Friday, 19 October 2012

Energy policy under fire..

The energyshambles gets worse. The impression that the Prime Minister was making policy on the hoof at PMQs was furthered yesterday when ministers failed to endorse his pledge to force energy firms to offer the lowest tariff. The Times (£) says Downing Street is in “full retreat” over the issue, with sources suggesting a watered down plan covering variable rates paid by direct debit. The paper also says Downing Street sources believe the Prime Minister’s lack of attention to detail kicked in and he gave a pledge to make switching compulsory, instead of giving information on different rates compulsory, as he was meant to do. In Parliament, John Hayes could only promise “to help consumers get the best deal”. As the Guardian reports, Labour’s new line is that Dave has caused “chaos” worthy of In The Thick of It. Writing in the Telegraph, James Hall questions whether the Prime Minister really has the capacity to act, even if he follows through with his original policy:

“The truth is that the Government’s hands are tied...George Osborne needs [energy] firms to invest in next-generation energy provision – be it shale, wind or nuclear – before the lights go out. He needs their money, their goodwill and their co-operation.”

To add to the confusion, Ed Davey pops up in this morning’s Sun saying that no government is able to control fuel prices to suppliers and centering the Coalition’s energy strategy around the Green Deal. Confusion reigns. 

The resulting shambles has not helped the Coalition’s credibility. OnTelegraph Blogs, James Kirkup argues that the real problem may be Mr Cameron’s personal intervention, adding that the drive to counter the image of an “idle, hands-off Prime Minister” drove his announcement. Meanwhile, the Sun spreads the blame, terming ministers a “power shower”. The Mail praises the motives behind Mr Cameron’s intervention, but asks “wouldn’t it have been so much better if they waited until there was a fully-formed policy to announce?”, a similar  TheTelegraph leader takes a similar approach:

“Mr Cameron has been accused – justly – of making this policy on the hoof. Certainly, it is hard to see how such interference in the market would promote competition or choice. Yet he is still on to something... voters name the squeeze on their wallets and the ever-rising cost of living as major concerns.”

That will be the major frustration at CCHQ, a potentially highly popular popular policy has been run off-course by a combination of a bungled announcement, the lack of a coherent line post-announcement, and failure to keep the conversation on policy and not the mis-management of policy initiatives. Ministers who already doubt the No. 10 operation's effectiveness will wonder whether the root of the problem is Dave himself, who showed a cavalier disregard for how his government works and left others to tidy the mess.


Still, if the attention placed on energy policy had no other beneficial result for the Government yesterday, it did at least introduce John Heyes to the wider world. The Mail’s Quentin Letts praises the minister’s style as akin to “a prime bull, proprietal in a field of heifers”, adding:

“Ex grammar schoolboy Hayes is the sort of man who, in breakfast conversation with his wife, might use words such as ‘nay’ and ‘tarry’. Yet his act is marbled by self-mockery.”

The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon was impressed with the dexterity with which Mr Hayes avoided giving a direct answer to each question from the opposition benches whilst insisting in each preamble that he was renowned for the pointedness of his answers:

“At times even the Speaker looked amused. This performance – and performance is the word for it – was entertaining not only because of the audacity with which Mr Hayes danced around each question but because he’s such a ham.”

A long career beckons.


This morning’s Telegraph names the 27 MPs who let out one home to a parliamentary colleague and then claim expenses for another which they live in themselves. Liam Fox and Chris Bryant are among those named as effectively building a property portfolio at taxpayers’ expense. The Mailcites Labour MP Linda Riordan as a particularly egregious example - she makes £19,000 a year renting out a flat to fellow Labour MP Iain McKenzie.

The Mail ’s leader calls for a culture shift at Westminster, arguing that MPs “still don’t get it” when it comes to the public perception of their expenses. The Telegraph’s leader adds that John Bercow’s efforts to block the release of the information is an error of judgement:

“No one is proposing to publish the addresses of MPs, which is unlawful anyway. So Mr Bercow’s attitude sits oddly with his avowed determination to ensure that Parliament is seen to have cleaned up its act.”


Labour MPs have forced a vote on Andrew Mitchell’s future by tabling a debate next Wednesday on the Government’s handling of the police. TheTimes (£) suggests that the strategy is as much about “driving a wedge between the Conservatives and the police” and usurping the Tory mantle as the law and order party as it is about Thrasher’s conduct. Sources say that the opposition day motion will be drawn up so as to attract maximum Lib Dem support. What about disgruntled Conservatives? An early test of Mr Mitchell’s whipping skills beckons. 


