BREAKING NEWS: Ken Clarke has managed the neat trick of defending a referendum to which he was opposed and his own stance on Europe in an interview with the Today Programme:
"The time has come to put the arguments to the British people again. The Prime Minister thinks [a referendum] is the only way...people demand referendums because they know there is a majority against them in Parliament.
"I am resigned to fate which is becoming a minority in today's activist world...Like most responsible leaders [David Cameron] believes that staying in the European Union is absolutely necessary...most people [in Europe] think it does need reform. We need to get the economic benefits and the political benefits...The Conservative Party has always been pro-European in my lifetime and the majority of the party want to stay in Europe."
MILITARY SPENDING RING-FENCED
Good morning. Defence spending will rise again after the next general election, David Cameron has pledged. Forces chiefs, incredulous at having the Mali adventure foisted on them as the army is being cut in size and increasing its reliance on reservists, will receive above inflation rises from 2015 onwards. As Con Coughlin points out on our comment pages, that is just as well because Dave's global commitments make him increasingly dependent on Britain's special forces. In keeping with the more realistic appraisal of the link between forces funding and forces capacity is the report in today's Guardian that the Treasury has signed off the funds necessary for new Trident submarines ahead of an eventual Commons vote. The reversal will benefit serving soldiers only,our report today that the war pension awarded to veterans, widows and their families will rise by less than the state pension this year indicates that the military is still far from having the special status it enjoys in American politics.
Dave's battle against the "existential threat" he has discovered in North Africa took him to Algiers yesterday where he committed to a "joint security partnership" between the nations, battling Islamist terrorism in the region. So far, so Tony, but as the seeds of a long-term engagement are sewn, the Mail leader writer's question "is Timbuktu really any of our business?" resonates. Meanwhile, ongoing questions over the lengths which the security services are going in order to protect us, and the secrecy which shrouds them, also gives cause for concern, as Peter Oborne argues.
At a national level, there's a problem too. The jam tomorrow approach can only work for so long, particularly when the diet of gruel today is such a slog. We now have defence spending rises, a large portion of the welfare spending cuts, the EU renegotiation process, and much of the rest of the red meat from the Tory half of the Coalition coming after the next election. But troops can't march of empty stomachs. Perhaps, as I blogged yesterday, it's time to give them something to chew on in the next budget.
Finally, there's the Cabinet dimension. How will George Osborne take to having military spending ring-fenced by the Prime Minister? Moreover, if reductions at the MoD are now off-limits, does this put the other ring-fenced departments into play? With health, DfID (which can't spend it's money fast enough) and schools all now ring-fenced, other departments will await budget decisions with trepidation. Has Dave just stolen George's budget?
CLARKE WARNS OF "FATAL" EU EXIT
Ken Clarke keeps this under his hat, but he's actually quite opposed to the idea of Britain leaving the EU. He has warned that Britain would make a "fatal mistake" if voters chose to leave the EU. Speaking on stage with Peter Mandelson and Douglas Alexander, Mr Clarke added that Eurosceptics had "got away with murder with the lies and false propaganda they have poured out about the European Union," theGuardian reports. Insubordination, certainly, but Mr Clarke's pedigree, appearing on stage with Gordon Brown and Tony Blair in 1999 to oppose William Hague's Eurosceptic message, would not have come as a surprise to at least one of his Cabinet colleagues. The Whips think Dave may lose 40% of MPs, around 120. If it's that few, nobody will be as delighted as the Prime Minister.
TORY TRADITIONALISTS BACK DOWN OVER GAY MARRIAGE
Opposition to Coalition plans to introduce homosexual marriage is well contained in the Cabinet, the Mail reports. Iain Duncan Smith is expected to abstain rather than vote against the move, while both Christ Grayling and Baroness Warsi will vote with the Government, despite personal reservations. Owen Paterson is the Bill's most implacable foe, but support around the Cabinet table is increasingly timorous. Given that the Bill will pass on the back of Liberal Democrat and Labour support, what remains to be seen is whether Mr Cameron can keep at least half of his party onside.
AID DEPARTMENT NEEDS HELP SPENDING
Not every Whitehall department feels like it is enduring death by a thousand cuts. The all-party international development select committee have found that officials at DFiD rushed to spend £500m of public money in 2011 in order to meet the Coalitions spending demands.We report that officials found their extra funds "challenging" to disperse. "Civil servant morale low thanks to cuts" has become something of a commonplace in recent years. "Civil service morale low thanks to excessive funding" is a new one.
Three in four councils will reduce the council tax benefit available to lower income households as a result of a 10pc cut from central government to the subsidy budget, the Independent reports. In the Mail, there's news that the married couples allowance will not be introduced this year. The Chancellor believes that introducing it for the 2014/15 financial year would keep it fresh in the minds of voters for the coming election. Given the size of the proposed tax allowance transfer system - reputed to be £12.50 per month, per couple, at the basic rate - it will not make a material difference, but even so, backbench gripes over delaying a manifesto commitment at the same time as a non-manifesto commitment in gay marriage is fast-tracked are becoming no easier to answer.
