Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Perfect storm brews for the Coalition..

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.

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:

 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.


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.

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 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.


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.


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.

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

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 Telegraph
Michael 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.