Monday, 14 January 2013

Cameron swerves In/Out choice..

BREAKING NEWS: The Prime Minister has just appeared on the Today programme. Mr Cameron refused to offer an in/out choice on Europe, arguing that changes to the structure in place for the single currency would present opportunities for Britain to "take advantage" and that he needed "fresh consent" to make new arrangements:
"An in/out referendum today is a false choice. I'm in favour of our membership of the EU and I'm confident that we can change our relationship...We want fresh settlement. This debate is happening anyway...the debate isn't going to go away. The British public feel fed-up that they have been left out of the debate...power should flow both ways.
"The speech is finished and ready to go. I'm confident we will get the changes we want and we will present those in a very straight-forward way for the British people to make a choice."
Fresh consent is all well and good. But what if it is denied?
Good morning. The mandarins are in the ministerial cross-hairs this morning following Steve Hilton's criticisms yesterday (report here). TheTimes (£) has launched a "Whitehall at war" series that has mopped up the various critiques of the Civil Service, old and new, that concludes it is "unfit for purpose" and needs a good shake. Worth noting, after the hostile briefing in James Forsyth's Mail column yesterday, that the Times concludes that in Sir Jeremy Heywood the Civil Service "has a chief who is himself a committed reformer". The Mail headline is less nuanced ("We need a bloodbath to tame these arrogant officials") but its leader makes a telling point: "It's easy to see why Mr Hilton became frustrated, but did he put up enough of a fight? Are politicians really so powerless? Surely mandarins are able to dictate policy only if ministers let them."
And that's the central point to retain when contemplating the dire state of relations between Coalition ministers and their officials. In Opposition the Tories made a big thing about devolving power to Whitehall, getting rid of special advisers, returning to traditional government and in general leaving only a light hand on the tiller. In essence, they abdicated responsibility. They can hardly complain now - as Steve Hilton does - if while they watch their box sets things don't quite turn out to plan.Damian McBride has produced a must-read assessment of how No10 has lost control of the grid. Coincidentally,we are told Downing Street is about to perform a significant u-turn on he special advisers/officials relationship. Tory MPs who are unhappy with the way things are run at the centre have latched on to Sir Jeremy as a target (it's worth reading John Rentoul in the Independent on this). But he's just a proxy: what they are really saying is that they don't like Dave. The most useful role the Cabinet Secretary is playing at the moment is as a human shield for his boss.
The best laid plans of mice and men...the FT (£) is reporting that Dave's big Europe speech is to be re-scheduled at the last moment. Due to take place in the Netherlands on the 22nd of January, it will now switch to a later date, possibly the following day. The reason? The date is also the 50th anniversary of the Elysee treaty between Germany and France. Given Berlin's obvious sensitivity over the British position, Number 10 has decided that discretion should be the better part of valour on this occasion. Even so, it begs the question - why did nobody check before the original date was leaked?   
A joint Times and ConservativeHome poll of 1,500 Tory party members published this morning finds that 78pc support either a Common Market or exit result in any poll. Given how entrenched both sides seem over Europe, it's a relief to know one man's vote is still up for grabs. Step forward Eric Pickles who told Pienaar’s Politics that he will vote "in the national interest [not] on party lines" and does not believe Britain should "stay at any price", according to the Telegraph. Ed Miliband disagrees with the very principle of an in/out poll. A very One Nation under Europe approach.
As the Telegraph reported yesterday, the Prime Minister will force a Commons vote on the boundary review  later this month, re-igniting a row with the Deputy Prime Minister who is intent on blocking the reforms. His hopes of winning are slender. His reliance on unionist votes means that every vote is critical, but this morning's Times (£) reports at least one DUP MP, William McCrea, who will not vote for reform. A coalition with the SNP and DUP would give the Tories a majority of five over a Lib-Lab block vote. Plaid Cymru might accept a deal for their three votes, but even so, this will be the closest vote in this parliament.
