BREAKING NEWS: Ed Miliband has appeared on the Today programme where he was accused of attacking a "straw man" when criticising an in/out referendum:
"If there is a transfer of power, there is legislation on the book, and we will have a referendum...Imagine an investor thinking now, should I be investing in Britain? If we put up a sign saying 'we might be out in five years', I don't think that's good for Britain.
"I don't think that Europe is working well...people aren't feeling Europe is working well, but our job as politicians is to say 'let's change that'. The Prime Minister is being dragged by his party. The contested ground is not how should Europe change, but how should we change it. Saying we might walk out is a hopeless negotiation strategy."
CAMERON FACES DOWN BOTH SIDES
Good morning. You can't please all of the people, all of the time, and you can't please some people ever. David Cameron would be forgiven for feeling that way this morning as he wakes to political coverage dominated by an attack on his referendum plan by Business Secretary Vince Cable. We report that Dr Cable will claim the vote will harm the economy and drive away investment in a speech this evening, calling it "a terrible time to have a referendum". He is backed up by those friends of capitalist endeavour, the TUC in today's Guardian (although they oppose a vote as it would be too pro-business, keep up). Fortunately for Dave, the business community itself seems more bullish. An open letter signed by several City grandees backs the Prime Minister saying "renegotiation would give the UK a chance of having a competitive advantage rather than being dragged down, arms linked with our European neighbours," the Mail reports.
As we wait for tomorrow's climax of Dave's "tantric" approach to speechmaking, the FT (£) reports that appetites are certainly whetted on the Tory side. "He told us we’d really love it – that it would be really eurosceptic," one backbencher pants. Liam Fox also pops up onConservativeHome this morning demanding that pledge is made good. What his party thinks of him, seldom an issue for Dave, is suddenly crucially important. If Mr Cameron fails to unite his party, he could well end up splitting it. Steve Richards argues in the Independent that party unification, rather than Europe, is in fact the prime motivation of the whole adventure. Either way, argues the Telegraph's leader, it's time to rock the boat:
"[Mr Cameron] must set out a credible direction of travel whose goal is a healthier, more benign relationship with the EU – which can then be put to the British people for their endorsement. "
The man who negotiated on behalf of Harold Wilson in the last European election, Lord Armstrong of Illminster, tells the Guardian that Mr Cameron "is playing a very difficult game". But, then, we knew that, didn't we?
In an interview with the FT (£) today, Ed Miliband does a rather better job of presenting his anti-referendum case than he has to date. His line that Dave "should be listening to the CBI and not Nigel Farage" captures his two arguments - a drawn-out renegotiation deterring business investment and Mr Cameron being weak in the face of internal pressures - rather better than he has so far at PMQs. The Labour leader is yet to figure noticeably in the public debate, presumably judging that he has little to gain by parroting the remarks of unreasonable opposition types like the Deputy Prime Minister.
Where does that leave us when it comes to Mr Miliband the tactician? According to G2, he's shaping up to be the new Margaret Thatcher, a conviction politician and a radical. According to Quentin Letts in theMail, he's shaping up to be the new Neil Kinnock, babbling hopelessly as the eurosceptic tide comes in. Whatever Mr Miliband is peddling, it was clearly acceptable in the eighties.
IF I WERE YOU...
The Prime Minister finished his Europe speech some time ago, but if he was looking for any last minute inspiration, both Daniel Hannan in theMail and Patrick O'Flynn in the Express have written a speech for him.In the unlikely event that Dave doesn't want to find himself saying anything which begins "for a generation, the cravenly pro-federalist politicians...", there is always Craig Brown, whose amusing, imagined Q&A with Dave in the Mail captures rather too well the Prime Ministerial position on the EU:
"So does Europe need to change? Let’s be very clear about this. Europe is changing, and those changes are changing. And we’re changing, too, which means that we need to change those changes if those changes are going to be changed. But, frankly, there’s no point in changing if you haven’t got anything to change into...I couldn’t be clearer than that. So to those who say, ‘Power should flow both ways’, I would say, ‘Yes, absolutely, power should flow both ways’."
In fact, I'm not so sure that isn't a straight transcription of Dave's recentToday interview.
Not content with making themselves hostages to fortune at the last election with an unworkable tuition fee pledge which led, in a roundabout way, to Nick Clegg's chart debut, the Lib Dems are mulling something similar in 2015. The Independent reports that the party is considering promising a reduction in the maximum fee chargeable from its current level of £9,000 per year. Vince is against the plans, which is sensible given that a reduction of one third would mean the government of the day needing to find another £2bn each year. The odds of a Conservative or Labour chancellor agreeing to that? About the same as the odds of the outright Lib Dem triumph that would allow them to get it through.
