Good morning. David Cameron is not short of advice from his own side today, and it comes with an audible "...or else". To judge by what various groupings of Tory MPs are demanding, it's difficult not to conclude that Mr Cameron's speech Friday will not be enough: years of Tory pain lie ahead. Take the Manifesto for Change from the Fresh Start Group, whichwe reveal today. Even if, as is unlikely, Mr Cameron were to adopt all its suggestions - repatriation of all social and employment law, an opt-out from all policing and criminal justice rules, an emergency brake on new anti-City legislation and an end to the monthly shuttle between Brussels and Strasbourg - it is a stretch to imagine this agenda finding much favour across the Channel, despite Andrea Leadsom's optimism on Today. Will Fresh Start's members thank him for trying, or keep up the pressure? Or what about John Baron and his friends who want legislation to guarantee a referendum: if Mr Cameron dismisses their demands as a slur on his trustworthiness, will they go away? As for David Davis, Bernard Jenkin and the others who want a mandate referendum, you would hardly expect them to leave Dave alone on the issue, whatever he says. Mr Cameron's speech needs to achieve many things, but perhaps the most important is persuading his
party not to turn the next five years into an interminable distraction.
party not to turn the next five years into an interminable distraction.
Nick Clegg's remarks on the "chilling" effect of the referendum yesterday went down badly with the Mail's leader writer who described him as untrustworthy given his previous assurances on a European vote and boundary reform. The Telegraph suggested Mr Cameron might be tempted to offer his Coalition partner an in/out vote of his own. There will be more parliamentary pressure put on Mr Cameron today by the Fresh Start Group of 18 Tory MPs who the Telegraph reports are demanding a range of measures from criminal justice opt-outs to an end to the EU's parliament shuttling between Brussels and Strasbourg. TheTelegraph reports that William Hague is on board.
But then, a special vote means special pleading, and there's plenty of it in today's papers. Ken Clarke tells the FT (£) that the referendum is a "gamble" and "not of primary interest" to the electorate, while in theGuardian, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, former ambassador to the EU and America, argues that less influence in Brussels means less influence in Washington. Arguably diplomatic leverage isn't of primary concern to voters either. Business might be, though, and the Treasury will be buoyed by moves to put the anti-Euro Business for Sterling band back together to campaign for renegotiation, a move I blogged on yesterday.
Of course, one option open to the EU is simply to refuse to negotiate. The FT (£) reports they without any all-state treaty negotiations lined up, Britain will just have to wait in limbo at least in the short term. Any wait is dangerous for Dave. A long lead-in means currency weakness according to the dealers quoted in the FT (£) who predict a sharp decline in Sterling, weak already as a result of the Bank of England's enthusiasm for Quantitative Easing. The longer things go on, the greater the odds of Labour stumbling upon a popular policy of their own, too. As Mary Riddell has written in today'sTelegraph, it hasn't happened yet, but Dave will want to move quickly before it does.
Is there no end to David Miliband's talents? Not content with piloting Sunderland towards the Champions League in his spare time, the member for South Shields launches his career as a satirist in today'sTimes (£). Writing as Sir John Major writing to David Cameron (got that?), he also takes a swipe at Mr Tony in 2004, presumably also part of Labour's "dog days":
"Margaret (quoting Clement Attlee) said in 1975 that referendums are the refuge of dictators and demagogues...They are often a bolthole for leaders who feel weak - just look at Harold Wilson.Tony Blair's commitment to a referendum on a European constitution in 2004 was more Bambi than Stalin."
HEYWOOD SWERVES HOLLYWOOD
Sir Jeremy Heywood's repute is now such that he was invited to play himself in a cameo in the new series of Yes, Prime Minister, the Times (£) reports. Sadly, he declined. He is now busy as one of three "wise men" (the others being Francis Maude and Sir Bob Kerslake) drawing up reforms for the civil service. The trio's interview with the paper skates over their division over political appointments to permanent secretary roles, with Sir Jeremy's evasion one of which "Sir Humphry would be proud" according to the paper. The Cabinet Secretary thinks that such a move would undermine the civil service, but as Danny Finkelstein writes, channelling Mandy Rice-Davies, "he would, wouldn't he". The idea of packing Whitehall with political stooges should fill us with dread. Arguably, that's what Ed Balls did so effectively at DfE, and Michael Gove has been suffering from it ever since.
