Monday, 17 December 2012

Clegg relaunches as the voice of reason..

We will witness the birth of Clegg 2.0 this morning as the Lib Dem leader gives a speech at the Commonwealth Club in which he sets out his vision of a "fair" society and puts some solid ground in between himself and Dave. Marking the fifth anniversary of his leadership, this is an important speech for Mr Clegg personally. The Independent reports that his deputy Simon Hughes has acknowledged "chatter" in the party about the leadership, and two separate polls yesterday put UKIP at least 5pts clear of the Lib Dems on 14pc. In the Guardian, Richard Reeves assesses the balancing act the party must now pull-off:
"Coalition act two is not about trying to reassert a Lib-Dem identity c 2010. It is about establishing a new identity, and winning people to the party's side for new reasons...A party that garners respect for having walked through the fire and not only survived but come out fighting."
The headline announcement will be a commitment to means testing benefits for the wealthy elderly, as the Telegraph reports. Under the Coalition Agreement, universal benefits for the over-65s are protected until the next parliament, which leaves Dave in the odd position of being a Tory Prime Minister defending the universality of the benefits system from an attack from the Left.
Mr Clegg's other announcements give the gist of what will be his election strategy. He will argue that the Lib Dems have restrained "extreme" Tory cuts, reducing the planned welfare cut in the Autumn Statement from £10bn to £3.8bn, while acting responsibility in the national interest. Positioning themselves as the moderates between Labour profligacy and Tory axemanship, the Lib Dems will contest 2015 as the Voice of Reason Party.
Of course, Mr Clegg assailing government policy is well-known and well-loved Westminster tradition. But the question remains: what are voters to make of a party and a leader who stays in coalition yet claims to hate its works?
Overnight a police officer with the diplomatic protection group has been arrested for leaking police records of the Andrew Mitchell "pleb" rant (Telegraph story here). The arrest has set off alarm bells in Fleet Street. The coincidence with talks to agree a post-Leveson settlement is uncomfortable, to say the least. 
Dig (housing foundations) for Victory still hasn't become the trump card Dave hoped it would be at the start of his term. Despite his backing for Nick Boles' scheme to build the equivalent of two Greater Londons in the countryside, there has been a precious lack of, er, building as yet. A group of 20 Conservative and Lib Dem MPs are now bidding to ensure that remains the case. The Telegraph reports that the group wants an amendment to the Government's Growth Bill which would require local councils to consider how existing infrastructure, particularly sewers and roads, would cope with the additional strain. Nick Herbert leads the charge with an op-ed in today's Telegraph:
"There are worrying signs that local authorities feel unable to set the housing numbers they want, for fear of being overturned by the Government’s planning inspectors. Communities who were promised a "fundamental shift of power from Westminster to people" will not be pleased if Labour’s unfeasible housing targets are merely replaced with ones set through the back door."
There are now 137 Conservative MPs willing to defy the wishes of the party leadership in the vote over gay marriage, the Telegraph reports. Given firm support from Labour and the Lib Dems, however, the Commons vote will be a side-show, however damaging to Mr Cameron's authority. The real battle will come in the Lords, where peers will argue that the Government has no mandate for the changes, and thus will not be able to use the Parliament Act to overturn a rejection by peers. A number of peers, including Labour and cross-bench Lords, have signed a letter to the paper asserting exactly this. Many Conservative MPs are privately saying that they would prefer a quick and dirty fix over gay marriage, getting it on the statute book, off the front pages, and moving on. The peers are of a different opinion. This will roll on well into the New Year.
The good news for Dave is that Bo-Jo told the Marr show that a return to Parliament by 2015 is "not going to happen". Less helpfully, he also slapped down Theresa May over the impact immigrants have on house prices, and said that an in/out EU referendum in the life of this parliament would be "fantastic". He's also talking immigration in this morning's Telegraph column:
"We need to stop moaning about the damburst. It’s happened. There is nothing we can now do except make the process of absorption as eupeptic as possible. What matters is not the colour of your skin or the religion of your great-grandfather. It’s whether you speak English; whether you have a loyalty – a love – for the country that has adopted you."
The Conservative campaign to divide the strivers and the slackers in the public imagination is clearly having some effect. Grant Shapps'  targetedonline banner advertising contrasting "hard working families" and "people who don't work", linking to the Conservative home page, have been described as "mislead[ing]...dishonest...offensive" and many things besides by Michael Dugher in today's Guardian. Catchier that "predistribution", isn't it?
The Justice Secretary is embroiled in a dispute with senior judges over Mr Grayling's power of patronage over the position of president of the Supreme Court. The Guardian reports that the challenge will come through an amendment to the Crime and Courts Bill tabled by Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers which will be debated on Tuesday. The Lord Chancellor vs an unelected lawyer on a point of constitutional refinement. One for the purists.
Theresa May, Andrew Lansley and Jeremy Browne are all among a number of Cabinet ministers who are sceptical over Dave's alcoholic unit minimum pricing plan, the Sunday Telegraph reported yesterday. Seen as a "tax on the poor" by a broad coalition in Cabinet, the plans now look unworkable, with Whitehall sources claiming that an "exit strategy" is now the main priority. File that one away under "omnishambles".
Second home owners should not receive a discount on council tax once local authorities are handed the right to charge higher rates in April, Eric Pickles has said. The Telegraph reports Mr Pickles is happy for local authorities to have the "freedom and responsibility" to set their own discount rates.
One of the problems with Twenty First Century austerity is that there is very little left to sell. The Autumn Statement saw the Chancellor book a healthy £3.5bn anticipated profit for the sale the 4G mobile spectrum when the winners are announced in Spring 2013. That only leaves £116.4bn to go and we can break even for the year. Fortunately, George has it covered. The FT (£) reports that the Chancellor's latest wheeze will be selling off a chunk of Britain's military airwaves for £1bn. Unused frequencies across government will be auctioned before 2020, with the MoD sale preparations beginning late next year, the Chancellor will announce in a statement today.

With editor Anna Wintour possibly on her way to Paris as American ambassador, there may soon be a position for a fashion-savvy commentator at the head of Vogue, something which hasn't escaped Diane Abbot's attention. She was watching the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards last night:

@HackneyAbbott: "Bradley Wiggins in a super sharp suit and carefully feathered hair cut...Ellie Simmonds. Lady in red. Olympic superstar...Denise Lewis looking fabulous...Chelsea's Didier Drogba looking ultra smooth..." 


In the Telegraph

Boris Johnson - Let's not dwell on immigration but sow the seeds of integration
Best of the rest

Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun - Time for truth on immigration
Edward Luce in the FT (£) - Obama's year of reckoning approaches in Iran


10:00 am: Nick Clegg speech to Centre Forum on delivering a strong economy and a fair society, followed by Q&A. Commonwealth Club, 25 Northumberland Avenue.
04:00 pm: Home Secretary Theresa May gives evidence to parliamentary committee on the National Security Strategy. Committee Room 4A, House of Lords.