Friday, 30 November 2012

Coalition routed in by-elections..

BREAKING NEWS: Good morning. The Coalition was hammered in yesterday's by-elections. The Lib Dems came eighth in Rotherham. They lost their deposit both there and in Croydon North (see terrible Labour joke in Tweets and Twits). Ladbrokes are now offering 5/1 on the party winning less than 10 seats in 2015. The Conservatives held on to their deposits, but will be concerned by the distance which they trailed Ukip home in Middlesbrough and Rotherham. With the BNP and Respect also beating the Conservatives in Rotherham, the centre ground is suddenly looking a lonely place to be in British politics. The results were:
  • Croydon North: Labour hold. Majority 11,761 from Conservatives. Margin of victory 47.9%. Turnout 26.4%. Swing Con to Lab 8%.
  • Middlesbrough: Labour hold. Majority 8,211 from Ukip. Margin of victory 48.7%. Turnout 26%. Swing Ukip to Lab 3.25%.
  • Rotherham: Labour hold. Majority 5,218 from Ukip. Margin of victory 27.9%. Turnout 33.6%. Swing Lab to Ukip 7.13%.
For the latest Telegraph coverage see our report here, and our blogs byThomas Pascoe and Tim Stanley.
My hunch turned out to be right. I said a few days ago that I expected David Cameron to rule out politicians invigilating the press, and he has. It's now Dave against Ed and Nick, and things get interesting. He hopes that MPs will consider his arguments and accept that on reflection his approach is the right one. His point is that he hasn't rejected Leveson - in fact he's accepted all of it - he's just refused the statutory bit for reasons of principle, practicality and necessity. Labour is taking up the prospect of a vote, but as the FT (£) points out it would be indicative but not binding. Mr Cameron cannot be forced to act. That may be why as Fraser Nelson notes we are getting indications that Nick Clegg's support for statute is negotiable. On the politics three obvious themes worth considering this morning: first, can Dave win round the Eusticeites? It may be that a number of them having heard his argument will be reluctant to go through the lobbies with Mr Miliband and his friends of state licensing. Second, does his position help or hurt the Labour leader? Short term populism has a habit of going wrong: I reckon he's on to a loser if his offer at the election can be distilled to 'we will gag the press' (that and the incongruity of being lectured on decency by a graduate of the Gordon Brown school of media brutality). Third, don't underestimate the capacity of a raucous and not-as-united-as-it-appears press to get it wrong, leaving Dave no option but to give ground. The press have got about six weeks to match Leveson, minus statute, allowing Mr Cameron to see off the clamour for parliamentary action. Meantime, next week is the autumn statement (the Quad met last night). Other issues, of far greater importance to the public, crowd in. And there's Christmas. My bet is Mr Cameron will pull it off, just.
Certainly, he has almost pulled off his bid to make himself a hero among leader writers throughout the land. The Times (£) praises Mr Cameron's "courage and principle" in its leader column, while the Mail salutes "Cameron's stand for freedom", although its leader makes Dave's "place of honour in our history" dependent upon beating off attempts to revive a statutory solution. The Sun is also impressed with David Cameron's courage, with its leader insisting it "just wants to stay free". That freedom will include continuing with Page 3 girls, whose ranks Lord Justice Leveson joins in the Independent's cartoon (not online yet). The paper itself is unusually supportive of the Prime Minister, its leader arguing that "Mr Cameron is right: legislation would be unnecessary, complex and slow". There's always one, though, and it's almost always the Guardian. So it has proved today, with the paper's leader arguing that while "great care, real deliberation and cross-party support" are needed to make a statute possible, it is still the desirable option.
In the meantime, Number 10 will publish a draft bill as an exercise in showing that legislation would be almost impossible to word, a move Labour argue will produce a version packed with unattractive superfluous detail. It isn't just the wording, though. It's the principle. Max Hastings writes in this morning's Mail that the report itself constituted a "rotten day for freedom...a tragic blow to liberty and the right to know". In rejecting it, Mr Cameron has identified himself with a cause that matters to many on the Tory backbenches and all of the Tory press, as I wrote in my Telegraph op-ed, "he has answered the hopes of the Conservative Party that sometimes wonders what he stands for."
Ed Davey would have gained a small insight into the importance the greenest government ever ascribes to renewables when they scheduled his Energy Bill for debate prior to the Prime Minister's Leveson statement yesterday. Whether worried about giving such a divisive issue centre stage, or simply looking for a good day to bury what appears to be a shift away from subsidies for wind turbines, the Coalition gave the graveyard slot to an issue that would usually expect star billing. TheTimes (£) reports that Mr Davey believes the Coalition is "united" behind his bill, which will shift subsidies from energy producers to energy consumers such as supermarkets and heavy industry. This is somewhat undermined by the FT's (£) story that Dave has already rejected Mr Davey's choice of a climate change expert, David Kennedy, to head up the energy department. Parliament is just fortunate that even when the wind stops blowing and power fails, the friction coming from the government benches will keep it warm. 
Falls in the number of foreign students arriving in Britain caused net migration to decline by a quarter in the last year, the Telegraph reports. Although the net figure of 183,000 is still well above Theresa May's target of a number in the tens of thousands, the figures are a sign that the crackdown on student visas has taken effect. The other driver of lower migration figures was a 19,000 rise in the number of Britons leaving to take jobs elsewhere. Only the very uncharitable would also ascribe this to Coalition policy-making. 
Like ravens leaving the Tower of London, yesterday's by-election collapse was preceeded by the departure of Alan Titchmarsh from public support of the Conservative Party. The Telegraph reports that Mr Titchmarsh believes the Tories are no longer "the party of the Shires" following Nick Boles' announcement that he planned to convert 1,500 square miles of Shire to city.

