Tuesday, 8 January 2013

IDS defends welfare rise cap..

BREAKING NEWS: Iain Duncan Smith has been defending the benefits rise cap in an appearance on the Today programme. The Work and Pensions Secretary said his scheme was fair, despite not splitting the burden between the working age and pensioners:
"Pensioners have less flexibility, they find it far less easy to change, so you have to take far more time. That is why the Prime Minister said we would change nothing in this parliament...we are restoring the savings culture [for pensioners] but these things take time."
Good morning. It's the second reading of the Benefits Uprating Bill this afternoon, welfare is a faultline issue for the Coalition and where there's a vote, there's likely to be a rebellion. The mood in the Lib Dem camp ranges from uneasy to ungovernable. The Guardian reports that Nick Clegg has attacked Conservative attempts to draw a line between the strivers and the shirkers, deserving and undeserving poor. Sarah Teather, the former children's minister,has already promised to vote against the measures, Sarah Wollaston was tweeting last night about "divisive rhetoric", and the Times (£) front-page hints at a major rebellion. 
For their part, the Tories are accusing the Lib Dem backbenchers of indiscipline. Even so, Lib Dem objections should worry the whips, and the FT's (£) story that Lynton Crosby advised pulling another online ad contrasting working families and jobless singletons is instructive. As I write in my blog, the Conservatives are on to a winner with a policy that resonates well with the public's moral instincts, but that is not reason to gloat:
"The challenge for the Tories is to portray themselves as doing what is difficult but necessary in the national interest, without appearing to relish either the measure or the game too much...Politics sometimes requires going for the kill, but Mr Cameron cannot be certain whether voters will be happy to see Labour's noses being rubbed in it today."
Even once the Coalition has dealt with Labour and also the enemy within today, its other welfare policies may still provoke a reaction from...the enemy within. Conservative backbenchers are upset at the snub for full-time mothers in plans for a new, universal childcare allowance, theTelegraph reports. If, as the Mail believes, one of the goodies Number 10 has up its sleeve is some version of the old married couples allowance then Tory traditionalists would be appeased, but the Lib Dems would have to be allowed to abstain. Complicated business, coalition.
"Full steam ahead, destination unclear" was the Telegraph's verdict on yesterday's MTR, a view which summed up the reaction of Fleet Street. With 180 new policy pledges, our leader writer felt the review was distinguished by the extent to which it failed to help the struggling families who are supposed to be at the heart of Coalition policy making. With the pledges focused largely on second-order tinkering, the FT's (£) leader also attacked the Coalition, claiming that it is "decreasingly ambitious". The Mail, on the other hand, did not feel things were asinnocuous as all that. The paper's leader criticised the lack of "bold Tory ideas", while Stephen Glover's column equated Nick Clegg's involvement in constitutional affairs thus-far as "like entrusting a Ming vase to an inebriated tightrope walker". Only Channel 4 majored on Mr Cameron's "Ronseal coalition" line, although that did give rise to this charming piece of photoshopping.
Lord Strathclyde's decision to terminate a 25 year career on the Tory front bench, 15 spent as leader of the Toriesin the upper house, robs the Coalition of one of its more pragmatic characters, as I write in my column today. As he made clear in his Channel 4 interview yesterday, it was the "broken down" relationship with a Liberal Democrat party which appeared to regard itself as still in opposition which prompted Lord Strathclyde to call it a day. A loyal lieutenant has left the field, and it is a timely reminder for Dave that without a compelling, Conservative narrative, he will continue to have problems binding even his most loyal troops to the cause.
A disdain for Labour's economic record has held the Coalition together for two and a half years, so perhaps Nigel Farage imagines a shared distaste for Dave would hold together his proposed alliance with Labour in the same manner. The Mail reports that Mr Farage would be prepared to offer the support of any Ukip MPs in exchange for an in/out referendum. Perhaps that won't be necessary, though. Jose Manuel Barroso is quoted in the same paper explaining that the great euro crisis is over. Honestly.
Following Prince Charles' intervention, in which he outlined his objections to proposed changes to the laws of succession to Cabinet Office permanent secretary Richard Heaton, the Church of England has also expressed concerns over the removal of a 312 year-old ban on marrying Catholics, the Mail reports. Senior bishops are said to share the concerns of the Prince of Wales over meddling with long standing constitutional principles for political ends. Quite unlike the gay/celibate bishops ruling, of course. 
With many of its senior presenters currently on bail, British radio has been casting around for a ratings winner, popular with major listening groups like students. Step forward Nick Clegg, who will be hosting a phone-in on LBC 97.3 every Thursday. The Deputy Prime Minister wants to "keep in touch with how people are thinking and feeling", according to the Sun, no matter how abusive the calls he may receive. Luckily for Dave, CCHQ can still afford to use focus groups.
The Prime Minister celebrated the start of London's men's fashion week by hosting a reception for industry movers and shakers at Number 10, the Guardian reports. Telegraph fashion writer Luke Leitch thought that blaming Sam Cam for his taste in M&S pants was a little shifty on the PM's part, but perhaps we now have an explanation for Mr Cameron's sudden taste for pale blue shirts and cuffs...
A rugby one-liner from Kevin Brennan. Unfortunately, London Welsh's opponents were, er, Harlequins, not Saracens:
@KevinBrennanMP: "Saracens say ref biased against them at London Welsh - ref's name Llyr ap Geraint Roberts! they want Saladin the magnificent to ref rematch." 

In the Telegraph
Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) - Labour must challenge the Ronseal coalition
Janan Ganesh in the FT (£) - The two big gambled of Britain's welfare reform
Ross Clark in the Daily Express - Middle classes are hit again by this unfair policy
Today: Second Reading of Benefits Uprating Bill. House of Commons
09:30 am: Rail industry publishes strategic business plan.
11:30 am: Deputy Prime Minister's Questions. House of Commons.
02:40 pm: Sir Hugh Orde and Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe give evidence on policing standards to Commons Home Affairs Committee. Sir Hugh Orde of ACPO at 02:40, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe at 04:00. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.