Trade minister Lord Marland of Odstock has handed in his resignation. Like Lord Strathclyde, the former Tory Party treasurer wants to spend more time with his business interests. He will continue in his role as a roving trade envoy, something he enjoys far more than the chore of pushing legislation through the Lords, and has trips to Libya, Japan and Los Angeles lined up, the Telegraph reports.
As I write in my blog, the departure adds to the sense that senior party figures are voting with their feet at the moment when Dave's electoral hopes in 2015 appear to be at their grimmest. Lord Marland is also a loss in a wider sense. His humour, particularly his keen sense of the ridiculous, will be missed by ministerial colleagues, especially those who remember his enthusiasm for bracing dips in the sea outside the conference hotel to clear the head in the days when the parties went to the seaside. We shan't see him fulfil his threat to add "alcohol abuse" to the register of interests either now, come to that. A loss all ways round.
IDS TAKES THE TEMPERATURE ON CUTS TO ELDERLY BENEFITS
The cap of benefits rises passed its second reading without too much drama yesterday (of which more later), freeing IDS to mull the next stage of his welfare revolution. The FT (£) reports that IDS will use a "temperature test" to gauge public reaction, beginning by stripping the Winter Fuel Allowance from expats living in Southern Europe. Ministerial sources also claim hopefully that next election's manifesto will not contain 2010's pledge to maintain the universality of all age related benefits. The Times (£) adds that another idea on the table is scrapping the allowance altogether and pumping the £2.2bn saved back into the state pension. Rich pensioners would lose a portion of the gain through income tax, while the poor would be unaffected. The paper'sleader joins the clamour pushing hard for cuts to "indefensible" cuts.
For the moment though campaigners can push all they like: Mr Cameron is acutely aware that it was his personal pledge to the elderly, forced out of him by Gordon Brown during the TV debates, that is the basis of the policy. He may regret giving in to the rank dishonesty of Mr Brown's scare mongering, but he does not want to give Labour a propaganda tool. The best IDS can hope for is a manifesto promise, and that is itself fraught with difficulties.
LABOUR TARGET 60 SEAT MAJORITY
Miliband Major and Miliband Minor exchanged Christmas gifts this year, Ed tells the Mirror. David received some "wine and other gifts" and gave Ed "a book on the Boston Red Sox". Brotherly love. You can't put a price on it, but if you could, it would be around £8.99.
The slow-motion reconciliation between the brothers should see David return to the front-bench by 2015 at the latest, a year Labour is confident will deliver it a healthy majority. The party has revealed a target list of 106 seats (86 Conservative and 16 Lib Dem including that of Simon Hughes)for the next election and hopes to win enough to deliver a 60 seat majority. If it won all of its targets, Labour would gain an 80 seat majority, the Guardian reports. The party will also adopt what the FT (£) dubs an "Obama-style onslaught", fielding 1,000 activists across every ward of the 106 seats.
Although a 4.45% swing is needed to gain a majority, Labour's strategy is based on a 6.3% movement in the polls. As things stand, they are well ahead of target. Today's Sun gives Mr Miliband's troops a 12 point lead over the Conservatives. Time to consolidate? Time to be bold, Mary Riddell argues in today's Telegraph:
"Unless Mr Miliband also publishes ideas for child care and social care for the elderly, he risks playing catch-up with a Government that will reap the kudos of having something, however imperfect or inchoate, to say about great social problems."
UPRATING BILL PASSES SECOND READING
The uprating bill sailed through parliament with a majority of 56 last night. Six Lib Dem MPs rebelled according to Liberal Voice, Sarah Teather, Charles Kennedy and Julian Huppert among them, but the threat of a serious challenge to Coalition policy failed to materialise. David Miliband popped up, too. His speech, probably the most significant since his leadership election defeat, both acknowledged the sins of the "dog days" of the Brown administration and attacked the "politics of division" he sees in the Coalition, the Telegraph reports. The comeback: it's on.
