Monday, 7 January 2013

Laws defends Coalition as midterm review looms..

BREAKING NEWS: David Laws has been defending the Coalition on the Today Programme. He argued that the agreement was still the "right thing", adding that Lib Dem grassroots support was strong:
"Our supporters are realistic, they know these are tough times. Not every decision can be popular.
"We'll be telling you that there is good news...but obviously, there's a long way to go, everybody in the country knows that. We are determined to bring the deficit back down and get our finances under control, but we are also doing positive things."
Good morning, happy new year and welcome back. The PM was out and about last week, but today is the first day of term. The Cabinet meets at 11, Dave and Nick are then holding a press conference at 2:30 and all eyes will be on the Mid Term Review. Various bits have been trailed in the papers, principally the idea for a child care tax allowance (of which more later). Labour are describing it as yet another relaunch. No10 are avoiding that kind of language, though the suggestions of a 'mini-manifesto' carry a whiff of engineered novelty: the Coalition shopping list will have to be scrutinised for recycled announcements and promises of action that lack, well, action. Today will also provide a moment to assess the prospects of the Coalition continuing beyond 2015. The PM and his Deputy will stress - as Mr Cameron did in his interviews yesterday -  their ambitions for long-term reform and projects that will take more than a Parliament to implement. Their body language and tone will be studied for evidence that the 'proalition' could carry on. And on.
Half-term means report cards, though, and while the Telegraph's leader suggests the Coalition will be awarding themselves "gold stars all round", others beg to differ. Both the Times (£) and the FT (£) conduct their own area-by-area reviews, although the only point of consensus is that the NHS reforms have been disastrously mis-managed. Also dead in the water, claims the Times (£), is the Big Society, with charities complaining about being left out of policy making.
At least the Coalition itself is in robust health. The MTR speaks of the "shared purpose" which burns in the breasts of both Dave and Nick, as theGuardian reports. What of the fruits of this arrangement? The public will be treated to an announcement a week for the next 12 weeks, according to the schedule drawn up in Downing Street. As we already know about the working mothers' credit, the flat rate state pension, increases to the retirement age and additional help for first time buyers, it will be interesting to see how many of these have not leaked by the end of the week. Besides which, the schedule implies a touching faith in the command of the Number 10 press machine. Experience may have shown that to be eccentric at best. 
Once the analysis of the old has finished today, it will be on with the new for the Coalition. This morning's Telegraph splashes on the news that the dynamic duo's latest policy announcement will be a new allowance for working mothers intended to pay for childcare. A sum of up to £2,000 a month would be refunded through the tax system and will not be means tested. As I write in my blog this morning, the announcement begs a number of questions, not least in terms of cost. Its universality for working mothers (even those on over £60,000) is also a puzzle. What are middle class stay-at-home mothers to make of a measure from a Conservative Prime Minister that seems, well, so un-conservative?
Of course, today is the first day of the new child tax credit regime. TheMail isn't happy, labelling the execution a "shambles" and adding through its leader column that "this unfair policy will not benefit the family". In a rare example of common cause, the Mirror is also aghast at "Dave Dastardly's War on Women". Fortunately, when Dave's in trouble, there's one man he can rely on - the Mayor of London. Bo-Jo writes in hisTelegraph column:
"I salute this heroic Conservative-led government for at last having had the courage to do the blindingly obvious...Cutting a billion in welfare, as Peter Lilley once said, is cutting a thousand pounds from a million people. It takes political nerve."
Dave certainly has the courage of his convictions. Having been warned by all and sundry that his "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists" jibe had made rapprochement with the voters who propose abandoning the Conservatives for Ukip harder, he added on Marr yesterday that Ukip-ers were "pretty odd people". The Telegraph reports that Nigel Farage "won't lose any sleep over it", although Paul Goodman writes in the paper that Mr Cameron has the policies to defeat Ukip's "Thatcher-era tribute band", but a little courtesy wouldn't go astray. Mr Farage told the Today programme that he still hoped for a coalition with Dave after 2015 and had no personal ambition to be Prime Minister. Even so, he does pop up in this morning's G2 supplement saying that he would rather have a party of eccentrics than " a bland lot of ghastly people whose names I don't even know". So there.