Andrew Gwynne, political satirist:

@GwynneMP: "So LD really does stand for lost deposit so it seems #byelections"

In the Telegraph
Best of the rest
Philip Stephens in the FT (£) - An opening gambit for a grand bargain with the press
Hugo Rifkind in The Times (£) - My article, your tweet. What's the difference?
Chris Blackhurst in The Independent - Hold the front pages! Judge backs legal remedy
TODAY: Members of the PCS union at the Transport Department will strike for 24 hours over spending cuts, while other civil servants will stage lunchtime protests across the UK over terms and conditions, including a demonstration outside the Cabinet Office in Whitehall between 1200 and 1300.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to make an announcement about the rollout of Personal Health Budgets.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Leveson Report due..

Good morning. Leveson is upon us. Across Fleet St colleagues and lawyers are preparing to lock themselves in with the 2000pp report at 11, ahead of formal publication at 1:30. The bad news is it hasn't leaked - admit it, that would have been funny - but a few hints emerged last night and are reflected in the papers.Focus is already on the political reaction rather than the report itself, as whatever LJL may say it will be the Government and the Commons which decide. The most intriguing thing this morning, aside from what Dave might do, is Nick Clegg's position. There is a lot of puzzlement over why he might favour a statutory solution, as state licensing of the press hardly seems like a Lib Dem thing (Liberal.Democrat. Clue's in the name). I also picked up a hint that there might be dissent among the assessors - minority report? Doubt it. Passing the QEII late last night I counted three large stage sets for the broadcasters and lots of telly vans. Prepare for a day of non-stop self-obsession by the media. It's a good day to invade Belgium.
After a fruitless 40  minute meeting last night, Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg will meet again this morning in an attempt to thrash out their differences, the FT (£) reports. However, as the Telegraph notes, Mr Clegg is still inclined to make his own statement. If the Speaker lets him do that, he may as well allow Mr Cameron to make two statements, one for each wing of the Conservative Party, which the Guardian's Martin Kettle identifies as those who back a "broadly pragmatic liberal option" and those favouring an "essentially doctrinaire conservative one". George Eustice has just been on the Today programme advocating the former course. Confusingly, doctrinaire conservatism was represented by David Blunkett.
Today's papers are brimming with defiance. The Sun demands "change not chains" and quotes luminaries ranging from Boris Johnson to Katie Price, while many also carry Peter Lilley's line from last night's Channel Four interview in which he said: "I've been a victim, I don't like them, but prefer a free press than a state regulated press." The Spectator has gone further still with its latest editorial declaring that it will refuse to recognise any regulatory regime imposed by statute.
It may not come to that, however. The Guardian is suggesting that newspapers may be given six months to "put their house in order", in defiance of the Number 10 advisers who are urging him to be particularly hard on the Tory press. Such a move would sour relations, but as Sue Cameron notes in the Telegraph, the proper relationship between press and politician will always be an antagonistic one:
"Back in 1771 King George III wrote to Lord North, the prime minister, saying: 'It is highly necessary that this strange and lawless method of publishing debates in the papers should be put a stop to.' Unfortunately for the King and even more for Lord North, the newspaper they objected to was being printed in the City under the aegis of the Lord Mayor, a gout-ridden old soak called Brass Crosby. The London mob rose in defence of the Lord Mayor and press freedom. They marched on Westminster, dragged Lord North from his coach and attacked him with cudgels they had stolen from the constabulary. The poor man managed to escape into Westminster Hall, where he burst into tears."
An unhappy precedent for Mr Cameron, but thank heavens relations between the Prime Minister and London's Mayor have improved since then.
Nothing as exciting as Police and Crime Commissioner elections today, but three fascinating by-elections in the Labour seats of Rotherham, Middlesbrough and Croydon North. As the Times (£) notes, it could be a very good day for the minor parties. Ukip are anticipating their highest ever general election tally in Rotherham, while Respect believe they will beat the Conservatives into third. Even the English Democrats are shorter odds in the betting than either of the Coalition partners. Writing in today's Telegraph, Harry Wallop argues this could be a breakthrough day for Ukip:
"The party does now have a proper manifesto, with eye-catching and uncosted promises designed to appeal to disillusioned Tories at the libertarian end of the party... these promises – particularly its two central ones: to put a temporary halt to all immigration, and to hold a referendum about pulling out of Europe – have struck a bell far from its roots in the Home Counties."
The count in all the seats will take place overnight. Middlesbrough is expected to declare at around 12:30am, with Croydon North at 2:30am and Rotheram at 3:00am.
Let them hate, so long as they fear, the old axiom goes. Unfortunately for Coalition discipline, there is precious little of the latter and an excess of the former circulating at the moment. Today's friendly fire comes from the very senior Lib Dem quoted in the New Statesman claiming that Dave has made the Coalition unworkable by allowing the Conservatives to become "the British Tea Party". He is also accused of being against a mansion tax because "the people he meets at dinner parties in Whitney" would be put out. At least this makes a change from the flack the Prime Minister is used to receiving from his own backbenchers. As Peter Oborne writes in today's Telegraph, this is only a problem which will escalate:
"In recent months, two votes have been lost, and the situation will get worse as the Coalition disintegrates. Difficult challenges lie ahead: Leveson, the Autumn Statement, the European budget. The Prime Minister desperately needs a first-class whipping operation, and is starting to pay a heavy price for his very culpable failure to pay attention to party management. A significant minority of MPs are no longer frightened to rebel: certainly more than 42, the number needed to mount a leadership challenge. Before long it will be too late."
Yesterday's Telegraph revelations that Nick Boles wants to concrete over 1,500 square miles of countryside to provide affordable housing has drawn sharp rebukes in this morning's leader columns. The Telegraph's leader called it a "recipe for senseless sprawl", while the Mail's leader criticised a "man without a plan". The paper's columnist Stephen Glovergoes further, asking: "What is the point of the Conservative Party if not to conserve the ancient things that are precious to most citizens?"
Mr Tony knows a thing about diplomacy, having so adroitly brought about lasting peace between Israel and Palestine, hence his warning that it would be a "monumental error of statesmanship" to ditch Europe as a result of "a kind of virus that makes you take irrational positions" (Independent story here). It would also put a dampener on the ambitions of a Brit to be European President. Still, all is not lost. With Boris Johnson making a bold pitch for Lakshmi Mittal, and Tone needing a country at the heart of Europe, maybe Britain and France could arrange a swap?
Facing a Lords defeat, the Government has agreed to amend the Financial Services Bill to "clean-up the system", the Independent reports. The reforms will cover both the cost of credit and loan duration, Lord Sassoon confirmed. With loan rates reducing from the current 4,000pc, presumably the payday loan game will become a lot less profitable, which is one way to prevent the Number 10 operation continuing to hemorrhage advisers...
The Communications Data Bill, which will give the police powers to monitor email and internet use, may lose Lib Dem support according to the BBC. Nick Clegg is said to be non-committal about the reforms, although the Home Office insists they will become law by 2014.