PICKLES ATTACKS AUNTIE
The BBC is full of "gullible" journalists prepared to give "unquestioning" regurgitation of the Labour view, acting like an "80s tribute band" for the party, according to Eric Pickles. The Mail reports that the Communities Secretary used his speech to the New Local Government Network yesterday to add that Labour had taken a "Miss Havisham approach" to opposition, reliant on past glories in the place of new ideas. Clearly he hasn't heard about predistribution.
POLITICS BAD FOR GROWTH
The shenanigans over boundary reform left Quentin Letts more disgusted than at any other point in his political career, he writes today. In fact, politics has disillusioned Ed Miliband so much that he begins a promising career as an op-ed writer with this effort in the Sun on youth unemployment today, pledging to take on an apprentice when he storms Number 10. It's not just the soul. Politics is also bad for growth, apparently. An LSE study reported in the FT (£), found that a "costly cocktail of political procrastination, institutional churn and poor decision making" hampered GDP.
Liam Fox is being lined up to replace Sir George Young as Conservative Chief Whip, according to the Mail's Ephraim Hardcastle. The column suggests that in recompense, Sir George's membership of the Carlton Club could be extended indefinitely. Dr Fox's continued non-membership of the Conservative leadership challengers' club is also, presumably, a condition of the move.
IT'S THE WAY HE TELLS THEM
The Mail reports that listening to a Grant Shapps presentation on reaching out to ethnic minority voters, one Tory minister urged him to hurry up as "we don’t want to be sitting around the Cabinet table having this conversation in three years’ time." Not a problem, interjected George Osborne, "in three years’ time we will be sitting around the shadow cabinet table." A good joke, but perhaps not one you want your chief election strategist to be telling.
Tonight's Question Time comes from Lancaster. The panel will be Sayeeda Warsi, Alan Johnson, the comedian Dom Joly, the Guardian’s Zoe Williams and James Delingpole.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Continuing an occasional series called "Mike Weir's informative film reviews":
@mikeweirsnp: "Saw Django Unchained. Great film but, unsurprisingly, not for the squeamish."
TODAY: European Union Foreign Affairs Council, attended by Foreign Secretary William Hague in Brussels. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith speech on child poverty.
09:45 am: Commons Public Accounts Committee takes evidence on tax avoidance. Witnesses: Jane McCormick, UK head of tax, KPMG; Bill Dodwell, head of tax policy, Deloitte LLP; Kevin Nicholson, head of tax, PWC; and John Dixon, head of tax, Ernst and Young. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.
10:00 am: Former Press Association political editor Chris Moncrieff and Independent columnist Steve Richards give evidence to Commons Public Administration Committee on government reshuffles. Wilson Room, Portcullis House.
Good morning. Nick Clegg says he is worried about Tory revenge attacks in the wake of the boundaries vote yesterday. He should be. The Conservative backbenches are fizzing. David Cameron himself, I know, is still steaming about his deputy's unreasonable behaviour. They may still get on perfectly well on the surface, but privately the Prime Minister nurses a fair degree of contempt for the way Mr Clegg welched on the deal.
The vote will have all manner of consequences. First, it will make it more difficult for the Coalition to coordinate its business. Downing Street will say that it's a one-off disagreement, but the mood among Tory MPs is such that Mr Cameron cannot be confident of their support for any future measures that can be attributed to the Lib Dems. Second, and more dangerous, it means trouble for Mr Cameron. His enemies on the backbenches will tout this as an example of his weakness in the face of the yellow peril. They will use it to advance the case for an end to the Coalition. That David Davis and a clutch of other irreconcilables felt able to vote against a measure that was supposed to advance the Tory cause is ominous. The Adam Afriyie business is still developing - his operation is more advanced than some realise. A decision was taken for example to focus recruitment on backbenchers and exclude PPSs (and apparently he is recruiting a press spokesman). Mr Afriyie's key lieutenants include one of Mr Cameron's oldest friends. The boundaries defeat is bad for the Coalition because it exposes the crude politics that drive it, and sets a precedent of ministers - let alone the Deputy PM - voting against their own government. But it also tells a troubling story of the gap between Mr Cameron and his own side.
For the moment, though, Dave has the moral high ground and the Mail, whose leader argues that "this was Parliament at its most contemptible. In a despicable display of treachery and spite, Lib Dems joined forces with self-serving Opposition parties last night to vote against a fundamental principle of democracy." The defeat, by a margin of 42 seats, was not accompanied by a level of debate to stir our sketch-writerMichael Deacon. His fictional Lib Dem MP ("It is a matter of principle. The principle being that the Tories scuppered our reform of the Lords, and so waaaah, boo hoo, you horrid rotters, we’re not playing with you any more, we’re going home and we’re taking our ball with us,") is too true for comfort.
MISSION CREEP IN MALI
Doing more with less is the mantra of the austerity age. Even so, our splash reporting that troops in elite units from the SAS and other special forces are facing the sack, strikes a sour note given yesterday's announcement of a British commitment in Mali. The UK will send 330 soldiers to the region to protect French forces, with the Independentreporting that the number will soon pass 400. A fortnight ago, the Prime Minister told the Commons that the British contribution would be in the "tens, not hundreds". Conservative MPs are worried about both mission creep and defence cuts, with the FT's (£) report highlighting the lack of a core narrative - are British fighting Al-Quaeda, building bridges with the French or taking the first step on a path leading from direct intervention to training missions? Whatever the motivation, Britain now looks invested in the region - David Cameron will fly to Algeria today for talks with the Algerian prime minister, the Guardian reports. Let's hope theMail's prediction that "Mali could be Britain's Vietnam" is wide of the mark.