The Prime Minister's idea that he is "entitled" and "enabled" to repatriate economic powers from Europe is the sign of "madness taking over", Peter Mandelson writes in the Guardian. He describes placing a question over Britain's future in the EU as "economically insane", arguing that firms considering investment in Britain would now seek a continental base. In fact the move is "not just irresponsible, it's incomprehensible", he thunders. Fortunately, Lord Mandelson is something of an expert in the area having been the EU's Commissioner for Trade. No doubt Dave will be grateful for the advice.
He asked the leaders of Tuvalu, St Lucia and Saint Kitts and Nevis, but the Prime Minister apparently failed to clear the Perth Agreement on changes to the royal succession laws with Prince Charles. The Mailsplashes with the news that the Prince of Wales is content for any first-born daughter of the Duke or Duchess of Cambridge to take the throne, but is concerned about removing the prohibition on marriage with Roman Catholics. Still, at least the Solomon Islands are on board.
Conservative traditionalists wondering who drips the sweet nothings of social liberalism into the ears of the party leadership now have their's Mr Tony himself. The Telegraph's Mandrake reports that the Chancellor's regular jogging sessions see him listening to Mr Blair's self-narrated, 16-hour-long audio-book A Journey. Presumably Docks to Downing Street: John Prescott, My Story is next in the queue.
At the last election, Ed Balls had to sweat for his seat as the Tories pawed at a wafer thin majority. His winning margin of 1,200 places his seat as an essential scalp if the Conservatives 40-40 strategy is to deliver them a majority. It must be a relief for the Shadow Chancellor, then, that theMail reports the Tories have been unable to find a candidate for the seat. The 2010 candidate Antony Calvert is refusing to run, as is Nick Pickles, head of Big Brother Watch, who was approached. Applications on a postcard to CCHQ.
David Miliband is considering easing himself back into Westminster life, targeting a return to the front-bench next spring, according to the Times(£). Given that he would want to shadow a major minister of state, the obvious question is: who makes way? Ed Balls, whose position on the Labour front-bench has never been entirely secure, would be the "nuclear option", although it would also guarantee the return of the Blairite/Brownite blood-letting that did the party so much damage before the 2010 election. On the flip side, refusing David a place would mean Ed had to watch him campaign with Dave on the European Referendum in the next parliament. A major headache for Mili Minor.
The man Quentin Letts once described as "the Hon. Member for the Early 20th Century" gives an interview in today's Independent. Jacob Rees-Mogg plays down his populist credentials, telling the paper "I've always been very suspicious of politicians who try to be 'men of the people' because actually it's a rather condescending view of the world". His future lies on the backbenches, he adds, saying that he prefers the independence and "I'm not going to be made a minister anyway".
John Rentoul in the Independent on Sunday, on the Goodman-Hodges question: "The next election is going to be decided by politics, politics, politics. It depends on what political leaders do in response to events, often unexpected ones...It all depends on stuff happening and how leaders respond. That makes it harder to generalise, because it is not about polls or growth figures but about character. On balance, I think that Cameron is better equipped to deal with the challenges of the unexpected than Miliband, but, after the Prime Minister's misjudgements last year, I am less sure of that than I was."
Matthew D'Ancona in the Sunday Telegraph, on the unfairness of DVD Dave: "Quite illogically, Cameron’s enviable capacity to relax – to spend Christmas building Lego with his children rather than on the phone to Obama – has been confused with laziness or dilettantism. Having spent a caffeine-fuelled day on the road with him last week, I can report that this is utter nonsense. Still, the "chillaxing" charge lingers – and from it has flowed the assumption that, if he wins the next election, Cameron will probably stand down after a couple of years to spend more time with his iPad."
David Jones is dreaming of a white July:
@DavidJonesMP: "Months and seasons have turned into advertisers' schedules. January is tax returns followed by Valentine's day. Christmas begins in July.
YouGov/Sunday Times - Con 32%, Lab 43%, Lib Dem 10%, Ukip 9%

In the Telegraph
Best of the rest

Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) - There is no soft option for our leaders now
Norman Blackwell in the FT (£) - Britain can shape a new relationship with Europe
Jackie Ashley in The Guardian - As the Coalition plods on, the fight is Labour's to lose
Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun - Why NHS scandal bosses can only make you sick
08:00 am: Halifax releases its house price survey for December.
02:30 pm: Mid Term Review press conference.