COALITION MISSES 70 PLEDGES
The Coalition did not publish an appendix to the Mid Term Review that would have conceded that it had failed to achieve 70 of its targets over the first half of its term. The document will now appear later today. TheTelegraph reports that the appendix, which detailed failures in areas such as criminal justice, pensions and road building, only came to light after Patrick Rock, one of Mr Cameron's political advisers was photographed leaving Downing Street clutching a document suggesting that publication be delayed in case "unfavourable copy" over "broken pledges" should overshadow "positive coverage" of the MTR.Fortunately, there's no chance of that happening now. It's another self-inflicted injury for Number 10 - the Lib Dems say they were happy to release it.
TORIES FACE BALLS-UP
Despite advertising the position in December and approaching a short-list of suitably qualified candidates, the Conservatives are still to find a qualified candidate for Ed Balls's marginal seat of Morley and Outwood, Thomas Pascoe writes in this morning's Telegraph. The seat "deserves the campaigning attention of the best and brightest the party has. And if the best and brightest don’t want to go? CCHQ, you know where to find me…" he adds. You have been warned.
PROBATION SERVICE FACES OUTSOURCING
Chris Grayling will today announce plans for the wholesale outsourcing of much of the probation service to private firms and the voluntary sector, the Guardian reports. The Justice Secretary will tell the Commons that the reform is necessary thanks to a 58pc re-offending rate among former prisoners who served short-sentences. Union officials counter that they have no statutory responsibility to anyone sentenced to 12 months or less.
THE ACCIDENTAL BREXIT
Business leaders including Sir Richard Branson have warned the Prime Minister that Britain cannot afford to "put our membership of the EU at risk" in a letter to the FT (£). The move, which comes ahead that speech on Europe supports the reform agenda but only with the condition that it does not lead to an accidental exit. In the Times (£), Daniel Finkelstein also advises the PM to stick to the centre ground. The omens are good. As I blogged yesterday, Dave is fortunate that the EU's officials are equally worried about a Brexit. Fertile negotiating ground.
GOVE-ING OUT HIS DIGITS
Michael Gove has been criticised in an open letter by the Rev. Jesse Jackson for his plan to restore Winston Churchill and his ilk to the schoolcurriculum at the expense of Olaudah Equiana and Mary Seacole, theTimes (£) reports. If he wants to discuss the matter with Mr Gove directly, he could always call him. The Sun reports that the minister's wife Sarah Vine accidentally tweeted his mobile to a journalist. A "crossed vine" as the paper would have it. Very droll.
TWEETS AND TWITS
PMQs today, and Michael Fabricant's mind is on the great issues of state:
@Mike_Fabricant: "I wonder if I pout and blow a kiss at Quentin Letts during PMQs, he'll notice?"
The Sun/YouGov: Con 32%, Lab 44%, Lib Dem 10%, UKIP 9%
In the Telegraph
In the Telegraph
Thomas Pascoe - Balls is a scoundrel - let's give him the boot
Telegraph View - Capping welfare is the moral thing to do
Judith Woods - The not-so-subliminal message of this withdrawal of child benefit for those in the squeezed middle is that motherhood itself is not worth supporting
Best of the rest
Daniel Finkelstein in The Times (£) - Cameron holds the aces. He should sit tight
Simon Jenkins in The Guardian - Don't mock Clegg - he may be in power for a generation
Christina Patterson in The Independent - 'Borgen' is fiction but Britain's leaders should tune in and listen
Kurt Volker and George Robertson in the FT (£)- The West must think twice before leaving Afghanistan
Today: Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to launch NHS research scheme.
09:30 am: Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. House of Commons.
10:15 am: Nick Clegg gives evidence to House of Lords Constitution Committee. Committee Room 1, House of Lords.
12:00 pm: Prime Minister's Questions. House of Commons.
02:00 pm: Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, care minister Norman Lamb and pensions minister Steve Webb give evidence on demographic change to Lords committee. Committee Room 4, House of Lords.