Tom Harris strikes a conciliatory chord over Leveson:


In the Telegraph
Harry Wallop - Could this be Ukip's day?
Best of the rest
David Aaronovitch in The Times (£) - You can trust the public. They're not savages
Andreas Whittam Smith in the Independent - Restrain the press or free it? There is, in fact, a middle way
TODAY: Parliamentary by-elections in Rotherham, Middlesbrough and Croydon North. Croydon North result 2:30 am Friday, Middlesbrough 12:30 am and Rotherham 3:00 am.
11:00 am: Oliver Letwin speech at launch of Centre for Social Justice Breakthrough Britain report. 
11:30 am: Energy Bill published. Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey to make statement to the Commons, followed by press conference at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
01:30 pm: Lord Justice Leveson will publish the Report from the Inquiry into the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press. The Report will be laid in both Houses of Parliament. Lord Justice Leveson intends to make an on-camera statement about his findings immediately after publication in the QEII Conference Centre. David Cameron will make a Commons statement at 3:00pm.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Miller skewered in the star chamber..

Good morning. Before we disappear into 48 hours of Leveson-related navel gazing, the telling news of the day is the FT's (£) account of a bun-fight in Cabinet which featured David Cameron laying into Maria Miller over the slow progress on fast rural broadband, and George Osborne persecuting everyone's chum Eric Pickles over enterprise zones. It describes yesterday's session as "acrimonious", which may have something to do with the bad news all around on the economy and the Government's lack of progress. The OECD was unhelpful, the Work Programme is achieving, well, next to nothing, and the Mail has gone for Dave as a Ted Heath in the making in its leader columns. It's a reminder that while Leveson may have the village in its grip, the real tensions are over the search for economic growth which will decide Dave's fate.
The "bluntest" criticism at the star chamber was apparently reserved for Ms Miller whose rural broadband scheme is behind schedule and has seen only seven from the 40 local authorities involved finalise their procurement process despite an investment of £530m of Government cash. Mr Osborne also berated IDS for his Work Programme which has found work for only 2pc of participants, and Eric Pickles, who, according to the FT, struggled to explain why one third of enterprise zones did not have a single occupant. Theresa May avoided being skewered by Vince Cable over the opaque visa system only because she is in India defending the opaque visa system. Vince did eventually manage to  have a go at Michael Gove, instead, as the Guardian reports, but that was for flouting an agreement on religion in free schools. If the level of recrimination going in early is anything to judge by, the Guardian might be right in referring to the Autumn Statement as shaping up to be "another Black Wednesday".
Meanwhile, in India, Boris is laying into the French. Last night friends of hizzoner were in touch to assure us that far from lurching to the left, asJames Kirkup mischievously suggested, he remains firmly on the right and is "brooding" the whole question of Britain's place in the EU.
Nothing says "unity" quite like contradicting one another in the Commons. Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg will meet tomorrow morning to try and thrash out a Government line on Leveson, the FT (£) reports. Both have been preparing separate speeches in case they fail, and Nick Robinson is now reporting that there is a possibility that Mr Clegg would give his in the chamber in opposition to Dave's statement.The backbenches are also obsessed with the issue. In a letter published in a number of newspapers (Telegraph copy here) this morning, 86 MPs and peers from across the parliamentary divide call for David Cameron to resist enacting statutory regulation of the press when Lord Justice Leveson reports tomorrow. The signatories include Liam Fox, David Davis, David Blunkett, Baroness Boothroyd and Graham Brady. They insist state regulation would strangle free speech:
"No form of statutory regulation of the press would be possible without the imposition of state licensing – abolished in Britain in 1695. State licensing is inimical to any idea of press freedom and would radically alter the balance of our unwritten constitution."
While there is cross-party support for a reform of the self-regulation system, its proponents are mainly Conservatives. As I wrote inyesterday's column, statutory regulation is largely a politically motivated obsession . Certainly, my suggestion that state regulation is being pushed by the Left provoked a spirited reaction on the Twittersphere, where almost all of those bashing me were of the Left, and those supporting were on the Right. Alice Thomson writes in today'sTimes (£) that the Left already controls the quangos, charities, appointments boards and other instruments of power in the country, adding that the press receives attention because it has largely swung towards the Conservatives since the war. The split is evident in today's papers. The Guardian carries a poll in favour of statutory regulation conducted by the Media Standards Trust, which backs the Hacked Off campaign. It also carries a fawning profile of Lord Justice Leveson, a "man of humour, warmth and compassion". In contrast, the Mail captions a story about former Media Standards Trust campaigner Gavid Freeguard who now works for Harriet Harman as: "sad geek".
The Bank of England's independence is "an elaborate veneer" hiding "the  Treasury's raw institutional power" according to a former insider quoted in the FT (£). The appointment of Mark Carney has, the paper argues, shown how much power a determined Chancellor still wields over the BoE. If true, at least that power was used for good, argues Allister Heath in the Telegraph:
"There is only one problem with Mark Carney’s appointment as the next governor of the Bank of England, and that is that he won’t be starting until next July... he is eminently reasonable and experienced, a brilliantly qualified former City worker who is committed to balancing economic growth with financial stability, rather than tilting the balance too far either way."
An unlikely Tory rallying call, but more than 1,500 square miles of greenfield land must be built on, Nick Boles wIll warn in an interview with Newsnight broadcast this evening. The Telegraph splashes on the story adding Mr Boles believes the development is necessary because the young have a "basic, moral right" to affordable housing. To give a sense of the scale of the area under discussion, it is twice the size of greater London and makes up approaching 3pc of England (to which Mr Boles confines his remarks). It seems as though Dave's campaign toalienate non-metropolitan Conservatives build for victory continues apace.
Labour's vice chairman Michael Dugher has told the Independent that the party is "actively considering" making lowering the voting age a manifesto pledge at the next election. Such is the enthusiasm in the party for the move that Lord Adonis is advocating setting up polling stations in secondary school. The old joke runs that if you vote for the Right at 18 you have no heart and if you vote for the Left at 40, you have no brain. Perhaps this is an attempt to make the most of that lead at the idealistic end of the market.
William Hague will tell MPs that the UK would recognise Palestinian non-member status at the UN in exchange for peace talks with Israel, the Mailreports. France has already announced its backing for Palestine, but there is an argument that the timing of the vote can only escalate tensions as a fragile cease-fire holds.
Kiss goodbye to buy one, get one free. The Home Secretary will today announce plans to set a minimum alcohol price of 45p, the Independentreports. Supermarket brand ciders could be pushed up in cost from £1.20 a bottle to close to £4 under the plans. Now you won't just wake up with a headache on New Year's Day, it will be an expensive one at that.
Nick and Dave are close to agreeing the level at which the bill for state care of the elderly will be capped, the Telegraph reports. A new system will be introduced by 2015 under which the elderly will contribute a maximum of £75,000 to their care, sparing some savings for the one in ten whose care costs top £100,000 in their lifetime. Although higher than the level recommended by Andrew Dilnot when he proposed the plan, the Coalition see this as one of their key legacy policies.