OSBORNE URGED TO OFFER MARRIED COUPLE'S ALLOWANCE
There is still over a month until the Budget, but the Chancellor is not short of advice over potential carrots and whips. The Times (£) reports that senior Tories have been lobbying for a married couple's tax allowance as a way of mitigating some of the damage done by Dave's insistence on pushing gay marriage through the Commons. A source tells the paper that the Budget would be "a good rime to placate an awful lot of people".
Placating the opposition is not usually high on Mr Osborne's agenda, although Labour have let it be known through Chris Leslie's remarks, reported in the FT (£), that they want a renewal of the tax on bank bonuses. Although banker bashing is as close to the Chancellor's heart as his opposite number's, the short time-horizon will probably stop him instituting any such tax for this April. Instead, he might want to take a look at Allister Heath's three-point manifesto in today's Telegraph calling for a cut in corporation tax to 11pc, the abolition of capital gains tax and double the rate of deficit cutting. Business friendly, to say the least, and even less likely than the bonus tax.
ED'S BROTHERLY LOYALTY
Labour's failure to match the Conservative pledge of a referendum on EU membership was the result of Ed M allowing himself to be talked out of it by his brother, the Sun reports. Miliband Major "sneered it was 'too populist'", the paper adds. Populism and the Labour movement? Heaven forbid. At least one Labour legend is giving the public what they want...Mr Tony. The public in question is the Polish one, and he was honoured yesterday for opening Britain's labour market to their workers at the Polish Business Leaders' Awards. As we report, Mr Blair was too busy to collect the reward in person, but sent the British ambassador and a video message, which was suitably rock star.
CASH FOR BADGERS?
It may not have quite the same ring as "cash for questions", but as we report, donations amounting to £140,000 from Political Animal Lobby Ltd, which has links to an anti-cull campaign group, to Labour since 2001 have been criticised by Conservative MPs. The donation of £50,000 on 28th May last year was unrelated to the Labour announcing its opposition to bager culls in August, a party spokesman countered.
08:30 TO DISAPPOINTMENT, CALLING AT PAIN, MISERY...
HS2 is going to cause "pain, misery and disappointment [which can] never be alleviated", Parliament heard yesterday. The speaker was the planning minister Nick Boles. As we report, Mr Boles acknowledged the "important but entirely contradictory demands" of the nation and the local communities who will host the nation's new train set. He omitted to mention the demands of the Chancellor. The Mail notes allegations that the Chancellor intervened to prevent the line running through his constituency. Mr Osborne says he did no such thing. Mr Osborne's local council leader says "your MPs George Osborne, Edward Timpson and I, have fought hard to keep the line away from Knutsford and Tatton". Clearly a case of crossed wires over the lines.
CHILD POLICY IN TURMOIL
Forever torn between a backtrack and an indiscretion, Coalition childcare policy had another good day yesterday. Plans to lower the cost of childcare by allowing the ratio of children to carers have been wellpublicised by Elizabeth Truss and achieved broad radio and television coverage yesterday. As is traditional, internal squabbling has cast doubt upon them in the next morning's papers. We report that Number 10 is anxious about the plans, while the Guardian also quotes Claire Perry, one of the Chancellor's clique, adding that Truss "perhaps got a little bit ahead of herself". There's nothing like a strong message in a policy area, and this is nothing like a strong message.
BORGEN'S NEWEST SPINNER?
A crusading prime minister and a tortured media adviser. No wonder Alastair Campbell felt drawn to the Danish drama Borgen whose stars he meets in a T2 feature (£). Borgen "captures a lot of the pace, energy, ambition, teamwork [etc] of the political world," he enthuses. Better haircuts, though.
TWEETS AND TWITS
You learn something new every day with Kerry McCarthy:
@KerryMP: "Odd and Even are both male first names in Norway, according to this book I'm reading."
TODAY: Foreign Secretary William Hague hosting an event on the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (London). International Development Secretary Justine Greening attending the UN High Level donor conference for humanitarian aid to Syria (Kuwait). Police Minister Damian Green to launch consultation on direct entry schemes in the police force (London).
09:30 am: Bank of England publishes its lending to individuals figures for December.
09:30 am: Latest round of statistics to be released from the 2011 Census. Over a hundred tables will be published, with more detailed information about the characteristics of the population of England and Wales. Office for National Statistics, Garden Room 1, 1 Drummond Gate.
10:15 am: Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, gives evidence to the Constitution Committee. Room 1, Palace of Westminster.
10:30 am: Office of Fair Trading (OFT) publishes review into petrol market. Due to be published by press release at 10.30.
12:00 pm: Prime Minister's Questions. House of Commons, London.
12:50 pm: Labour publishes its sixth NHS Check report. Andy Burnham MP, Labour's Shadow Health Secretary, will hold an off-camera press briefing on the report which provides new information on winter pressures and crisis in A&E. One Brewer's Green.
