Monday, 29 October 2012

Cameron squeezed by EU budget..

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.


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.


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, the
Mail reports. 


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."


Sir Jeremy Heywood has expanded his Whitehall reach further still by taking charge of the Government's campaign against Scottish independence, the
Times (£) 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.


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. 


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.


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. The
Independent 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.


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 

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.


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".


Start the week with a joke from Chris Heaton-Harris:

 "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