.
10:00 am: Prime Minister David Cameron to visit a construction site on the day the development gets the go-ahead, bringing in more than £200m investment and 2,500 jobs. Developers Land Securities plan to replace an office building with offices and luxury flats. Kingsgate House, Victoria Street.