02:30 pm: Commons Scottish Affairs Committee hearing on defence implications of Scottish independence. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
02:45 pm: Commons Environment Committee takes evidence on contamination of beef products with horse meat. Witnesses: Food Standards Agency; Iceland and Tesco; Environment minister David Heath. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.
04:30 pm: Planning minister Nick Boles gives evidence to the Commons Communities Committee. Committee Room 8, House of Commons.
05:30 pm: Launch of Centre for British Influence, with Kenneth Clarke, Danny Alexander and Lord Mandelson. Europe House, 32 Smith Square.
06:30 pm: Business Secretary Vince Cable speech to Politeia thinktank. Guildhall.
Good morning. George Osborne has woken to a slew of unhelpful headlines. The catalyst is a report from the Treasury Select Committee which casts doubt on the Chancellor's plan to raise £8.5bn in the next two years from a Swiss tax agreement and the sale of the 4G mobile spectrum. It adds that the decision to drop the "golden rule" in the last Autumn Statement - the pledge to have debt falling as a percentage of GDP by 2015 - hurt Mr Osborne's credibility, while the practice of using the Autumn Statement as a micro budget introduces additional uncertainty over public finances, as we report.
Then there is the fall-out from last week's poor GDP number. The Chancellor's decision to front the unveiling of the second stage of HS2 planning seems to have focused minds on more direct stimulus measures he isn't taking (particularly much of the HS2 construction fund will be headed abroad, as the Mail's leader notes). Talk of unfunded tax cuts is rife on the Conservative benches, talk which won't be helped by yesterday's TaxPayers' Alliance claim that 254 tax increases have been introduced while George has been at the helm, with a further 45 to come. Market sentiment is gloomy despite the charging FTSE, Sterling has fallen alarmingly swiftly against the supposedly stricken Euro, and most voters believe that the EU referendum will further damped the economic outlook, as the Independent reports. The Guardian's story that Qatar has suspended its £3bn investment in redeveloping the Chelsea Barracks adds to the cloudy outlook.
If that wasn't enough, the FT (£) adds that the Chancellor is about to find himself embroiled in another no-win row over bonuses at state banks, with RBS intending to pay £250m in bonuses to an investment banking division implicated in Libor rigging which could cost the taxpayer £400m in fines to US regulators. At the moment, though, George appears trapped by a schedule which sees most of the real fiscal reform slated for 2015 onwards. Unless he is careful, he could find a golden economic legacy going Labour's way. Between now and then, he needs a rabbit from the hat, as I argue in my Telegraph column:
"Downing Street has long made every effort to avoid anything that looks like tension between No 10 and No 11 [but] the door-plate on No 10 does say "First Lord of the Treasury". It’s only a murmur at the moment, but Mr Osborne might anticipate what happens when the Prime Minister decides someone has to save the Tory legacy, and it might as well be him."
HS2: DELAYED THANKS TO LAWYERS ON THE LINE
Legal challenges and endless judicial reviews could push the completion date of HS2 back by a decade, the Independent reports, suggesting work may not now begin until 2022. The £33bn scheme can ill afford the delays - the FT (£) adds that it managed to add £2bn to its projected cost from 12 months ago while sat idle on a planner's board. The completion date of 2032/33 (as well as the decision on the Heathrow link, due 2015) has struck a number of commentators as unnecessarily conservative.Michael Deacon argues it wouldn't happen in China, while over at the Mail, Correlli Barnett says it wouldn't have happened under the Victorians, either. In fact, the whole HS2 project has found the Mail at its grumpiest. Although our leader praises a "bold vision [which] will keep Britain on track", the Mail laments the "high-speed trail of blight" before suggesting in its leader that the whole scheme is simply "another job-creation scheme for German engineering firms and Eastern European labourers." Poor Dave, that cut-out-and-keep front page must seem a long time ago.
LAST ROLL OF THE DICE ON BOUNDARY REFORM
The Boundary Reform Bill is in the Commons today, and the chamber will witness the Lib Dems voting against the government line for the first time under the Coalition. With the Bill unlikely to be passed (Scottish nationalists and Ulster unionists are also against), Nick's refusal to honour his side of the Coalition agreement will probably prove fatal. Liam Fox pops up in the Sun to castigate Mr Clegg for his "deeply dishonourable" showing, but this is a move which has been well telegraphed and reluctantly accepted in Number 10. However much it irks the backbenches, it will be business as usual this time tomorrow.
TORIES MULL FORCING FIRMS TO PUBLISH ETHNIC MAKE-UP
Rachel Sylvester uses her Times (£) column to lay out one of the biggest strategic challenges the Conservatives will face in coming elections - the party's support base is still overwhelmingly white, but the country is becoming much less so. What was a country which was 91pc white a decade ago is now 86pc white, with the figure dropping to 73pc for under-fives. The latest Tory plan to counter the "ethnicity effect" is an idea being pushed by party vice-chairman Alok Sharma which would see listed firms forced to publish an ethnic breakdown of their workforce. Presumably the workforce won't also be polled on who they'll be cheering for in that summer's test series...
