Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Boundary reform tensions..

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. 
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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."


In the Telegraph

Mary Riddell - Britain badly needs a Lincoln who will think big and act big

Allister Heath - My emergency shock therapy Budget to give Britain growth
Philip Johnston - The Revenue is about to get even more taxing
Telegraph View - This is no guarantee of better childcare

Best of the rest

Simon Heffer in the Daily Mail - A continent in chaos and why Hitler's evil is rising again

Simon Jenkins in The Guardian - The road from Helmand to Mali is too well trodden
Alice Thomson in The Times - This cage fighting in the Lords cannot go on
Viv Groskop in The Independent - Childcare reforms must be seen, not just heard

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.