Jamie Reed muses on the price of fame:

@jreedmp: "I wonder if the other 599,999 ppl who have their gall bladders removed in the UK every year have this news reported in their local papers? " 

The Sun/YouGov: Con 31%, Lab 43%, Lib Dem 9%, Ukip 11%, Other 6%

In the Telegraph
Best of the rest
Alice Thomson in The Times (£) - Who runs the country? It's Labour, actually
TODAY: Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude is to announce "procurement pipeline" for the next five years. Universities Minister David Willetts to make an announcement on university status.
08:00 am: Chuka Umunna gives a speech on the UK takeover regime in a breakfast with CEOs hosted by the Association of British Insurers.
09:15 am: Justice Secretary Chris Grayling gives evidence to the Commons Justice Committee. Committee Room 8, House of Commons.
09:30 am: Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude gives evidence to Commons Public Administration Committee on public engagement in policy-making. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.
09:30 am: Home Office launches consultation on alcohol strategy - including minimum unit pricing in England and Wales. Launch expected in written ministerial statement at 09:30.
10:15 am: Judgment in Andy Coulson's appeal. The former News of the World editor finds out the result of his Court of Appeal challenge against a High Court decision that News Group Newspapers (NGN) does not have to pay his potential legal costs over the phone-hacking affair. The Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand.
11:00 am: Summit on Movember and Prostate Cancer hosted by George Freeman. Jubilee Room, Portcullis House.
12:00 pm: Prime Ministers Questions. House of Commons.
07:30 pm: Rt Hon John Bercow MP speaking at Cambridge University Union. 9A Bridge Street, Cambridge.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

George gets his man..