BERCOW WARNS ON BACKBENCH PAY
David Cameron has been warned by the Speaker that he "would not be terribly clever or brave" if he attempted to "appease" public opinion by blocking a large rise in the salaries of backbenchers when IPSA makes its pay recommendations, we report. Ever the crowd pleaser, Mr Bercow.
APPOINTMENT WAR ROLLS ON
Caroline Spelman's advocacy of politically appointed permanent secretaries at the Institute of Government's debate yesterday won her a telling-off, the FT (£) reports. Sir David Normington, the civil servicecommissioner, warned that this is "the wrong debate at the wrong time" and added that an image of a civil service at war with ministers put-off potential recruits. Meanwhile in the Guardian, the head of the FDA union has warned that morale in the service is so low that two thrids of senior mandarins are prepared to quit their jobs.
BRITAIN IS RUBBISH AND THERE ISN'T EVEN A HEALTH SERVICE (FOR YOU)
On the off chance that the Government's "Britain: not very good" advertising campaign in Romania and Bulgaria fails to pay off, immigration minister Mark Harper has another plan. As the Mail reports, migrants without a job will be told that they must buy private medical insurance to prevent the NHS becoming over-loaded. Of course, there is nothing contradictory here with the advice issued to GPs in October that the NHS must treat anyone, irrespective of nationality, lest it risk discrimination. Nothing at all.
BRITISH TROOPS LIKELY TO JOIN EU TRAINING MISSION TO MALI
At least 200 British troops are ready for deployment in Mali should the French request them, the Guardian reports. Although troops could be used for "force protection" for troop trainers sent as part of a potential EU mission, theirs would not be a combat role.
GREAT POLITICAL INSULTS (CONT...)
It is often said that standards of vituperation have fallen in Parliament in the modern era, so it was refreshing to see ITV report that Iain Duncan Smith put some effort into his attack on Labour during a debate on his welfare reforms. The benches opposite were packed with a "bunch of discombobulated monkeys", IDS fumed.
RSPCA TOLD TO REVIEW PRIVATE PROSECUTIONS
The Charity Commission has written to the RSPCA to ask it to review its prosecution policy after it spent £326,000 prosecuting members of David Cameron's local hunt, we report. Simon Hart writes in our comment section that today's debate in Parliament on the work of the charity will debate potential conflicts of interest, its relationship with the police and whether to ask the Attorney General to undertake a review of the prosecutions.
Chris Huhne will stand trial on Monday over allegations that he forced his ex-wife Vicky Pryce to take speeding points for him, we report. Appearing in court yesterday, Mr Huhne entered a plea of not guilty to a charge of perverting the course of justice.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Who says there are no new ideas in politics? Well, Michael Fabricant, for one:
@Mike_Fabricant: "Irony: Labour has now adopted Conservatives' pre 2010 route for HS2, while the Conservatives have accepted Labour's route (Birm to London)."
TODAY: MPs vote on boundary changes for Commons constituencies. Business minister Jo Swinson makes announcement on measures to tackle anti-competitiveness.
09:30 am: Commons Public Administration Committee takes evidence on the future of the civil service. Witnesses: Lord Wilson of Dinton, GCB, former Cabinet Secretary and Rt Hon Dame Janet Paraskeva DBE, former First Civil Service Commissioner; Sir Nick Harvey MP, Rt Hon Nick Herbert MP, Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP and Rt Hon Lord Adonis. Committee Room 16, House of Commons.
09:30 am: National Association of Pension Funds give evidence to Commons Treasury Committee on impact of quantitative easing. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
11:00 am: Education minister Liz Truss speech on childcare. Policy Exchange.
11:15 am: Justine Greening gives evidence to Commons International Development Committee on Pakistan. Committee Room 5, House of Commons.
01:30 pm: Business Secretary Vince Cable and Wales Secretary David Jones give evidence to Commons Welsh Affairs Committee on steel industry in Wales. House of Commons.
02:45 pm: Commons Home Affairs Committee. Hearing to take evidence on: At 02:45, anti-social behaviour, with ministers Jeremy Browne and Don Foster. At 03:30, child sex grooming, with former MP for Keighley Ann Cryer. At 04:00, e-crime, with the British Retail Consortium and National Trading Standards eCrime Centre. At 04:30, Capita's work for UKBA, with Capita executives. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
BREAKING NEWS: The Chancellor has appeared on BBC Breakfast stressing his belief that the HS2 extension will bring big economic benefits for Britain:
"[HS2] act as an engine of growth [in the] North and the Midlands. [It]will change the economic geography of this country," he said, adding that it would "help Britain win the global race."
