Thursday, 22 November 2012

A defining day for Cameron..

Dave arrived in Brussels this morning ready to embark on a two day budget summit with other EU leaders. At PMQs yesterday, Ed Miliband appeared to be impatient with Dave for not solving the Israel-Palestine crisis. With a 17-10 split among member states, and the majority opposing a budget freeze, the problem the Prime Minister faces appears no less intractable. Squeezed at home by Tory rebels and Ed's apparently random European policy, the Prime Minister will be squeezed abroad by the smaller recipient nations and the large and problematic beneficiary bloc of France and Italy. He has strong allies in Sweden and the Netherlands, plus a German partner who would prefer a budget freeze but would rather the whole issue was simply off the table, as the Times(£) sets out. Even if a budget freeze is achieved, Britain's net contribution may rise, given there is now talk of an £805m rebate cut (Sun storyhere). Roland Watson in the Times (£) argues the Prime Minister is especially watchful because he knows a false mood will lead set the Tory troops on the path to the in/our referendum he would rather avoid in the next parliament. In his Telegraph column, Peter Oborne argues that Tory Eurosceptics are selfish to use this as an opportunity to pressurise Mr Cameron:
"There is also a moral point here. The situation is very grave.. In these tragic and terrible circumstances, it is surely the job of any British prime minister to rise to the occasion with magnanimity and generosity, not engage in inward-looking conversations about repatriation of powers and the exact size of the British contribution."
Writing in the Times (£), Stephen Dorrell, Richard Ottaway and Alan Beith provide the cross-Coalition consensus view. One way or another, Britain should allow the eurozone countries to solve their problems by "getting out of their way". If only it were that simple. Dave is always at his best when in full-on statesman mode, but this looks likely to be a puzzle eclipsing even his diplomatic prowess.
The Government's Justice and Security Bill was mauled in the Lords last night, with peers voting 264 to 159 to give judges rather than ministers the final decision on the use of closed material in legal cases. Peers also backed a second amendment (273 votes to 173) giving judges discretion over hearing national security cases in secret, rather than having closed trials as the obligatory standard in such cases. After a third substantial defeat, ministers dropped objections to other amendments which effectively make closed proceedings an option of last resort. The Mailsplashes on the story and claims the Government's plans are now in "tatters". If the plans are tattered, the Coalition in the Lords is wearing thin. Last night's defeats were facilitated by a rebellion among the Lib Dem Lords, hardly endearing themselves to their Conservative colleagues after recent sharp practice on boundary reform. Perhaps the writ of the Quad doesn't run to the red benches?
Wealthy pensioners should lose their bus passes, TV licensees and winter fuel allowances as part of the Government's austerity drive, the Free Enterprise Group, which includes 39 Tory MPs, has recommended. TheTelegraph reports that the proposals would affect those with an income of at least £50,000. Under-25's claiming unemployment benefit would also be required to take their benefits in the form of a loan. Chris Skidmore, MP for Kingswood and the report's author conceded that the proposals would be unpopular among one constituency - the House of Lords, where there are 671 members who qualifty for a free TV license at present.
There will be a vote on gay marriage "within weeks" as ministers who are worried over the momentum of the opposition campaign attempt to fast-track a vote, according to the Mail . It's a decision which would look rushed given there was no announcement of the legislation in the Queen's speech. Even given the opposition of dozens of Tory MPs, the bill in not in any danger of failing, given Lib Dem and Labour support. Possibly the motivation is to show the Government in a softer light after what is sure to be a bruising month ahead, given the EU summit and the likely publication of Leveson (expected next Thursday). At least it will give the new Archbishop of Canterbury something to think about aside from women priests.
While Boris claimed the Spectator's politician of the year award yesterday, he was, for once, thoroughly upstaged. Michael Gove gave a stonking performance as compere, firing barbs at everyone from Ed Miliband to Lord Leveson (transcript available on PoliticsHome (£)), telling guests:
"It's … a pity that His Honour Brian Leveson cannot be here so he could receive the Bureau of Investigative Journalism award for commitment to truth-telling for his wonderful comments: 'I don't really need any lessons in freedom of speech, Mr Gove, really I don't'."
Weak tax receipts and sluggish growth have put George Osborne on course to miss his debt and borrowing targets by £13bn this year. TheGuardian reports that despite an austerity drive which has seen spending, er, rise 7.4pc in the year to date, the Government borrowed £2.7bn more than expected in October alone, according to ONS figures published yesterday. Prepare for a focus on the long term in the Autumn Statement, because as things stand, the Chancellor is nowhere close to meeting either fiscal rule by 2015.
The Rev. Tony famously "didn't do God" despite being a practicing Christian. Dave's faith is more relaxed, however not only does he "do" God, he tells him off, too. Dave's PMQs admonishment for the Almighty on his approach to employment law confused the Telegraph's Michael Deacon:
"The Prime Minister’s views turned out to be a little bit confusing, to Members of Parliament, to inhabitants of the press gallery, and no doubt to the fowl of the air and to every beast of the field also. And this was because the Prime Minister seemed to be saying that on the one hand we had to respect whatever the Church decided, but on the other hand we had to make sure the Church jolly well did what we told it."
Who can Michael Fabricant mean?:
@Mike_Fabricant: "Some MPs have been told to go on a diet. Just looking at one (who will be nameless) who looks ill. Some people just take it too far! "
In the Telegraph
Best of the rest
Timothy Garton Ash in The Guardian - Britain stands on a ledge. Europe screams "don't do it"
Stephen Dorrell and Alan Beth in The Times (£) - Our megaphone won't change Europe's course

TODAY: European Council summit to set EU budget for 2014-20. David Cameron expected to arrive around 0800 GMT.
10:00 am: Health minister Anna Soubry and shadow health secretary Andy Burnham address Fitness Industry Association summit. Congress Centre, 28 Great Russell Street.
12:45 pm: Nick Clegg speech to National House Building Council lunch. Followed by Q&A Royal Opera House, WC2E 9DD.