The Prime Minister has rejected an offer to join other EU leaders in collecting the Nobel Peace Prize, the Times (£) reports. David Cameron has avoided open disagreement over the proposals for a eurozone banking union so far, with aides saying he is playing a “long game” protecting the interests of the City. 

The EU seems curiously resigned to British disengagement this time around. The Mail reports that both the French President and the Finnish Europe minister believe that Britain seems to be drifting further from its partners in the bloc. In the FT (£), Philip Stephens says that Europeans are now talking openly of a “Brexit”:

“Britain’s point-blank refusal to contribute to any of the support mechanisms for the euro has baffled even close allies such as Sweden... Mr Cameron’s administration has run out of what political scientists call ‘soft power’.”

Still, Dave’s dilemma on Europe is felt just as keenly on the opposition benches. Today’s Guardian reports that senior Labour figures are dithering over whether or not to match an anticipated Conservative offer of an EU referendum after the next election. So far only Denis MacShane has spoken up in favour of a poll. One MP added that a declaration now would “split the party”. They really are becoming the Conservatives.


The proposed badger cull may prove too costly given that the badger population in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset is far higher than previously thought, the Guardian reports. Each culled badger will have a bounty on its head, meaning that eradicating 70 per cent of the population in the pilot counties will be more expensive than previously thought. Defra told the Telegraph that the  cull will still go ahead “as soon as possible”.


One of the perils of major policy announcements scheduled long in advance is that they can be hijacked by competitors making a similar announcement on the same day. Spare a thought, then, for Michael Gove, whose announcement on IT in schools will be followed one hour later by, er, Boris Johnson, who will be announcing his plan to make London’s schools the best in the world. The Guardian reports that Bo-Jo, who has no formal powers over education in the capital, will be setting up a unit to find sites for new free schools. When the paper asked for his response, Michael Gove began with, “I know the Mayor is incredibly ambitious...”


Alex Salmond has told the SNP conference that an independent Scotland should rethink its relationship with NATO as he attempts to set out a clear foreign policy before the independence vote, the FT (£) reports. Will NATO be concerned? Probably not. The Times (£) reports that independence won only 30 per cent approval in the paper’s Ipsos MORI poll.


The bizarre tale of George Galloway’s flat and the anti-terrorism officer who allegedly used it without his permission takes another odd twist this morning. Red-tops, including the Star which splashes on the story, report that the officer seduced one of his aides and then used his house for romantic liaisons. 

The Guardian names the police officer, now on restricted duties, as Afiz Khan, but says he is married to Mr Galloway’s former aide Aisha Ali-Khan. The Respect MP’s former secretary says that he has “thrown her to the wolves” and has herself made a complaint to the police alleging Gorgeous George was involved in hacking into her emails. Although both sides agree that Mr Galloway had allowed Mrs Ali-Khan to sleep at his Streatham home, the two sides dispute the extent of Mr Khan’s activities there. 


Tom Watson teases:

@tom_watson: “I've just taken a call. It lasted 10 minutes.Have a hunch it will be my next three year project. I thought I was immune to shock these days.” 


In The Telegraph

Fraser Nelson - Elected police commissioners: a criminal waste of a good idea 

James Hall - Energy prices: Turning up the political heat

Alan Johnson - Alan Johnson: Home Secretary Theresa May took the easy way out 

Telegraph View - John Bercow has not kept his word on MPs’ expenses

Best of the rest

Philip Stephens in the FT (£) - Brexit: Europe loses patience with British exceptionalism

Philip Collins in The Times (£) - Ne’er cast a vote till your 18th birthday’s out

Simon Jenkins in The Guardian - Rather than prices, David Cameron should fix the energy mess 

Mary Dejevsky in The Independent - Today’s top jobs are too big for any one person                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 


TODAY: Public sector borrowing figures for September are published by the Office for National Statistics.

08:30 am: Education Secretary Michael Gove announces measures to improve computer science teaching in schools. Langley Grammar School.

09:00 am: European Council summit. Working session on EU relations with strategic partners, with briefing from either HVR or Ashton on EU-China summit (10:00 am); discussion on Council conclusions, focusing on growth and implementation; conclusion (01:00 pm). 

09:30 am: Mayor Boris Johnson to launch plans to make London a world leader in education. Pimlico Academy, Lupus Street.

11:00 am: Memorial Service for Malcolm Wicks MP. Croydon Minster.