AFRIYIE'S BID FOR THE TORY UNGOVERNED SPACE
Good morning. David Cameron is taking his colleagues away from it all for a regional Cabinet in Leeds this morning. They are taking the train, of course, as the theme of the day is HS2 and the route north of Birmingham. Back in Westminster the theme is Dave's future,whatever No10 may say about the weekend's farcical developments. As Peter Oborne argues, much of the Conservative party, like Mali, is an ungoverned space. Adam Afriyie's candidacy is being dismissed too easily by those who don't appreciate the extent to which Tory MPs yearn for a leader with a backstory of triumph over adversity rather than unearned privilege, although to judge by the coverage I suspect he won't thank whoever thought it would be a good idea to mention it to the Sunday lobby. When I discussed life after Dave with a cross section of backbenchers recently his name didn't come up. Instead the betting focuses on Michael Gove and Chris Grayling in Cabinet, Jesse Norman from the 2010, and Boris as the outsider favourite. Theresa May is dismissed out of hand, as is George Osborne. The point to retain from Mr Afriyie's quixotic sally, though, is this: the likelihood must be that the choice of next leader, whatever the circumstances, will leap generations. Those currently in Cabinet will find that with each year that passes their chances diminish. The 2005 intake may still hope. But the future I suspect belongs to the men and women of 2010.
The prospects of ConservativeHome's J Alfred Prufrock MP and his Turquoise Manifesto might be slim, but unless too much is read into Boris dropping in on Rupert Murdoch last week, he has as good a chance as any of unseating Dave before the next election, which is to say, none. As one Tory MP tells the Mail - "oh good. We're back to being the stupid party". Never a truer word...
The proposals for the northern fork of the HS2 route are published today, and they pose as many questions as they answer. Our report that the Prime Minister expects the route linking London with Leeds and Manchester to generate 100,000 new jobs, but it is difficult not to think that this is optimistic, particularly as it will not call in the city centres of Derby, Nottingham or Sheffield. The Times (£) makes the point that the decision to link the £33bn line to Heathrow will not be made until 2015, adding to uncertainty around the hub's future and, if anything, discouraging investment. Then there is the imponderable of the extent of the shires rebellion. Five cases are already lined up for judicial review relating to the southern portion of the line. It isn't as if the anti-HS2 campaigners don't have credibility, they are led by Cheryl Gillan, a former cabinet minister.
PICKLES WARNS COUNCILS ON TAX RISES
Eric Pickles is writing for us this morning, and the Local Government Secretary uses his platform to criticise "cheating" councils who receive cash from central government to freeze council tax, but increase it anyway. Only 115 of 351 English councils have confirmed they will freeze council tax this year, compared with 85pc last year and 99pc the year before. In future, councils increasing taxes by more than 2pc a year will need to put the issue to a vote. Mr Pickles also takes aim at the BBC which he calls "wasteful". Our leader praises Mr Pickles' tough stance, noting approvingly that he is "not one for idle threats".
BREXIT ON THE TABLE IF TALKS STALL
Grant Shapps has indicated that the Government might back a British exit from the EU should negotiations over the repatriation of powers be a failure, we report. Conservative flexibility on Europe is being met with Labour invisibility. Boris Johnson uses his column to castigate the "cowardly" Labour position on Europe, while in the Guardian, David Cameron's former tutor Vernon Bogdanor agrees that Labour are losing an opportunity to make a project of the elites one which belongs to the people.
OSBOURNE PREPARES TO RELAX INFLATION RULES
Britain can expect much weaker Sterling, high inflation for a number of years and more money printing when Mark Carney replaces Sir Mervyn King, Trevor Kavanagh argues in a Sun column calling for Dave to devote himself to the economy now that a course is set on Europe. Mr Carney'slicence to pursue such a course of action depends on the target he is set by the Chancellor. The FT (£) reports that George is veering towards a "flexible" inflation target allowing the central bank to concentrate on growth. No details on how this would work as yet, although the FT lists some options, but it does mark a retreat from the idea of growthtargeting which was floated, notably by Mr Carney himself, when the appointment was made.
Lords reform isn't going well. An additional 50 peers will be created shortly despite promises to shrink the size of the chamber, the Mailreports. A further 100 will be created over the next two years to reflect the election result. David Blunkett also pops up in the paper to criticise the "complete mess" of boundary reform proposals. At least civil service reform continues serenely onwards. Caroline Spelman will speak at an Institute of Government event on the appointment of permanent secretaries this afternoon. The Times (£) reports that she will push the case for political appointments given that the permanent secretary"is the key person in the department...your political life depends on them".
NO EARLY BREAK UP FOR COALITION
It's the age of the train coalition, and David Laws would like to see that recognised. Taking the optimistic view that coalition politics is here to stay, Mr Laws uses an interview in the Independent to call for slimline manifestos from all three main parties which would set red-lines forcoalition horse-trading. He also insists that Lib Dem ministers will remain in post until the last minute, quashing rumours of an early coalition break-up ready for campaigning on political lines. Mr Laws is in charge of the Lib Dem manifesto for the next election, and will be interested to read Tim Montgomerie's piece in the Times (£) on how his friend Robery Halfon is pushing the Conservative case.
MAIL FURIOUS AT CLEGG HYPOCRISY
Campaigning on political lines remains alive and well in Fleet Street, however. This morning, the Mail has its say on Nick Clegg's choice of schooling: "while Mr Clegg’s agonising may be understandable, doesn’t it reek of arrogance and hypocrisy to suggest that comprehensives and mixed-ability classes may be good enough for other people’s children, but not for his own?" it asks.