A report to be published today by the Public Accounts Committee will claim that £17bn of renewable energy contracts were "a print money at the expense of hard-pressed consumers", the Telegraphreports. MPs on the committee will argue that contracts signed by the Energy Secretary in the last parliament were so geared towards attracting investors that they have left consumers facing far higher energy prices. The name of this Energy Secretary? Um, Mr Ed Miliband.
Dave's women problem, or rather his problem with a particular type of woman (stay at home mother, middle class, Conservative voter etc) has been much to the fore recently. Perhaps that explains the emphasis on this group while explaining his pension reform. Steve Webb, the pensions minister, writes an op-ed in today's Telegraph, claiming to have updated the model from the "old-fashioned assumption was that men needed pensions where women simply needed a husband". The Mail is impressed trumpeting a "£155 pension boost for stay-home mothers" and adding that the reforms "have to be supported". It will be no mean feat snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on this one.
Not content with finger-wagging over Dave's EU  referendum, America is preparing to deliver a further rebuke to the people of Britain, reports the Telegraph. Austerity measures on both sides of the Atlantic must not be allowed to impact on strategic defence capabilities, Leon Panetta, US assistant secretary of defence for international security,will tell ministers in London this week. Next week: US warns on gritting strategy after snow clogs vitally important roads...
Ed M will stick with Ed B until the next election at least, Mr Leader told the BBC yesterday. As the Telegraph reports, that means there's no room at the inn for either the elder Miliband or Alistair Darling for the time being, leaving the former to continue his important work on Wearside where he led Sunderland to a famous 3-0 victory over West Ham at the weekend.
So says Grant Shapps in his interview with the Independent. Although the "total victory" aim is predictable enough, most telling is his insistence that Lynton Crosby will be managed by the party, rather than vice-versa: "We craft the message. Lynton will make sure we stick to it [he] did not come in to dog-whistle. It would surprise many people but he has a very positive view. He is the first person to say: 'Let's not go there'."
Clearly irked by the proposal to reduce the age of consent to 14 taking an early lead in January's "least plausible policy idea" competition, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform will today call for crack cocaine, heroin and ecstasy to be available legally according to theMail. And if you think that's going to happen, you must be smoking something.
The long-suffering constituents of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath might sometimes wonder what they've got for their money since Gordon made his last parliamentary speech in November 2011. Well, on Tuesday they're going to get another speech, the Mail's Andrew Pierce reports. Pleasingly, he will be performing a U-turn. His speech will call for an end to the closure of two Remploy factories for the disabled in his constituency. His government closed 28 of them.
Michael Fabricant readies himself for months of tortuous European negotiations:
@Mike_Fabricant: "You learn something new everyday. 'Blow job' is the same in Danish. #Borgen" 

In the Telegraph
Boris Johnson - It's transport that will carry us down the road to recovery
Cristina Odone - Cameron, like Henry VIII, will have to face the martyrs
Best of the rest
Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun - Ignore ghosts of Eurolovers, tough with Brussels
Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) - Tories, wear your hearts on your sleeves
Wolfgang Munchau in the FT (£) - It does not really matter if Britain leaves the EU
Simon Heffer in the Daily Mail - We need a bloodbath to tame these arrogant officials
11:00 am: Briefing by Press Complaints Commission chairman Lord Hunt on progress in drawing up new system of press regulation. DAC Beachcroft, 100 Fetter Lane.
11:00 am: Pensions briefing. DWP briefing on plans for a new state pension. Caxton House, Tothill Street.
03:15 pm: NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson gives evidence to the Commons Health Committee on efficiency savings. House of Commons.
04:00 pm: Business organisations including CBI, BCC and IOD give evidence to Commons Transport Committee on aviation policy. House of Commons.
05:30 pm: British Bankers Association chief executive Anthony Browne gives evidence to Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
07:15 pm: Nick Clegg to unveil plaque at site where Liberal Party was founded. Almack House, 28 King Street, St. James', SW1.