BREAKING NEWS: A tetchy Nick Clegg has just appeared on the Today programme, explaining that he supported a vote when powers were headed to Brussels, not when they're being repatriated:
"I don't agree with the premise that we can unilaterally re-write the rules of the club. In the meantime, we need to give people assurance that...if there is a transfer of powers to Brussels, we should have a referendum. We have legislated for that.
"We are the only government to give people that clarity in law about when a referendum will take place...I believe that it would not be wise to add to that with a vote which would have a chilling effect on the economy."
EUROPE: THE FINAL COUNTDOWN
So the Great Europe Speech will be this Friday in Amsterdam. The original date, Tuesday 22nd had to be abandoned as it was the 50th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty between France and Germany, with some suggesting that Angela Merkel personally requested a switch. It can't go to Monday as that's Inauguration Day in the States. Later next week Dave is in Davos at the World Economic Forum. This Friday it is then, on the anniversary of the liberation of Leningrad. Perhaps that was felt more portentous.
What Dave wants is a little clearer after his Today programme appearance. As I blogged yesterday, he has based his "fresh consent" strategy around achieving meaningful concessions from Brussels. But what if Brussels won't play ball? At that point the plan to settle Britain's relationship in Europe and not run by Europe becomes an exit vehicle.
Least of all have Mr Cameron's rather mystic pronouncements helped settle a jittery party and supporter base. Speculation as to what Friday's speech will contain is rampant today. The ConservativeHome team, in a rare joint editorial, argue that any referendum must allow for a Brexit. The Mail's leader criticises Dave for approaching Europe as a "party management problem" (which is exactly how the Guardian's Nicholas Watt also frames it) and cannot find grounds to agree with his optimism that Brussels would willingly cede power. Certainly, as the FT (£) points out, the re-scheduling of the speech leaves less time for diplomatic negotiations.
Of course, once the speech has come, Ed Miliband will have some awkward questions to answer, too. He has no appetite for re-negotiation, and by delaying any referendum until around 2018, Mr Cameron may have hit upon a potent electoral weapon. As Will Straw writes in today'sTelegraph, Europhiles have a case to answer too, and it isn't one the public at large has been receptive to so far.
GOVE TARGETS UNDER-PERFORMING TEACHERS
You could never accuse Michael Gove of lacking stomach for a fight. He will announce plans to abolish the mechanism whereby teachers automatically benefit from annual pay rises in a speech today. Head teachers will be awarded discretionary powers over pay rises, and these will also be decoupled from length of service. The Telegraph's leader describes the move as "all to the good". The unions are up in arms, predictably. Mr Gove plans to press ahead, predictably.
OUT OF BOUNDS
An unholy alliance between Lib Dem and Labour peers succeeded in pushing the boundary review to the brink of a further five year delay last night. The pretext, also supported by the majority of crossbench peers, was that the implications of a switch from household registration to individual registration needed to be absorbed over the life of the next parliament. If the Conservatives are furious, and they are, Lord Dobbs described the Nick Clegg of a "great political sulk", they cannot be surprised. As the Guardian notes, that Lib Dem peers added a boundaries amendment to a bill on individual voting registration was a clear statement of intent.
The legislation now returns to the Commons where Nick Clegg has said he will vote against the Government. That's one part of the Tory master-plan for 2015 blown out of the water. Thank heavens the rest of it is going so well.
EXCUSE ME, HOME SECRETARY. DID YOU KNOW YOUR PUBLIC ORDER ACT IS...
Anyone feeling an uncontrollable urge to question the sexual conduct of a police horse can now expect more lenient treatment after Theresa May agreed to remove a prohibition on insulting language where there is no specific (human) victim from Section 5 of the Public Order Act. The Government will now accept an amendment from the Lords on the issue. The concession is the fruit of former police chief constable Lord Dear's campaign, launched with in this Telegraph op-ed last month. Now you can bark at a dog to your heart's content without fear of hindrance by the police. Men in white coats, possibly, but not the police.