GOVERNMENT: BRITAIN'S RUBBISH
Whitehall's latest cunning plan to stem the flow of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants is an advertising campaign explaining that in Britain it rains constantly and there are no well paid jobs, the Guardianreports. "Britain - it's dreadful" is an unusual tagline for a state funded advertising campaign, but needs must.
Assuming this doesn't deter all of the 425,000 immigrants Philip Hollobone is expecting in the next two years, we can expect some to want to become citizens. When they do, they will have to get to grips with a new curriculum. Theresa May's reforms have eliminated New Labour from the citizenship exam and replaced them with...more Maggie. Would you pass? Have a go on our interactive test.
MINISTER FOR AIR AFRAID OF FLYING
Speaking in Total Politics, minister for air travel Patrick McLoughlin explains the fact that he has been on only two flights since his appointment by confessing he is afraid of flying, the Mailreports. Thankfully, Simon Burns seems to have resolved his phobia of trains, so it isn't all doom and gloom at the department.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Douglas Carswell - Cameron loyalist:
@DouglasCarswell: "Spring is in the air - and there seems to be an early April fool story running in some of the Sunday papers."
12:30 pm: Institute of Government discussion on how permanent secreraries should be appointed. 2 Carlton Gardens, London SW1Y 5AA.
01:00 pm : Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Foreign Office minister David Lidington give evidence to House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on implications of Scottish independence. Royal College of Physicians, 9 Queen Street, Edinburgh.
02:30 pm: Holocaust Memorial Day exhibition and commemorative event. Exhibition opens at 1430 with commemorative event taking place from 1630. Survivors, politicians, young people, religious leaders and dignitaries will be in attendance. Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre Broad Sanctuary Westminster, SW1P 3EE.
03:15 pm: HMRC chief executive Lin Homer appears before House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. Committee Room 15, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.
04:05 pm: House of Commons Transport Committee takes evidence from wide range of organisations on aviation strategy. Witnesses include Huw Thomas, a partner with Fosters & Partners that has proposed new Thames Estuary airport. House of Commons.
Only the prospect of an In/Out vote, he also grasped, would concentrate the minds of our EU partners. All European politicians claim to be in favour of a “more flexible” Europe, of EU “reform”, of greater “subsidiarity”, of less bureaucracy. But whenever the debate gets specific, the rhetoric changes aggressively: there can be no “cherry-picking”, no Europe “à la carte”, no “pick’n’mix”. Unless the rest of the EU believes that the risk of British exit is real, the prospects of meaningful repatriation are slim. Cameron’s speech is the culmination of a post-Lisbon strategy, not a U-turn – still less a capitulation to the Right..
Good morning. Dave's Davos speech, in which he told the world's businesses to "wake up and smell the coffee" over tax avoidance, has drawn hurt looks and withering words from business leaders in today's papers. Our report that FTSE 100 chief executives are against greater transparency in their tax affairs is indicative of a wider point made byJeremy Warner: does the Government really understand business? If the directors of listed firms have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders, should they make that subservient to the "moral obligation" the Government places on them to account in an inefficient way? More importantly, Mr Cameron's critique of the EU was partly based on a lack of competitiveness which extends into the tax system. He wants tax competition between nations. He doesn't like the results. You can't have your organic Starbucks carrot cake and eat it, you know.
The focus remains on the economy today when the Q4 GDP figure is announced at 9:30. The market view is that we will see a small decline...though there were rumours yesterday of a leak - denied by the ONS - suggesting the final figure is in fact positive (that may just be people in Davos over-interpreting a cheery George Osborne spotted enjoying pizza with Dave). So what's the Chancellor to do? The IMF wants Plan B, Tory MPs have been calling for Plan A+ in recent months, and FT(£) thinks we are due more of the same.
Pre-emptive criticism of the Chancellor arrives in this morning's papers from two old adversaries. His style is criticised by Boris Johnson, whose Davos speech today will urge the Government to "junk the rhetoric of austerity", we report. His substance is criticised by Nick Clegg, who appears to have decided that it would have been better to keep on spending after all. The Sun picks up on an interview Mr Clegg gave to House magazine in which he said that he regrets the Coalition's crunch on capital spending. He now believes "you actually need, in order to foster a recovery, to try and mobilise as much public and private capital into infrastructure as possible". The centre ground can be a lonely place.
EU MANOEUVRES ARE GO
Like a dog chasing its tail, Conservative manoeuvres on Europe already have a rather circuitous feel to them. We report that Boris and other senior Tories will vote "out" if they are not happy with the concessions Dave wins from Brussels. Fine, says Number 10 in the Independent, but anyone voting against the Prime Minister can kiss goodbye to their Cabinet post. The best case scenario, of course, is a negotiation which delivers on what are now high expectations, although as Fraser Nelsonwrites, Dave the speaker and Dave the do'er are often different people (even if he may be losing his modernising zeal, as I note in my blog).
With impeccable timing, Brussels announced yesterday that it wanted to fine Britain €300,000 a day for failing to liberalise its energy industry, the FT (£) reports. As Britain won't be further liberalising its energy industry any time soon, it's effectively a demand to be given €109.5m every year. A public relations master-stroke. It isn't only Brussels playing up, the Lib Dems are sulkily referring to a "so-called referendum", the Independent reports. Still, at least we have Germany on-side. With Frau Merkel now our best friend in Europe, theSun has celebrated with 10 things it loves about the Germans. It really has been a funny old week.
