Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Conservatives divided on principle in politics..

Modernisers v traditionalists, wets v drys, quants v quals, however you want to phrase it, the Tories are at war with themselves again, this time over the place of principle in politics. Writing in the Telegraph, George Bridges, a former adviser to Mr Cameron, sets it out:
"The mindset of political strategy is now poisoning the well of politics. Those politicians who do have the guts to highlight unpalatable truths, and what they would do about them, are criticised. On Europe, politicians are told that voters don’t care about it – so shut up. Meanwhile, politicians talk of taxing 'wealth' more because of what that would 'say' about their party, not whether it is the right or wrong thing to do."
The Bridges intervention is significant because he's a friend of George Osborne's, and there is speculation among ministers over whether the Chancellor had a say in Mr Crosby's appointment. One I spoke to yesterday wondered if this was a case of Dave putting one over George. In his piece Mr Bridges is in fact complimentary of Mr Crosby. His real target seems to be Andrew Cooper, who continues to be the subject of rumours that he is about to leave No10. While everyone has fun wondering how long it will take Lord Ashcroft to kill off Mr Crosby, the issue is what Mr Bridges identifies as an absence of core beliefs in No10.
On the undercard, it's Lord Ashcroft v Lynton Crosby. The Times (£) summarises the contribution of the former deputy party chairman yesterday as "Ashcroft tells Labour how to regain power and picks row with Tory campaign chief", while the Mail also picks up on the "online attack" on Mr Crosby. If one of the reasons why Lord Ashcroft opposed Mr Crosby's appointment in the first place was his worry that there would be too many voices on campaign strategy, he has made it a reality for Mr Crosby very early in his tenure. Still, at least there was good news in his most recent polling exercise. As the Mail reports, voters still do not trust Labour on the deficit and four in ten switching voters are scared that it will over-tax and over-spend. It's not that the Tories won't have been delighted to see such a detailed piece of polling, but they may have been happier to have seen it in private, rather than available publicly for Labour policy wonks to pore over.
Another poll CCHQ won't want to see out is the one published by ComRes this morning on attitudes to gay marriage. The Mail reports that the party's support for gay marriage will lose them votes both among their base and the wider public. Of the wider electorate, 18 pc are less likely to vote Conservative as a result, as are 36pc of the party's voters at the last election. If this is a policy based on expediency, it is going horribly wrong.
The result of the Prime Minister's intervention in the energy markets could be higher bills accross the board, the Sun reports. Limiting energy companies to four possible tariffs could remove competition, experts warned. With Dave having boasted of a policy which Labour "said couldn't be done", he now faces the uncomfortable prospect of seeing in practice that it, er, couldn't be done. It isn't the only energyshambles he will have to deal with. The ongoing fallout from the Davey / Hayes wind farm row has shaken the Coalition to its roots, Mary Riddell writes in today's Telegraph:
"Some senior Lib Dems...speculate wistfully about how much easier it might be – on this issue if not on others – to be in partnership with Ed Miliband, whom Mr Davey was said to admire during the Labour leader’s time as energy secretary in the Brown government. While Lib Dems respect the Chancellor, much as they may disagree with him on electricity supply, energy policy has unleashed some poisonous exchanges. Peter Lilley, one of John Major’s 'bastards', a strident critic of Lib Dem energy policy and a member of the energy select committee that questioned Mr Davey yesterday, is described by one foe as 'particularly ghastly'."
George's pension contribution limit reduction wheeze was a result of a split between Prime Minister and Chancellor which has exposed the most important divide in the modern Conservative party, Alice Thompson writes in the Times (£). Those who think the rich are fair game are arrayed behind Mr Osborne, while Mr Cameron (ably supported by the database wrecking Eric Pickles) rejects the notion that people who work hard should be taxed more. Hence the compromise on pensions and away from council tax. The Chancellor's pension plan will not only hit the very wealthy, though, as the FT (£) reports. The paper argues that because of the mechanics of pension income calculation, late-career civil servants on as little as £30,000 per year could also be hit. Given how sensitive they are about changes to pension terms, what odds the civil service unions leading the fight against a measure designed to hit the City slickers they can't stand? 