THE MANDARINS FIGHT BACK
Sir Humphrey is not taking the recent revelations by Steve Hilton and the Times regarding civil service obstructiveness lying down. Nor, for that matter, is Sir Gus O'Donnell. "There is a correlation between attacking the civil service and the Government's standing in the polls", he tells the Independent. Paragraphs later, the politicians bite back with one insider talking of G.O.D. leaving "long-standing weaknesses which he failed to address". A bitter exchange, and a fair gauge of the temperature at the moment.
For their part, other mandarins feel that the civil service under the Coalition is "too politicised", the Times (£) adds. Considering that many would have worked in Whitehall throughout the Blair years, that's some statement. As I wrote in my blog yesterday, however dire the state of relations between (civil) servants and masters, politicians are not as powerless as they would have us believe. Perhaps more powerless are the ministers caught in what the Times (£) calls Dave's "dysfunctional chumocracy" with one senior Lib Dem comparing the influence of Old Etonians to the prominence of leading families in an African tribe. That's a shame, when it's the aspirational who count, argues James O'Shaughnessy in today's Telegraph:
"Disraeli and Thatcher demonstrated that the best way to overcome people’s suspicions of Tory motives is to have a policy platform that allows ambitious people to challenge the established order...that means creating a ladder for people to climb, and, if necessary, forcing it back into place against those who would prefer to pull it up."
BENEFITS PENSIONED OFF
Given that the Centre for Economics and Business Research sees austerity stretching into 2023 with the deficit not eliminated for another decade (report here), every little helps for the public finances. Fortunately, the forthcoming elimination of incentives for employers who provide private pensions, a result of the Coalition's new flat-rate pension scheme, will yield an annual windfall of some £9bn from 2017, the FT (£) reports. Everyone's a winner. Apart, that is, from today's younger workers. As the Independent highlights, the IFS believe the changes will see them work into their seventies to pay for the new pension.
PICKLES TAKES THE CROSS
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg will today decide on four test cases brought by British Christians alleging discrimination at work. Whatever the outcome, Eric Pickles has pledged to defend their right to wear the cross at work and will legislate if necessary, the Mailreports.
DEMENTIA SUFFERERS "ABANDONED"
Jeremy Hunt uses an op-ed in today's Telegraph to call for the NHS to shake off its "grim fatalism" when it comes to dementia. Not just the NHS. Also "clubs, shops, town halls, churches, terraces and everywhere else". How's that for Big Society.
PLANE BREAKS DOWN, MILITARY AT BREAKING POINT
Number 10 will be warned not to escalate its involvement in Mali's internal strife, according to the Independent. Both Philip Hammond and senior commanders will warn that British resources are already stretched supporting the French air offensive. As if to prove the point, one of Britain's Boeing C-17 Globemasters, described by the Prime Minister yesterday as "our most advanced and capable transport plane" failed to make it as far as Africa. It broke down on the runway in Paris.
AND THE NEXT TORY LEADER IS:
Drum-roll...Jesse Norman. So says Bruce Anderson who correctly tipped Dave. The Mail's Hardcastle cites a colleague who has identified one fatal flaw in Mr Norman's candidature, however. "He's called Jesse", his fellow MP explains.
TWEETS AND TWITS
The old ones are the best. From Chris Heaton-Harris:
@chhcalling: "Why do the French Foreign Legion never say 'thank you'? They're taught to show no merci."
In the Telegraph
James O'Shaughnessy - How Benjemin Disraeli can help David Cameron to a clear win in 2015
Will Straw - In or out? It's a question for Europhiles too
Telegraph View - State pension reform brings welcome clarity
Best of the rest
Janan Ganesh in the FT (£) - Immigration line weakens Cameron story
Polly Toynbee in The Guardian - Labour's 2015 fears are puny compared with the Tories' terror
Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) - No one wants to be mistaken for the pub bore
Dominic Lawson in The Independent - Tell the British we can't choose on the EU and we'll want a vote all the more
11:00 am: Ed Davey attends the Global Climate Legislation Summit.
05:00 pm: Helen Grant speaks at a meeting of APPGs on Disability, Equality and Sex Equality.
07:00 pm: Rory Stewart delivers the annual McMillan lecture to the Tory reform group.