Wednesday, 24 October 2012

MPs grill Entwistle as Miller challenges Patten..

The Jimmy Savile scandal blew into Westminster yesterday with the appearance before the Culture Select Committee of BBC director-general George Entwistle. The atmosphere was hostile, to say the least, and Mr Entwistle looked on occasion like a "little man lost", according to the Telegraph's Michael Deacon. Elsewhere in the Telegraph, Mary Riddell argues that the "torpor of those in authority" was largely to blame for creating a culture in which abuse thrived, while Quentin Letts, writing in the Daily Mail, was equally unimpressed with the BBC's current management:

"Yesterday Mr Entwistle took a direct thunderbolt or two. Smoking underpants time. He happens to be bald but if he had hair he might have emerged from this encounter looking like Ken Dodd."

The Coalition has tried to avoid politicising the Saville scandal thus far, although events are leading them closer.  Maria Miller has had a frosty exchange with Lord Patten, published in this morning's papers, while the Sun carries a piece by former Children's Minister Tim Loughton accusing Michael Gove of failing to see through a pledge to bring in legislation protecting young performers on television. Mr Loughton believes that these measures, which he now hopes to pass as part of a private member's bill, were delayed unnecessarily by Mr Gove. The relevant passage is hardly damning, and Mr Gove's ministerial tenure does not overlap any of the alleged offences disclosed so far, but the Coalition will be anxious to keep the foul odour created by the BBC's handling of these allegations far from their door.


Writing in today's Telegraph , Allister Heath wonders why the nation remains so gloomy despite the economic numbers looking up. With a 0.7 per cent rise in GDP forecast in tomorrow's figures, and the economic "misery index" at its lowest point since 2009, he wonders whether it isn't simply the British being their "usual grumpy ungrateful selves". One man who thinks not is Sir Mervyn King. In a speech to the South Wales Chamber of Commerce last night, Sir Mervyn spoke of monetary policy reaching its limits and said that the younger generation would live under the shadow of the financial crisis for "a long time to come".

Still, at least embattled businesses will always have the Lib Dems. Nick Clegg will use a speech in the City today to paint the junior partners in the Coalition as the pro-business party, taming the wild excesses of anti-European Tories and putting a break on action in areas like green energy and immigration. Mr Clegg will also emphasise that the recovery remains "slow and fitful", part of a "gradual healing process". Consider our expectations well and truly managed.


The Coalition will put forward a draft bill introducing limited prisoner voting rights, but not until after the police commissioner elections, the Guardian  reports this morning. The paper says that the prospective announcement has already prompted that rarest of things, a "blue-on-blue row", with Tory backbenchers angry at a proposal which would simultaneously bend a knee towards Brussels while undermining the new "tough but intelligent" criminal justice policy. While the Lib Dems are keen to stay in compliance with the European Court of Human Rights, they are unwilling to make the running on an issue they know to be electorally unpopular. Dave is on record as saying that votes for prisoners makes him feel sick, but the Attorney General is said to have insisted that there is no longer a choice after successive appeals have failed. 


The great badger cull is off. For this year, at least. As the Telegraph reports, Owen Paterson explained to Parliament that a combination of the Olympics and Autumn's unexpectedly, um, autumnal weather, has led ministers to push the start of the cull out to 2013. Rather like the third runway at Heathrow, a controversial decision which has been a long time coming now appears to have been booted into the long grass. As Alice Thomson adds writing in today's Times (£), enthusiasm for pursuing the cull in the corridors of power was muted at best:

"As one minister explained: 'We have three priorities: the economy, education and welfare. Badgers don’t fit into any of those scenarios so they are a distraction.' One special adviser compared it to the U-turn on selling off forests. 'Why would we want to antagonise all the fluffy animal-lovers when we don’t have to?'"


Voters north of the border thinking that a yes vote in the independence referendum might give them a break from the omnishambolic nature of politics in Westminster received a rude awakening yesterday. As the Times  (£) reports, the SNP has been accused of misleading voters after it transpired that no independent advice had been taken on whether an independent Scotland would become a member of the EU automatically. Earlier in the day the party had already lost two MSPs who resigned in protest at the party's conference resolution to seek membership of NATO if the referendum was won. Let's hope it is some consolation for Alex Salmond that if independence is rejected by the electorate, he should always be able to find a place at Number 10 with a record like that.


Labour are becoming increasingly comfortable in Conservative clothes. Having seen formerly-Red Ed discover his inner Disraeli at conference, other socialist parliamentarians are becoming bolder with their experimentation. Today's Telegraph reports that Lord Hollick has moved on to harder substances, having combined two traditional passions of the Tory backbenches - cutting international aid and income tax. A freeze in the aid budget would allow a 2 per cent reduction in the basic rate for hard pressed taxpayers, he argues. The way this is headed, it won't be long before the red side of the Commons is protesting about wind farms and demanding the restoration of fox hunting...


Nick de Bois warns of trouble ahead on votes for prisoners:

@nickdebois: "Sitting working with 5 other Cons MPs - if reports of prisoner voting rights are accurate then that's 6 MPs who won't vote for it"

Today's Morning Briefing was edited by Thomas Pascoe.


In The Telegraph

Mary Riddell - It was the culture of neglect that allowed Jimmy Savile to flourish

Best of the rest

John Kay in the FT (£) - The wrong sort of competition in energy

Alice Thomson in the Times (£) - So Badger wins. But only for the moment

Simon Heffer in the Daily Mail - The battle between the Police Federation and the government on police reform rages on


TODAY: Health Minister Anna Soubry to make an announcement on food packaging.

09:30 am: Attorney General Dominic Grieve gives evidence to the Commons Justice Committee. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House

12:00 pm: Prime Minister's Questions. House of Commons.

03:00 pm: Health Minister to address conference. The minister in the Lords who piloted the Health and Social Care Act through Parliament, Earl Howe, will be speaking at the Foundation Trust Network's first annual two day conference.