Friday, 18 January 2013

EU speech delayed by Algeria crisis..

The speech is off. British hostages may have perished in the Algerian hostage crisis and the Prime Minister has judged that he is required in London. It is easy to mock the postponement (a Lib Dem MEP did exactly that, infuriating Nick Clegg), but David Cameron had very little choice. Being seen to bang on about Europe at a time of crisis could have been seen as ill judged. Cynics will add that crisis management is one of Dave's big strengths, and he knows it.
What we're left with is speculation about the re-scheduled date of the jinxed speech, and a few choice extracts released by Downing Street yesterday. The Telegraph reports that Dave intended to warn that "Britain is drifting towards the exit". The Prime Minister's solution would be based on meeting three challenges, according to the Mail - the eurozone crisis and subsequent push for fiscal integration, a crisis of competitiveness and a crisis arising from the growing democratic deficit.
At the very least, we will now be treated to another week of speculation on the contents and desirability of the speech. That's good news for Ed Miliband whose position on the Today programme came across as so nuanced that it would be near-impossible to communicate with any clarity.  Philip Collins in the Times (£) urges him to pack it in and go to the polls early. He certainly needs something bold given that Mr Cameron has made all the running (sometimes in circles, admittedly) so far. As I blogged yesterday, Dave appears to be a man of action at present, and calculates that will play well at the polls against an opponent yet to hit his stride on Europe.
Meanwhile, in the City, the FT (£) reports the business community is as split as the Tories in the cabinet (although it only offers a handy cut-out-and-keep thermostat for the latter). "Make it happen. Be the change" is an old (ok, eighties) City saying. It also sums up Fraser Nelson's advice in today's Telegraph:
"Cameron is no Heath, but a potentially transformative Tory leader who would be the party’s greatest asset if only he had more faith in his ability to change the prevailing consensus."
The Europeans? Well they're as conciliatory as ever. The former prime minister of Belgium's take on Mr Cameron's speech - he's like "a suicide bomber, threatening to blow himself up if he doesn't get his way". A sense of timing. Such a gift in politics.
It's snowmageddon, so fellow commuters can expect a diet of delays and cancellations on their way home this evening. To get you used to the idea, the Times (£) follows news of the EU speech delay with that of the outright cancellation of the Government's flagship proposals on childcare tax benefit. At a meeting of the Quad, Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander both argued that priority should be given to poorer mothers who do not pay income tax, rather than high-earners. In time, Dave may be grateful. Given how unpopular a universal benefit that effectively penalised stay-at-home mothers would have been among the Tory base, the Lib Dems could well be said to have saved them from themselves.
An "unusually frank" discussion between Dave and Barack Obama yesterday underlined to the former how undesirable a Brexit would be in American eyes. Meanwhile Stanley McChrystal has told today'sTelegraph that the Limeys can kiss goodbye to the special relationship if defence cuts continue (more on this from Leon Panetta later today, see schedule). The things we put up with for some DVDs and the occasional invitation over for a hot dog...
Deterred by our savage weather and grim austerity, very few Romanians and Bulgarians will bother to make the journey to settle on these shores, the civil service believes. However, as the Telegraph reports, a note to ministers stating such will not be released given mindfulness over wildly optimistic estimates of restrained Polish immigration. Our leader says that the Government has "its head buried firmly in the sand" over the true extent of the influx. Still, while spending on foreigners at home may have to increase, spending on foreigners abroad is about to become more efficient. The Telegraph also reports that DfiD is going to pay much closer attention to its consultants in future after Justine Greening conceded that the regime under the previous government spent "£1 billion [on] suppliers with virtually no effective ministerial oversight." Oh well, only money.
Mrs Thatcher's former adviser Robin Harris wonders in the Mail that ministers find it hard to control their turbulent civil servants. The secret, he explains, is that "ministers and civil servants should stop whining". The Times (£), of course, takes the Whitehall v Westminster split much more seriously. As Gus O'Donnell, who has seen enough of both sides for one lifetime, writes today, perhaps both sides would be better advised to concentrate on policy for flawed people, rather than robots contented only by increases in GDP. In fact, given the absence of increases in GDP, they may have to.
The Mirror has a field day with the remarks of Tory backbencher Christopher Chope, who refered to Commons catering staff as "servants". When in a hole, come up with an ingeni0us bit of lexicological evasion, as the old saying goes. "Everybody who works for the House is a servant of the House," he explained later.
The Deputy Prime Minister wants to ease the housing crisis by building garden cities in Buckinghamshire, Warwickshire and Oxfordshire, theTelegraph reports. The towns would be modelled on Milton Keynes, a model he called "not perfect, but popular", which makes them sound rather like the John Prescott of civic architecture.
Following his criticisms of the DoE at the Education Select Committee on Wednesday, Tim Loughton had to expect some kick-back, and yesterday it arrived. A senior source was absolutely scathing when speaking to theSpectator:
"Loughton spent his time pandering to pressure groups so they would praise him on Twitter. Loughton wouldn’t focus on child sex abuse unless it was all over TV and the DfE now has to pick up the pieces."
Which raises the question of what Mr Loughton will retaliate with.Upstairs, Downstairs and Are you being served? he has done. If he wants to stick with that era, maybe he could use something from On the buses? Michael Gove as Blakey. You read it here first.
Of course, a retweet is never an endorsement, as Stella Creasy points out:
@stellacreasy: "RT @chrisf91: This is amazing. Meerkats that look like @Nigel_Farage. 

In the Telegraph
Best of the rest
Philip Collins in The Times (£) - Don't reject a referendum, Ed. Fast-track it
Philip Stephens in the FT (£) - No easy relief for Cameron's European headache
Francis Maude publishing cost of government transactions.
11:00 am: The US secretary of defence Leon Panetta speech on the transatlantic relationship and the future of US defence. The Great Hall, Strand Campus, King's College.