Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Kate expectations..

Good morning. Congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge who announced yesterday that they were expecting their first child. Whether boy or girl, the child will grow up, all being well, to become head of state in 16 countries, breaking with 300 years of male primogeniture. Downing Street made clear that the agreement in Perth last year between the heads of Commonwealth governments would be sufficient to change the rules of succession without an act of Parliament. The Telegraph's James Kirkup analyses the constitutional implications in today's paper, adding that Nick Clegg is still keen to make a legal change, along with the de facto one already in existence. The birth-right of the first born male isn't the first royal birth tradition to have been tossed aside, of course - the Times (£) reports that Theresa May will be relieved she is no longer expected to attend the birth, as Sir William Joynson-Hicks did in 1926.
Will the baby be called Elizabeth? Will there be twins? Was the baby conceived thanks to "the magical love-powers of coconuts and Brussels sprouts" as the Star insists? We don't know. But prepare for another six months of similar questions.
Having already floated his schemes to target £10bn in Swiss bank accounts, tax avoiding multi-nationals, and those saving for pensions, the Chancellor's latest wheeze is gas energy. The FT (£) splashes on the news that George Osborne will use his Autumn Statement to set out a strategy for gas which will include up to 30 gas fired power stations providing 26 gigawatts of electricity. If Britain's Carbon budget was revised upwards, that capacity could rise to 37 gigawatts, or roughly half of Britain's generation capacity. Although the move will concern those members of the Coalition who view the world through green tinted spectacles, it is consistent with the change in the subsidy structure which Ed Davey announced earlier this month. The question now is whether Britain can exploit its shale gas reserves and supply the raw material. An acid test of economic need versus political NIMBYism is already brewing in Cheshire. The Independent reports that Mr Osborne's Tatton seat is "ripe for fracking". Presumably he will campaign for it enthusiastically.
Growth is expected to be sharply down when the OBR forecasts are revealed tomorrow. Debt and deficit spending will be up. TheIndependent has replicated the OBR's methodology and sees borrowing up by between £10bn and £15bn on forecasts next year owing to sluggish GDP growth (0.3pc against a 0.9pc forecast) and depressed taxreceipts. Cuts are being made, as the Guardian's graphic shows, but while they're hurting, they aren't yet working. This is being met stoically by the British public, for now, as Janan Ganesh notes in the FT (£). He argues that the lack of fury when the Chancellor extended austerity measures beyond 2015 speaks of a nation resigned to taking its medicine for a while yet. As I write in my Telegraph column, it is grudging public respect for tough choices now which informs the Conservative election strategy:
"Mr Osborne will invite us to agree that the Tories are making big, statesmanlike calls on major issues and leading what he has described as a government of "profound, long-lasting change". Even those battles Mr Cameron is choosing to fight, on issues that give many Tories the vapours – planning, gay marriage, minimum alcohol pricing – are presented as positions taken not because they are popular, but because – in his terms – they are right."
Whatever happens in the Autumn Statement, the main protagonists know they face being skewered by the deadly wit of the Telegraph'sChristian Adams who deservedly won Political Cartoonist of the Year at last night's CAT awards. Many congratulations to Christian from all of us at the Telegraph.
Yesterday's Leveson debate was badly attended, given the fuss which MPs of all stripes have made over the findings. At one point fewer than 30 MPs adorned the green benches. Perhaps they have already made up their minds. The task of rebuffing calls for an immediate statutory solution fell to Maria Miller. Although the minister did not rule out legislating eventually, she has successfully made the argument that national newspaper editors, who she will meet today with David Cameron, ought to be given time to implement the proposals under their own steam. It should be a productive meeting. There is talk of editors being asked to sign a joint undertaking on reform, and the Times (£) reports that Mr Cameron will hold the industry's "feet to the fire" in order to get agreement. The editors stand to gain in the long-run. Plans to shelve Labour's green paper introducing a Leveson Law are well advanced, according to the Mail, and it suits the purposes of both sides to come to a tough but voluntary arrangement.
While Mrs Miller was diplomatic in the Commons yesterday, Theresa Coffey was more forthright. The Telegraph reports that the ministerial aide said she found "interference with the activities of the media" to be something better suited to the "Congress of China". The Mail's Quentin Letts praised Mrs Miller as she "rode the seas like a tugboat going about its business". The Telegraph's Michael Deacon was equally unequivocal in his description of her opposite number:
"Harriet Harman, who had already made a lengthy statement on Thursday about why self-regulation would no longer do, and said the same thing on TV at the weekend, rose to repeat her views. 'The definition of insanity,' she cried, 'is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different outcome!' Presumably, then, that was her final word on the subject."
Nick Boles' decree that an area of greenfield land twice the size of greater London was required for development if England was to avoid a housing crisis came as a shock to many in his party, and his department as well, according to this morning's Times (£). The Department for Communities and Local Government said that there were "no new targets" and that Mr Boles was using baseline figures which were five years out of date. Moreover, "this department does not set top-down Whitehall housing targets". Two million acres of green and pleasant land are spared the axe then, but surely a minister armed with ancient information and no idea of his department's role is a damning indictment of those same civil servants sniffing at Mr Boles in this morning's Times?
Windfarms, don'tcha love 'em? Or hate them. The answer, of course, depends on which minister at the Department of Energy and Climate Change you're speaking to. Today, it's Greg Barker's turn to slap down colleague John Hayes. Mr Barker tells the FT (£) that wind farms are "wonderful" and "rather majestic". Indeed the public have taken one near his constituency so much to heart that it has become "almost a tourist attraction". Next week: John Hayes on how wind farms are destroying Britain's tourism industry.
Labour's latest bout of mischief making consensus building gets under-way today with the launch of "Labour for Democracy", a group backed by senior party figures and tasked with finding areas of cooperation with other progressive parties. Significantly, the Independent reports that Ed Miliband's PPS John Denham is one of the driving forces behind the group, suggesting a degree of official sanction. While Labour cannot yet make public overtures towards the Lib Dems for fear of showing electoral vulnerability, they are probably right in thinking that even whispers of support / demands for regicide as a prelude to coalition, will be enough to prick the ears of a certain Business Secretary.
Many MPs manage to juggle their demanding schedule in parliament with second jobs such as barrister, chic lit author, or reality TV contestant. However, this morning's Telegraph reports that, as a result, new Ipsa board member Professor Tony Wright believes they should be paid less. He also suggested performance related pay. There is already precendent for pay docking in the form of MPs who also hold seats in the Northern Ireland assembly. The question with the latter suggestion, though, is how do you measure performance? I suspect the public, the whips, and the MPs themselves may all have very different ideas.
Dave's new tough on Europe, tough on the causes of Europe stance means there was never the slightest chance of him going to help Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and the gang collect the Nobel Peace Prize next Monday. But what are friends for? Nick Clegg has stepped into the breach, the Independent reports. Aides say Mr Clegg will take the opportunity to have high-level discussions with EU leaders on banking reform and the EU budget. No doubt he will stick to Dave's line throughout.
Nicole Scherzinger was at Number 10 last night, where she helped Dave turn on his Christmas tree's fairy lights. This year, the Independentreports that she even recognised Mr Cameron. The last time she was invited to meet the Prime Minister, she was a little underwhelmed:
"They said they were introducing me to the Prime Minister and he came over, and I was like, 'Where's Tony Blair?' I thought it was still him. Someone had to tell me. I was a real ass." 

Maria Miller's Leveson statement allows Kerry McCarthy to cry "house!":

@Kerrymp: "She’s said it 4 times now. #statusquoisnotanoptionbingo But not making it clear what is (an option). #Leverson"

In the Telegraph
Best of the rest
Steve Richards in The Independent - The OBR seemed such a good idea George
Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) - In the battle of the budget, who's fair wins
TODAY: David Cameron and Maria Miller meet newspaper editors. The Prime Minister and the Culture Secretary will hold talks with editors on the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson. Meeting will be late morning, precise timing to be confirmed.
09:00 am: Annual Family Spending Report - ONS Media Briefing. The annual ONS Family Spending report provides a snapshot of the changing spending patterns of UK households. The latest report contains headline indicators for the UK, plus Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the nine English regions. Westminster Room, Church House, Dean's Yard.
09:00 am: Boris Johnson speech on Europe. To be treamed live onhttp://blogs.reuters.com/trnewsmaker/ The Thomson Reuters Building 30 South Colonnade Canary Wharf London, E14 5EP.
04:00 pm: Energy Minister John Hayes gives evidence on the Energy Bill to the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.