David Cameron will agree to make a larger net contribution to the EU budget irrespective of the outcome of negotiations in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.The Telegraph puts the prospective figure as high as £560m a year if the British take an offer made by Herman Van Rompuy which would cut the EU's total budget from the figure proposed by the EC, but require the British to hand back a portion of their rebate. Crucially, the move would allow Dave to live up to the letter of his frozen budget pledge - which referred to the EU budget, not the British contribution - even while the UK pays a higher net contribution.The major stumbling block at present is French and Spanish opposition because of cuts to the CAP budget.
 The British negotiating team are said to believe that the eastward expansion of the EU means Britain will have to pay more. The increase would come in the form of a surrendered rebate, which the Guardianreports is consistent with Tony Blair's 2005 promise to reduce the refund over time, and also consistent with CAP spending shrinking in real terms at a time when the rebate is closely related to the CAP level. A budget freeze but a slashed rebate? Good luck taking that to the Commons.
The Telegraph splashes on the revelation that Stephen Dorrell sold his London home to friends who run a chain of care homes before renting it back on expenses. The sense of MPs keeping within the letter, but seldom the spirit of Ipsa rules is becoming eerily familiar. The question is what to do about it? In the Times (£), Danny Finkelstein argues that the present system has been reduced to farce and that MPs need a flat rate allowance for a their second home to dispense with as they please. TheMail's Max Hastings takes a different view:
"No, sir. No, madam — or Ms, if you insist. If you want to devote your life to the manic ego trip that is politics, you need to recognise that you do not automatically qualify for an upper-middle-class lifestyle — which is what MPs are really demanding. Many lack the ability to achieve this in any other trade, so why should the taxpayer give it to them?"
The Prime Minister is facing a backbench rebellion if he rejects the reccomendations of the Leveson report, according to the Times (£). Hints that Dave would reject calls for a state regulator have prompted a group of about 70 MPs to become increasingly vocal in their demands for statutory provision. This doesn't mean a press regulation law is inevitable, as Downing Street could simpoly refuse to introduce it, but it could lead to a series of Commons defeats if Labour tables motions on which they can call a vote.
Larger welfare cuts will be needed for the Government to stand a chance of meeting its deficit target, the Reform think tank warns in a new report published today. Existing commitments to health and welfare spending will otherwise obliterate savings made elsewhere, it argues, calling for greater use of private insurance as a way of building an affordable welfare state.
At times, Douglas Carswell can give the impression of being slightly disillusioned. His reply to Michael Fabricant's tweet that "the Iron Dome missile defence system was developed in Israel. It's been effective. 90% of incoming destroyed. Wonder if our Army will buy it?":
@DouglasCarswell: "No. We'll spend 3 times the amount building a supposedly sovereign solution, using 3 non-UK firms, and it'll arrive in 2037"
In the Telegraph
Best of the rest
Ann Widdecombe in the Daily Express - Freedom of expression is dying out
Daniel Finkelstein in The Times (£) - This system is a farce. Pay MPs a flat rate
Matthew Norman in The Independent - Not sleepwalking, lurching like crazy drunks
Sebastian Mallaby in the FT (£) - Spain is in need of urgent repair

09:00 am: Defence Secretary Philip Hammond speaks on value for money in the defence budget at a conference organised by the Reform think tank. KPMG, 15 Canada Square.
09:30 am: Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards takes evidence from George Osborne. Witnesses: Rt Hon George Osborne MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
09:30 am: Public sector borrowing figures for October are published by the Office for National Statistics.
10:15 am: Lords Constitution Committee takes evidence from Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling. Committee Room 1, House of Lords.
12:00 pm: Prime Ministers Questions. House of Commons.
02:00 pm: Spectator Magazine's Parliamentarian of the Year Awards. Weekly politics magazine presents awards ceremony. Lancaster Ballroom, The Savoy Hotel, The Strand.
04:30 pm: Lord Heseltine and Chuka Umunna appear at a Social Market Foundation discussion on industrial policy, chaired by Evan Davis. The British Academy,10 Carlton House Terrace.