He may not be known for pulling rabbits from the hat, but yesterday George Osborne could survey a dumbfounded Labour front-bench with pleasure having announced Mark Carney as the new Governor of the Bank of England. Securing the service of the Canadian (particularly withonly the reins of the British economy to offer) is a tremendous coup. Canada's growth trajectory matched that of Britain's before the crisis, and has continued through the crash. He will bring authority and originality to the corridors of an organisation often accused of being paralysed by group-think. The papers are pleased. The Telegraphheadline is "New Bank boss comes to UK for 'greatest of challenges', theTimes (£) goes with "Chancellor banks on top outsider to save the economy", and the Sun contents itself with "Head Banger to Head Banker", a comment on Mr Carney's taste in pre-hockey match music while a student. Nowadays, the paper adds, he prefers AC/DC's "Back in the black".
If Mr Balls and the Times (£) leader writer were taken by surprise yesterday, so was Vince. The Chancellor only told him of his new pick minutes beforehand, according to Sam Coates (£). It's almost as if he suspected Vince might leak it otherwise. Commentators were broadly welcoming, particularly Alex Brummer in the Mail and Martin Wolf in theFT (£). In the Telegraph, Jeremy Warner notes the incredible lengths the Chancellor went to in order to land Mr Carney - cutting three years from the Governor's term and paying five times as much as the Prime Minister's wage - and argued that the appointment was a result of domestic failures. Damian Reece argues that the Treasury needed to deliver "a bout of long-termism" under Mr Carney. Philip Johnston , however, says that foreign leaders of British institutions have a chequered past. In City AM, Allister Heath is delighted over an "unusually brilliant" move by Mr Osborne:
"His appointment will guarantee a coherent and stable approach. He wants to reform finance to make sure it doesn’t explode every few years – and to make sure that if firms do go bust, special wind-down and resolution procedures kick-in, protecting taxpayers from having to bail out banks. Crucially, however, he is a tough reformer, not a vandal. He is no soft touch – but neither does he want to turn Canary Wharf into a ghost town."
For my money, the two striking revelations about the decision are, first, Mr Osborne's persistence in wooing Mr Carney, down to fixing the rules to allow him to be interviewed without applying as it were, and second, its message that Britain as an open, trading nation, is relaxed enough to put a foreigner in charge of the nation's bank. Imagine the French doing that? No, me neither. A big, defining moment for Mr Osborne.
Nick Clegg has gone out of his way to warn Dave that he faces a split in the Coalition and a possible Commons defeat if he rejects the findings of the Leveson Inquiry, the FT (£) reports. The problem for Mr Clegg is that he also faces a split among his parliamentary party. Deputy leader Simon Hughes has confirmed he would not back statutory press regulation, with Sir Menzies Campbell also expressing discomfort with the idea, as the Mail reports. On the Tory benches, Owen Paterson is the latest minister to declare for press freedom. Former Number 10 aide George Eustice has taken the opposite view for some time. Mr Eustice circulated a briefing note on press regulation to fellow MPs which had been prepared in part by Hacked Off, the Telegraph notes.
The tiresome thing is that, as Dominic Lawson points out in today'sIndependent, "there is already a regulatory framework for newspapers. It is called the law: and there is no journalistic immunity for it". Whatever the outcome, Lord Justice Leveson's future looks secure once he returns from his Australian jaunt. He is being lined up for the role of Lord Chief Justice, the Independent reports, meaning that the second part of the inquiry or "who-did-what-to-who" would need to be re-scheduled or re-assigned. As I write in my Telegraph column, the damage may have been done by then. After years of resentment, the Left now has the press at its mercy:
"The report, when it is published, will be their indictment against the Right, a payback for more than 30 years of political pain. Leveson, they hope, will mark an irreversible defeat for the political forces that stuck Neil Kinnock’s head on a lightbulb and invited the last person to leave Britain to switch out the lights if Labour won in 1992."
Preliminary discussions over defection have taken place between eight Conservative MPs and senior figures in Ukip, the Telegraph reports. Stuart Wheeler, the UKIP treasurer and former Tory donor has held lunches with the disaffected MPs and believes "a few" will defect before the next election. If they are tempted, then it's do or die. There is no room for negotiation as Number 10 made clear when downgrading Michael Fabricant's role. "He organises byelections" was the opening line, followed swiftly afterwards by "his role is to help out at byelections", news the Vice Chairman re-tweeted. Mr Fabricant is not entirely at odds with CCHQ's view of Ukip, however. Conceding that some Ukip members were racists, he pointed to the fact that Tory and Labour voters were as well in mitigation, the Mirror reports. In the round, though, Mr Fabricant's attempts to build relations between the "warring brothers" has left them more strained than ever, as Nigel Farrage notes in today'sTelegraph:
"The political traditions of Britain are largely about the growth of liberty, freedom, equality before the law and tolerance. We believe in fair play and muddling through. We don’t like grand plans and irrational manoeuvring for political gain, as seen in Rotherham. We are decent people, who are fed up with the nannying, pettifogging overlordship of the grey bureaucracies."
Having renounced his EU referendum demand, Bo-Jo criticised Britain's tough immigration laws yesterday. Speaking on his trip to India, he called for an end to foreign student visa restrictions, the Telegraphreports. Meanwhile, day two of the Evening Standard's tour diary reports that Boris has been doing some teaching of his own, explaining that Darwin's theory of evolution originated in Bromley, not the bowels of the Beagle.
All foreigners must be treated by GPs for free under a directive announced shortly before summer recess, the Sun reports. Some 3,600 foreigners were treated in British hospitals last year, and visas are issued without medical insurance conditions attached, unlike in much of Europe. Frank Field and Nicholas Soames have demanded the programme is cancelled, adding that "it is astonishing the Government should have agreed to this when the NHS is struggling." 
Michael Gove's family were recent visitors to Chequers, Mandrakereports. Mr Gove's eight-year-old-son William endeared himself to his host by asking, within Dave's earshot:  "Daddy, when you are prime minister, will we have this place to ourselves?"  

