Friday, 21 December 2012

Cameron ends year on the up..

Good morning. For the last morning briefing of the year, it's worth considering how fares David Cameron as he heads for a well-deserved break. He'll be delighted with Peter Oborne, who has laid in to the B-list, low-character MPs busily handing the next election to Labour on a plate with their incessant bleating. The Oborne analysis sounds a bit like Mr Tony's 'what have the Romans ever done for us lament', which he used to mock his critics. Tim Montgomerie has unsurprisingly replied with verve, his point being - I digest for effect - forget the monkeys, blame the organ grinder.
The bad blood between Tory backbenchers and Dave is a source of growing fascination to Ed Miliband - Labour is looking for further ways to exploit it. Quite why so many Conservatives despise Dave and want to see him fail is indeed fascinating. I have a lot of sympathy with Peter O's argument (and you won't hear me say that very often...): voters tend to punish divided parties that seem to prefer the certainties of opposition to the necessary compromises of government.
Mr Cameron would argue that the Tory position is stronger now than it has been in a while. The omnishambles of the summer has been left behind. In his speech to conference - and George Osborne's important autumn statement - he has provided his leadership with a harsh but compelling rationale (if only No10 could find ways to deploy it). Labour is in trouble with an economic strategy that has no credibility - 2013 could be a very difficult year for Ed Miliband as his party realises it is stuck up a dead end. The Government is pressing ahead with reforms that are both far-reaching and necessary, building up a record of admirable achievement that will stand well with voters in 2015. Lynton Crosby is back (that got the biggest cheer at Mr Cameron's final address to the '22 this week). As Lord Ashcroft pointed out in his research on polling, voters want action on immigration, welfare, the deficit, and these Mr Cameron is delivering. No wonder his aides say he feels buoyant, and untroubled by the whingers behind him. The first half of the year was a disaster, but he has recovered, and enters 2013 in better shape than we might have expected back in August.
The Sun's YouGov polling, published this morning, puts the situation at year-end in perspective. His party are 13 points behind Labour, and under pressure from the right with Ukip polling 10pc. Despite that, the Autumn Statement was a success in the court of public opinion. The cap on the rate of benefits increases is held to be "fair" by two thirds of the Sun's respondents, while the Independent's ComRes poll puts the figure at 49pc. The public, if anything, are pulling further to the Right, 81pc believe that the Government should lower taxes. This is fertile ground for Tory policies, and Dave will be hoping to start the New Year with a bang when he finally makes his Europe speech midway through January. 
This is the last morning briefing of 2012. If we can bear it, and remember to set our alarms, we'll be back on Monday January 7. On behalf of Thomas Pascoe, who does the hard work, I wish you a peaceful, restful and digital free Christmas.
As I wrote in my blog post yesterday, Andrew Mitchell is on his way back to the big time. The politics of the allegations against him caused his fall, and it is politics that will bring him back. Watching him at PMQs yesterday, it was notable how many of his colleagues made ingratiating gestures towards him. He has many more friends on the backbenches than he did in October, even Simon Hughes (to Guido's consternation).
This morning's Telegraph carries news that there will be a new Scotland Yard investigation into allegations of conspiracy in the handling of Thrasher's case, while the Times (£) is one of a number of papers reporting that senior Conservatives (Mr D. Davis) are seeking to pull apart the police log in the light of CCTV footage. Sir Jeremy Heywood receives a mild kicking in the Mail for failing to request a copy of the police log, although Number 10 seem to have no appetite to see him take the blame. Steve Richards in the Independent believes that Mr Mitchell should be invited back to Cabinet:
"One of the great myths about British politics is that ministers cling to their posts outrageously, refusing to let go under any circumstances. The opposite is closer to the truth. Too many of them – particularly members of the Cabinet – are forced out prematurely."
Ed Miliband is edging closer to agreement with Dave and Nick over the form of post-Leveson press regulation, the Guardian reports. Labour sources claim that ministers have conceded that a parliamentary underpinning might be necessary for a Royal Charter approach to go ahead. Nick Clegg is proposing that any legislation require a two-thirds "super-majority" to be amended. But isn't it the fundamental tenent of British democracy that no Parliament can bind its successor? Ask for a report into phone hacking, get a new constitution. 
Pippa Tips seem to have taken over the internet following her book launch, now prepare for Pickles Tips, as the Secretary of State has sent 50 money saving ideas to councils throughout the land, following hisdecision to cut local government budgets by 8.8pc next year. TheGuardian reports that Mr Pickles suggests ditching drinks at meetings, consultants, away days, and town hall newspapers. Instead they should be opening coffee shops in libraries, letting town halls out for weddings, and allowing advertising on council staff pay slips. Most intriguingly, he suggests that councils stop spending money translating documents into foreign languages as this "undermines community cohesion", an apparent nod to Ed Miliband's speech last week.
It is "bloody obvious" to Ken Clarke that a minimum price per alcoholic unit of 45p will do nothing to combat binge drinking, the Telegraph reports. The Minister without Portfolio joins a number of colleagues, thought to include Andrew Lansley and Jeremy Browne, in opposing the scheme, while the Treasury has raised objections to its practicality.
Dave met his backbenchers last night and told them that the party would go into the next election "with a clear Eurosceptic position". TheTelegraph reports that his speech to the 1922 Committee also contained a promise to have a paid campaigner in each of the party's target seats under the 40:40 strategy.
The speech was greeted by a great deal of banging of tables, suggesting that the message went down well. Another reconciliation with an old friend takes place on the front-page of this m0rning's Mail, which refers to itself as "victorious!" in the wake of two concessions from the Prime Minister - on war medals for veterans of the Arctic Convoys, andprotection for children from online pornography. 'Tis the season for goodwill, after all.
Mark Carney will be paid three times as much as Mervyn King, andreceive a housing allowance of £5,000 a week, the Telegraph reports, with a total package of £874,000, 33 times the size of the average British salary. Knight Frank have been enlisted to help him spend his £250,000 per year allowance, although sadly, as one estate agent tells the FT (£), "that kind of money gets you very little in the centre of town these days" and would "barely" cover a three bedroom apartment in Kinghtsbridge. Hard times.
Having won over the European Budget, Douglas Carswell has set his sights on wind farms:
@DouglasCarswell: "Energy Bill disaster: big corporate rent-seekers will do very well. This Coalition cld have been reformist, ends up backing crony capitalism... If decarbonising economy will pay, why the need for the subsidy? Crony capitalism never being trapped in a chapter of Atlas Shrugged, listening to looters and moochers, Jim Taggart, Wesley Mouch ..."
The Sun/YouGov: Con 30%, Lab 43%, Lib Dem 11%, UKIP 10%

In the Telegraph
Klaus Dodds - What's in a name?
Best of the rest

Pope Benedict XVI in the FT (£) - A time for Christians to engage with the world
John Redwood in The Times (£) - The City has not yet seen off the EU threat

TODAY: Commons rises for recess. Pensions Minister Steve Webb to introduce and publish the Benefit Uprating Bill.