Monday, 10 December 2012

Tories at war (again)

The carousel of issues on which Coalition policy diverges violently from the passions of the Tory base clicks round again. Next in the frame, gay marriage. This morning's papers witness a concerted campaign by Tory modernisers to win over backbenchers and grass-roots activists. They also feature plenty of evidence that their exhortations have fallen on deaf ears, not least David Davies who told BBC Wales that the plans were "barking mad" (Telegraph report here).
Dave realises his position in the party is a weak one, hence the concerted effort to give the pro-campaign some impetus over the weekend. In this morning's Times (£) column backing the leadership, Tim Montgomerie pushes the Freedom to Marry group which was announced in a letter to the Sunday Telegraph. The organisation was responsible for releasing news of John Major's backing on the issue yesterday.
The Prime Minister has convinced himself that he is on the side of the Angels on this issue, while his advisers are taking comfort from consistent polling data appearing to support his position. The danger, though, as Mike Smithson writes, is that it splits the party and the cost in terms of activists is not worth the benefit in terms of the gay vote. As Bruce Anderson writes on ConservativeHome, there is also a feeling that the party is abandoning its role as a defender of social institutions lightly. It might allow the leadership to get the law passed, but at what cost to the party machine and, as importantly, the party's role?
The EU's best and brightest travel to Oslo today to collect the Nobel peace prize. As the Telegraph explains, the statuette will go to the EU museum (the catchily titled "House of European History") while the $1m cheque will go to projects for children in war zones. While Herman Van Rompuy, Jose Manuel Barroso and the gang celebrate, Dave will be perfecting a speech he's planning for next week. In the FT (£), George Parker says that the Prime Minister's vision of Britain in Europe will set out a programme of concessions which he will attempt to win from Brussels, followed by a referendum vote on the new, looser relationship in the next parliament. The question is whether that referendum will include an exit option (Boris insists it will, see below).
One thing's for certain - it's decision time. "The speech" has been a long time in coming. As the Daily Mail's editorial puts it: "the Prime Minister has little time to lose. The country is angry with Brussels and impatient for reform." Perhaps what the paper refers to as a "nauseating...orgy of self-congratulation" in Oslo will focus his mind.
George Osborne has done all he can to force Labour into voting against his electorally popular cap on the rate of increase of working age benefits. In separating the measure from the raft of other legislation required as a result of the Autumn Statement, he will force the question upon them. It looks like they will take the bait. As the Telegraph reports, Chuka Umunna said yesterday that the party would "struggle" to support measures which would "hurt" working families and those "striving" to get jobs. Strivers. Weren't they Dave's demographic? Whatever happened to the squeezed middle?
Owen Paterson has signalled his approval of genetically modified foods, arguing that GM crops have "real benefits". The Telegraph reports that Mr Paterson is "confident" the Prime Minister will find the right moment to back GM produce in Europe. In his interview with me on Saturday, Mr Paterson said that he "want[s] to get our country back" from Europe. Perhaps a case for acting unilaterally?
David Cameron plans an in/out referendum on Europe in the near future, friend and confidante Boris Johnson told the world in a Sky News interview yesterday (our story is here). In his Telegraph column today, Bo-Jo notes that fracking would probably turn both George Osborne's and Owen Paterson's constituencies into industrial hubs. Pointedly, he finds space to praise the latter for being "dead right" in putting jobs above parochialism. Mr Osborne's mention is, presumably, omitted for reasons of space.
Labour will publish their six-clause draft bill on press regulation today, acting ahead of the Coalition and the newspaper industry. The Guardianhails Labour's "six pillars of wisdom", but given minimal public interest in a statutory solution and none at all from Number 10, they may as well be six pillars of salt.
Formerly the "poster girl for the Coalition", the Guardian's G2 sectionfinds Baroness Warsi content in her now role as Faith and Communities Minister. "I feel like a round peg in a round hole," she tells the paper, although as her interviewer notes, her contentment is probably still contingent on being "valuable" rather than "useful" to the party.
Francis Maude's scheme to allow secretaries of state to choose their own senior civil servants will be rejected by Sir David Normington, head of the Civil Service Commission, this week. The FT (£) reports that the mandarin will object to the further politicisation of the civil service. Mr Maude may legislate anyway, but as Dave showed when he barred the appointment of David Kennedy at the Energy Department, political considerations are never far from the surface, even in the current system.
From James Forsyth in the Mail on Sunday:

"Michael Gove argued that Lib Dem MPs needed to be put on the spot about whether they wanted Cameron as Prime Minister at the next Election. He argued that one of the trump cards Tory candidates had to play was that voting for them was the only way to guarantee that Cameron, not Ed Miliband, would be PM."

From Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer:

"We will see whether Conservative MPs are quite so enthusiastic for shale gas when they have to explain that to their constituents. We will also see how shire Tories take to the prospect of their pretty patches being invaded by huge convoys of juggernauts and disfigured by gas wells. Intensive drilling is incredibly disruptive." 

From John Rentoul in the Independent on Sunday

"Osborne has stolen Miliband's 'squeezed middle'. The effect of his new measures last week is to take from both the rich and the poor and to give to households in the middle of the income distribution. Thus he forced Labour into its historic stance of defending the poorest, in low-paid work and on benefits. I forecast that this, however worthy, will not be a good position for the Labour Party at the time of the election."

Ok, it's from Friday afternoon, but this must still be the political tweet of the year. Helen Flanagan is starstruck after meeting Ed Miliband:

@helenflanagan1: "@NadineDorriesMP babe your mate kept pestering me for a picture last night and boring my ear off I was like zzz" 


In the Telegraph

Boris Johnson - Ignore the doom merchants, Britain should get fracking
Alex Spillius and Zoe Brennan - The Scot destined to lead Germany
Leo McKinstry in the Daily Express - Economy is being strangled by the costs of welfare
Leader in the Financial Times (£) - A coalition caught on a ringfence


02:00 pm: Liam Fox speech to Open Europe and Rusi on EU, followed by Q&A. Royal United Services Institute, Whitehall.
03:15 pm: Commons Public Accounts Committee takes evidence on franchising of NHS trusts. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.
04:00 pm: Commons Transport Committee takes evidence on aviation strategy. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
06:00 pm: Tim Loughton speech. Tory former children's minister to call on government to introduce tax breaks for marriage. Centre for Social Justice think-tank event One Great George Street, London.