Forget benefits fraudsters and Europe, the latest recipient of the largess of British taxpayers is...the USA. Federal regulators will impose fines totalling around $800m as a result of the Libor scandal, four-fifths of which will come from the state-owned bank says the Independent. Unsurprisingly, Grant Shapps thinks Britain overpaid for its stakes in RBS and Lloyds TSB. The Telegraph reports he compared Labour's decision to spend £66bn on bank shares with Gordon Brown's decision to sell gold at the bottom of the market. Those Tories, they just don't understand prudence.
Relations between the Conservatives and the police, never rosy since Thrashergate, are unlikely to be improved by the news that proposals on police pay will see new recruits outside of London have their starting wages cut by £4,000 to £19,000, less than a trainee manager at McDonald's. As the Mail points out, junior officers will now earn less than PCSOs.
THE GREAT BENEFITS DIVIDE
A league table of working age benefits claimants by area has been published showing a stark north/south divide. Or, as the Sun puts it, "voters on dole keep Labour mps in jobs". Of the 200 worst performing constituencies, 177 are held by Labour. Figures showing wealth distribution are equally stark. Only one in 16 Welsh taxpayers pays at the higher rate, according to the Telegraph. Gives some colour to the great benefit uprating debate, anyhow.
EMPLOYMENT PICTURE CLOUDED
Over a fifth of the jobs added in the last year are on largely unpaid government back-to-work schemes, the Guardian reports. The majority of participants will still be claiming jobseekers allowance, explaining why rises in employment have not been represented proportionately in the claimant count numbers. Labour are understandably put out at the idea of work without a wage being called employment. Normally at Westminster, it's called an internship.
Making his first Commons speech since November 2011, the former Prime Minister tabled an adjournment debate on the future of two Remploy factories in his constituency yesterday. The Spectator's sketch suggests old habits died hard:
"As a number-cruncher Brown is peerless. He gnashed his way through the statistics and spat them out in a chewy cascade of hundreds, thousands and millions. Fixed costs, overheads, raw materials, insurance, payroll. He had it all pre-programmed into the mighty electro-chemical abacus that lurks beneath his greying scalp. He even did his favourite trick of announcing the same figures twice! Early on, he said that the factory’s losses of £1.6 million had recently shrunk to a more manageable £800,000. Later, when he repeated this fiscal trend, he hinted that it was a major economic breakthrough. The old knack of making bankruptcy sound like a new dawn for all mankind is still with him."
MALI CRISIS WORSENS
Britain is absolutely not getting involved in Mali. Besides sending some planes. Oh, and maybe 40 "military advisers", if the Mail is right. But is it too little, too late? The Telegraph's Con Coughlin and David Blair argue that if France has to go it alone, it's going to be busy for a while:
"France aims to deploy two battlegroups of about 1,250 men each, which should prove sufficient to stiffen Mali’s national army and prevent AQIM from taking more territory or threatening the capital. And even if France backs this strategy by conducting an extended air campaign designed to weaken and degrade AQIM until the African soldiers can finish the job, it looks as though Mr Hollande’s military adventure is set to run for some time to come."
TWEETS AND TWITS
George Freeman is unimpressed by an attempt to re-invent the wheel:
@Freeman_George: "Chuka, they're called Post Offices and your Govnt kept closing em: @ChukaUmunna proposing community pick-up points for parcels &online orders"
In the Telegraph
Con Coughlin and David Blair - Can Mali be saved from the Islamists?
Tim Stanley - Christians need to find some old-time zeal
Telegraph View - A new intolerance is nudging faith aside
Best of the rest
Daniel Finkelstein in The Times (£) - Whitehall at war? Mandy understood why
Ian Davidson in the FT (£) - Britain needs a European strategy - not a speech
Simon Jenkins in The Guardian - No more talk of in-or-out. We should be thinking opt-outs
Andreas Whittam Smith in The Independent - We should not pay a penny of RBS's fraud fine
09:30 am: Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) releases its lending breakdown figures for November.
09:30 am: Former ministers Tim Loughton, Nick Gibb and Sarah Teather give evidence to the Commons Education Committee. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
09:30 am: Sir John Vickers gives evidence to Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
10:30 am: Fresh Start group of Tory MPs press briefing. The Fresh Start group is launching its manifesto for change in Europe. Committee room 18, House of Commons.
12:00 pm: Prime Minister's Questions. House of Commons, London.
02:30 pm: Europe Minister David Lidington gives evidence to Commons European Committee B on planned EU military training mission to Mali. Committee Room 10, House of Commons.
04:00 pm: Energy Minister John Hayes gives evidence to the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee on shale gas. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.