ICE CREAM WOMAN MELTING HEARTS AT THE MAIL
One of the less anticipated consequences of Dave's Europe speech is the sudden crush the Mail seems to have developed on one of its chiefarchitects, Clare Foges. The "raven-haired poet" and former ice cream van driver who "like Home Secretary Theresa May, Clare is well-known for her love of leopard-print shoes." If only all the Number 10 family could garner such rave reviews.
NEW CHILDCARE PLAN, AGAIN
Well, they have to be commended for persistence if nothing else. After the leaking and subsequent shelving of the plan to give working mothers tax credits, the FT (£) reports that the Coalition is now working on a £1.5bn scheme which would give families with young children around £1,000 a year in vouchers to spend on childcare. The new scheme will be universal...except if you're on tax credits. So we may get a new allowance available to wealthy workers but not poor ones. Oh dear, I don't know about you, but I can see a problem they may run into with this.
The vouchers scheme would expire when a child started school full-time. Hopefully, there will be some teachers left by then. The Bill introducing gay marriage is being published this afternoon, and Michael Gove has been at pains to reassure teachers that they will not have to teach the validity of gay marriage against their will. As we report, though, a senior source in his department concedes that there is no way to prevent the ECHR taking the ultimate decision on this point. The Pandora's Box Bill will be debated in the Commons on the 5th of February,and the Times (£) reports that as much as half of the Conservative parliamentary party will vote against it. That would be humiliating for Mr Cameron, but he can't say he wasn't warned.
CLEGG MULLING PUBLIC SCHOOL FOR CHILDREN
Nick Clegg is considering following in Diane Abbott's footsteps and sending his children to public school, it emerged in yesday's edition of Call Clegg (despite David Cameron committing to sendin his eldest daughter to a state school, as the Mail notes). We back him in our editorial, arguing children should come before politics: "Good for him. On a day when league tables reveal the abject failure of many state schools to equip their pupils with basic qualifications, it is natural that he should be concerned about the education his children will receive."
The "Rivers of Blood" speech made by Enoch Powell still haunts the Conservatives, according to Treasury minister Sajid Javid. The Mailreports a Spectator interview in which Mr Javid claimed a public apology from Mr Cameron would be necessary to shake the "nasty party" image he believes persists.
HARPER REFUSES TO PREDICT ROMANIAN IMMIGRATION LEVELS
Mark Harper, the immigration minister, believes it is "not sensible" to predict the number of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants once controls lapse at the end of the year, we report. It wouldn't be sensible because "there are too many variables". In other words, it's a bit like an immigration version of guessing the number of marbles in the jar. Good to know they're on top of things.
ALL STOPS TO BEECHING
Our report that Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin is considering rebuilding stations closed as a result of the Beeching Report in the 1960s raises an interesting question: would the routes now be economic because the population is sprawled so widely in the South East, or would it simply be a reflection of recent ticket prices?
"Industrial users" of FOI requests are imposing such a burden on official time that it should be made easier for officials to refuse to answer requests. We report that justice minister Helen Grant is concerned that eight per cent of requests take up 32 per cent of civil servants' time to answer.
FREE RANGE LORDS
An intriguing blog post by Lord Tyler raises the point that there is a shooting range directly underneath the House of Lords which seems not to cost anything to run and maintain, its share of the electricity bill aside. Lord Tyler speculates that the lack of spending on ammunition and rifles might indicate members simply wander around the parliamentary estate with them. A less sensational explanation is probably simply that nobody uses it any more. Angry Birds took the place of practicing for a grouse shoot in the relaxation stakes long ago.
ONE MEMBER NOW SEVERAL BANANAS SHORT OF A PICNIC
Of course, if one of their Lordships is wandering around with a rifle, there's always the risk he may mislay it after a good lunch. Fear not, for the parliamentary lost property office is on hand. Items handed in to the lost propert office shared by both Lords and Commons have included two jars of marmalade, a rucksack full of bananas and some peppers in a plastic bag, we report.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Another historical epic ruined by Hollywood's lack of accuracy, Tom Harris reports:
@TomHarrisMP: "Really disappointed by "Lincoln". Contrary to pre-publicity, it has *no* vampires in it. None."
In the Telegraph
Fraser Nelson - Labour will do anything for the workers - except trust them
Jeremy Warner - Does Cameron really understand business
Judith Woods - No place for a woman?
Telegraph View - The debate over healthcare is long overdue
Best of the rest
Simon Jenkins in The Guardian - A speech that told Europe's emperors to get dressed
Philip Collins in The Times (£) - Orwell endures because his nightmares do too
John Kampfner in The Independent - Now Clegg and Miliband can bury the hatchet
Paul Goodman in the FT (£) - Cameron's speech on Europe was a big leap in to the unknown
TODAY: Justice Minister Helen Grant to set out plans to clamp down on rogue bailiffs.
09:30 am: First estimate of Q4 GDP is published by the Office for National Statistics. Convocation Hall, Church House Conference Centre, Westminster, SW1P 3NZ.