Michael Fabricant aka Basil Fawlty:

@Mike_Fabricant: "Don't mention UKIP. Under any circumstances. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it". (With apols to Fawlty Towers)." 


In the Telegraph
Best of the rest
Martin Wolf in the FT (£) - Welcome to Britain, Mr Carney - it needs you
Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) - Cameron's Britain: now we'll see its true face
TODAY: Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne to speak at Home Office conference on Gang and Youth violence.
07:45 am: Education Minister Elizabeth Truss to visit a children's centre to make an announcement on funding for early education. Loughborough Children's Centre, Minet Road, Lambeth, London.
09:30 am: Latest estimate of Q3 GDP is published by the Office for National Statistics.
10:00 am: Bank of England Governor Sir Mervyn King to appear before Commons Treasury Committee to give evidence on the Bank's quarterly inflation report. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
1015 STEVENAGE: Labour leader Ed Miliband and shadow chancellor Ed Balls pre-Autumn Statement Q&A. Propak Sheet Metal Ltd, Unit 1 Gunnelswood Industrial Estate, Stevenage.
10:30 am: Lord Patten will appear before the Commons culture committee. BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten and acting director general Tim Davie will give evidence at the Culture, Media and Sport committee. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
12:15 pm: Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to give evidence to Commons Committee on Draft Local Audit Bill. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.
01:30 pm: Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham launches Labour NHS Check report on care rationing. Old Shadow Cabinet Room, House of Commons.
07:00 pm: Scotland Secretary Michael Moore gives first St Andrew's Day lecture. Scotland Office, Dover House, Whitehall.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Coalition removes energy subsidy cap..

