Monday, 19 November 2012

Cameron gives Clarke assurances over Europe..

BREAKING NEWS: Ken Clarke has been on the Today programme discussing the Government's Justice and Security Bill, debated in the House of Lords today. He argued that civil liberty groups have been wrong to brand it a "secret justice" bill:
"It's not the politician with the power. There are certain campaigners who will never, ever be satisfied if you mention MI6. The trouble with public interest immunity at the moment is that if something is secret it is just taken account of in the case...this way the judge does get to hear both sides of the argument."
On Europe: "David Cameron believes, as he has always told me...Britain's place is in Europe. It would be a disaster if we had to leave the European Union... An irresponsible debate weakens Britain's own interests."
The EU may seek to bar Britain from making long-term budget decisions, according to this morning's FT (£). Although the two-day European leaders summit does not begin until Thursday, officials are making contingency plans in the belief that it will be impossible to accommodate British demands. With support from Sweden, British officials now put the odds of a compromise deal at around 30pc, but concede that the most likely outcome is negotiations continuing into next year.
Drift is dangerous for the Prime Minister, though. Dave has already been squeezed by his own backbenchers, and yesterday's assertion by David Davis, that voters will not believe any future pledge on Europe as they feel they have been "lied to", hardly helps (Telegraph report here). Mr Davis will call for a referendum now in a speech this afternoon (St Stephen's club, noon). Now additional pressure is being applied by the ever mercurial Ed Miliband. Having backed Tory rebels over the EU budget, the Guardian reports he is to switch tack and warn that the nation is "sleepwalking towards [EU] exit". Brass neck, from Red Ed, although CCHQ strategists may breathe a sigh of relief that he's no longer Eurosceptic Ed.
Of course, a strategic crisis isn't a strategic crisis in the Tory party without Boris getting involved. In his Telegraph column, the Mayor of London bangs the drum for a rejection of any EU budget increase:
"The people in Brussels must have been out of their tiny minds. It is like giving heroin to an addict. It is like handing an ice cream to the fattest boy in the class, while the rest of the kids are on starvation diets — and then asking them to pay for his treat."
The Prime Minister will announce today that the economy is to be put on a "war footing" in a broadside against "risk averse" civil servants who Dave sees as hampering growth by peddling "bureaucratic rubbish" (our report is here ). In a speech to the CBI, Mr Cameron will argue that all resources must be devoted to growth, rather like all resources in the Second World War went towards defeating Hitler. If Dave is going to approach growth in same way as Churchill approached WW2, that leaves the Civil Service playing the role of - what? - saboteurs and fifth columnists? The fear must be that Dave is getting into the habit of making speeches about the importance of making quick decisions and the obstacles he faces, while not taking decisions and being stuck behind those same obstacles.
This afternoon will also see a return for the Coalition's "extend to victory" plan, which has floundered so far not on the back of the judiciary, but on non-compliant Conservative councils. The Prime Minister, in any case, wants to abolish resident's right to challenge planning approval for new developments. That should play well in the shires.
Dave's new election mastermind Lynton Crosby has his unconventional reputation bolstered by this morning's Times (£) revelation that he does not listen to the Today programme. The man dubbed the "lizard of Oz" by the Mirror can, however, recite the names of all the books of the Bible. Modernisers in the party, including George Osborne, have ignored misgivings from those who believe Mr Crosby represents a swing to the right, arguing that he will deliver the message he is given from high command, according to the FT (£). His appointment will cause unease among those already worried by signs that Dave has abandoned many of the postures he adopted to become leader. The Mail reports Mr Crosby's denial of using "dog-whistle" tactics in areas like immigration and Islamic extremism during the 2005 election. It wasn't a "dogwhistle", he insists, "it was more like a foghorn".
Will they, won't they... the Coalition flirtation with the idea of a mansion tax continues to be played out in the papers like an ill-starred celebrity romance. Vince Cable, of course, is not flirting with the idea, he is wedded to it, and his announcement over the weekend that he expected a resolution to the issue soon has prompted renewed speculation. While new council tax bands at the top end of the spectrum is an idea the Prime Minister is said to be hostile to, despite Mr Osborne's agreement, an increase to the top rate of stamp duty or a rise in capital gains tax are both under serious consideration, according to the Mail. The Telegraph's leader is unequivocal in its hostility:
"What we are seeing is the dynamics of Coalition politics at work rather than decision-making that is either rational or sensible. It is precisely this sort of approach that saw Mr Osborne’s Budget unravel so spectacularly earlier this year. National financial planning is hard to achieve when it is done on a 'one for you, two for me' basis."
It might not keep us warm when the lights go out, but Coalition energy policy will at least provide some material for sketchwriters, according to Tim Yeo, chairman of the Commons energy select committee. Mr Yeo told the Telegraph that rows between Conservative and Lib Dem ministers over green energy were putting off investors accross the board:
"The problem is, the pension funds and investors we need to build new energy infrastructure in the UK are not finding it very funny... the more uncertainty there is about energy policy, the higher the perceived risk will be for investors. This will push up the cost of capital, increasing electricity prices and potentially undermining our energy security if projects are pulled as a result."
Writing in the Telegraph, William Hague defends the new Justice Bill arguing that present arrangements are neither just nor accountable. "We do not have effective justice, and our agents and intelligence partners abroad fear that their co-operation with our agencies could be exposed through civil litigation. This situation must change and this Bill is vital," he argues. Mr Hague has also come out in favour of the free press prior to the publication of Leveson, as the Mail reports. 
"What do you seek when you watch a news programme or read an opinion column? Enlightenment or entertainment? Do you want your views confirmed or challenged?" asks Tim Montgomerie in the Times (£). He attacks the "flightless deficit hawks" he claims can be found in the press on the Right. These divide into "the Basil Fawlty columnists who can't mention the EU without resorting to Second World War imagery" and "young, childless ide0logues" from the blogsphere. Do I qualify as a Basil Fawlty commentator I wonder? Isn't he young and childless?
He may have been beaten by the Conservatives in Humberside's PCC elections, but all is not lost for Lord Prescott. The Star reports that he "is set to rebuild his bruised image by starring in Celebrity Big Brother."  The former Deputy Prime Minister appealed to producers because he "boasts the colourful private life reality TV chiefs love", according to the paper. A shrewd move, after all, it's doing wonders for Nadine Dorries' career...
It isn't just the red tops which have become enchanted by Nadine Dorries' jungle co-star:
@GloiraDePieroMP: "Helen Flanagan. Wow. You've made me miss Homeland but I forgive you."
In the Telegraph
Best of the rest
Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) - Don't get frothed into a right-wing bubble
Jackie Ashley in The Guardian - By next spring, we'll know if Corby really mattered

09:00 am: CBI annual conference. Events include: 09:45 am address by CBI President Sir Roger Carr, 10:30 am speech by Vince Cable, 12:30 pm speech by Ed Miliband, and 2:30 pm speech by Boris Johnson. David Cameron will also speek (time TBA). Grosvenor House Hotel.
12:00 pm: David Davis speech, "Europe: It's Time To Decide". St Stephen's Club, 34 Queen Anne's Gate, SW1.
04:00 pm: Commons Transport Committee takes evidence on aviation strategy from airline executives, including Michael O'Leary of Ryanair. Witnesses from Virgin Atlantic, Easyjet, Ryanair, American Airlines, Air China, British Air Transport Association, Board of Airline Representatives, ABTA, Thomas Cook Group and TUI Travel. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House, London, SW1A 2LW.