The Coalition have reached a compromise aimed at putting to bed the squabbling over energy policy which has erupted in recent months. Ed Davey will give up his demand for a zero carbon energy sector by 2030 (a demand which Ed Miliband picks up, polishes off and presents as his own in today's Guardian). However, it is the Tory concession which theTelegraph splashes on and which receives most of the attention elsewhere. The party have agreed to remove the subsidy cap called the "levy control framework", in order to provide energy companies with capital to build new power plants and wind farms. It is hoped the compromise deal will also head-off growing tension between Mr Davey and George Osborne, who the former blames for John Hayes' anti-wind outburst.
In any case, the move will cost £178 a year for the average household, £95 of which will go to green energy by 2020. Add this to the news that Dave's new tariff plan will increase costs, and while polar bears might be smiling, Coalition energy policy has produced a very tough week for the consumer.
Progress is slow in Brussels, as the Telegraph reports, and this morning Herman Van Rompuy's proposed budget has still come in some €50bn over the initial British demand. Dave wrong-footed Mr Von Rompuy and Manuel Barroso yesterday with his insistence that eurocrats share the pain by making similar salary and pension adjustments to those asked of southern European states. So unexpected was the stance that his early morning meeting was re-scheduled for a late afternoon slot. Dave has been specific about where the axe should fall, suggesting:
  • Increasing the retirement age for eurocrats from 63 to 68 for staff currently under 58-years-old, saving 1.5 billion euro (£1.2bn) over the seven years of the proposed budget
  • Cutting 10% from the pay bill, saving three billion euro (£2.4bn)
  • Cutting eurocrat pensions, currently capped at a maximum of 70% of final salary, to 60%, saving 1.5 billion euros (£1.2bn).
Mr Cameron's suggestions are said to have received a frosty welcome from Mr Van Rompuy and Mr Barroso, who claimed it would be too legally complex to change existing contract terms. There is also the problem of France, which is nowhere near agreement with the UK on the eurocrats issue. There may, however, be a deal to be done. The Sunreports that France would agree to a budget freeze provided the CAP element of spending continued to increase.  As the Guardian  reports, big cuts are probably now off the table. A day of exhaustive negotiating by exhausted negotiators lies ahead. Don't bet against this running long into the night.
MPs will be given a vote which would allow them to choose to reject the ECHR's ruling that it must extend the franchise to prisoners. MPs will be offered the opportunity of either rejecting the idea outright, allowing votes for those serving four years or less, or allowing votes for those serving six months or less. A joint committee has been asked to scrutinise a draft bill, meaning the vote itself may not be until well into the new year, according to the Guardian . How the votes break down will be interesting. While the Conservatives are set fast against the idea of votes for prisoners, the Lib Dems are never averse to anything which makes Dave "physically sick". Today's Telegraph reports that the party is leaning towards supporting prisoner votes as it believes this will aid Britain's position in Europe, a curious position seeing as the EU and the ECHR are not connected.
Sentiment is against the Lib Dems on this issue. Dominic Grieve QC, health and safety law specialist turned Attorney General, comes in for severe criticism in today's Mail. The paper labels him "a very perverse Tory" and says that "Downing Street is in despair at his obduracy. Cabinet colleagues are in open revolt". But then, how many Cabinet ministers could those last words not have applied to at some point since 2010?
The date for the publication of the Leveson Inquiry has been confirmed as next Thursday. Dave will have only 24 hours of advance warning of the findings in which to craft a response, according to the Guardian. The paper adds that Number 10 has been advising the newspaper industry to adopt a penitent tone across the board. Given the success of the Government's spin operations this year, I suspect some editors may give that a miss. Writing in today's Telegraph , Fraser Nelson says he is worried for the future of Britain's "uniquely disrespectful" press:
Given that the state is busily arresting bloggers and Twitterers – and even disputatious neighbours – freedom of the press all of a sudden starts to look rather anomalous...Throughout the inquiry, the judge seemed not to grasp a very important principle: that for a government to prescribe regulation for the press establishes a hierarchy of power – it puts the politicians in charge."
MPs will tell the new Archbishop of Canterbury that they "will not wait years" for women bishops, the Guardian reports (not online). The new Archbishop of Canterbury has been summoned to meet MPs and Lords in a bid to thrash out a way of "accelerating" the process of another vote on women bishops, Sir Tony Baldry announced yesterday. It isn't compulsion, yet, but it does not sit easy to see the Mother of Parliaments demanding the CoE vote until it gets it right. There is some succour today for Anglican traditionalists, though. As the Times (£) reports, churches will be given a specific exclusion from gay marriage legislation when it comes before Parliament.
Having been evicted from the jungle, Nadine Dorries may now find herself permanently evicted from the Conservative party. Mrs Dorries may be contractually obliged by ITV to remain in Australia for another fortnight until the programme ends, and senior Tories are saying privately that it is "far from clear" she will be allowed back, as theTelegraph reports. Of course, not all of Mrs Dorries' colleagues are in Britain all of the time. The Independent splashes on the news that MPs have enjoyed 53 all -expenses-paid trips to China, 34 to the USA, and 23 to India in this parliament, but found time for only one to Afghanistan. It's a tough, dirty job, but someone has to do it. 
Andrew Gwynne with five words seldom seen together:
@GwynneMP: "Yay! hallelujah - Stockport at last!!!"
In the Telegraph
Best of the rest
Tom Wright in The Times (£) - It's about the Bible, not fake ideas of progress
Samuel Brittan in the FT (£) - British economic policy echoes Habsburg decline
Frederick Forsyth in the Daily Express - A clerar-out is now crucial at the BBC

TODAY: Continuation of European Council summit to set EU budget for 2014-20.