TWIGG SNAPS OVER GOVE REFORMS
"A decade of economic decline" is coming, Stephen Twigg will warn today. Its cause?
The debt and deficit levels the Coalition inheritedMichael Gove's new exams for 16-year-olds. Speaking at the North of England Education Conference at Sheffield Hallam University (in Nick Clegg's constituency), Mr Twigg will say that the plans would herald a return to a 19th Century system of education "because there is no value placed on subjects which are critical for our future economic competitiveness." Less of a fan of French lesbian poetry than Mr Gove, then.
THE DEPARTMENT OF UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS
On the topic of Mr Gove, former children's and families' minister Tim Loughton raided the television archives for his analogies yesterday, while discussing the manner in which his old boss ran the DoE. Mr Loughton told the Education Select Committee that he was frustrated to find child protection take second fiddle to education reform. To make the point, he threw in a reference to Are you being served? claiming Mr Gove made "Mr Grace-like" appearances at official functions but did not know most of his departmental staff. He added that the department was run with an "Upstairs-Downstairs mentality". Given evident bonds of mutual respect, the BBC reports that Mr Loughton does not know why he was sacked.
COUNTING THE COST OF PLEBGATE
The vitally important question of who said what to who and why after Andrew Mitchell failed to have a gate opened for him has cost the taxpayer £82,500 so far, yesterday's Evening Standard reported. The inquiry should be completed by the end of the month. Downing Street is anxious for the police to come up with a swift answer to their investigation. I gather Mr Cameron wants to get Mr Mitchell back onto the front bench sooner rather than later.
THE EASTERN EUROPEANS ARE COMING!
How Romanians and Bulgarians will arrive in Britain after the expiry of all restrictions on the right to settle at the end of this year remains to be seen. The Mail thinks we'll get an average of 50,000 a year (based on a MigrationWatch study). Never knowingly undersold, the Sun goes for 350,000 over five years (based on the same study). A useful voter block for the "in" side of "in/out" in any event.
WOMEN IN THE LOBBY
Mary Ann Sieghart makes an impassioned plea for more women in the Westminster lobby in today's Independent. She wants more family-friendly hours and the same level of respect as she feels is usually accorded male hacks. The current imbalance means that several news angles are missed, she says:
"[Fiona Mactaggart] was most struck by evidence from the clerk of the Defence Select Committee. He said that they had never before had a woman member, but now, 'instead of talking about how big the bombs are, we talk about the wives and children of soldiers'. Given how much soldiers worry about their families’ welfare, this isn’t soft or fluffy; it’s critical to how well they do their jobs."
Tonight's Question Time is in Lincoln. The panel will be made up of Grant Shapps, Caroline Flint, Nigel Farage, the classicist Mary Beard and Roland Rudd, chairman of Business for New Europe.
TWEETS AND TWITS
The SNP's Mike Weir pitches for any vacant film reviewer roles on Fleet Street:
@mikeweirsnp: "Went to see Life of Pi. Different. "
In the Telegraph
Sue Cameron - Battle lines drawn in Whitehall's phoney war
Susanna Forrest - Horses for courses
Telegraph View - Britain is ready to rock the boat
Best of the rest
Camilla Cavendish in The Times (£) - Our welfare bill has run wildly out of control
Steve Richards in The Independent - A desperate PM is risking chaos because his party is out of control
Simon May in the FT (£) - The passionate European's case for leaving the union
Martin Kettle in The Guardian - On Europe, Labour must leave schisms to the Tories
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announcement on Regional Growth Fund. Stephen Twigg speech on exams at 16 at North of England Education Conference, Sheffield Hallam University. Vince Cable speech on the business environment.
09:30 am: Committee on Standards in Public Life public meeting / publication of review. The Committee on Standards in Public Life will be publishing the findings of its review of best practice in promoting high standards of behaviour in public life at their annual open meeting. Harvey Goodwin Suite at Church House, Dean's Yard.
10:00 am: Tory MPs Bernard Jenkin, Bill Cash and John Redwood launching a paper on Britain's relationship with the EU. The paper is entitled "The EU 'single market' - is it worth it?" Room T, Portcullis House.
06:45 pm: Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander speech on Britain's future in Europe. Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, 10 St James's Square.
07:00 pm: The Lord Mayor of the City of London's annual London Government Dinner attended by Mayor of London Boris Johnson. The Mayor of London and the Lord Mayor will discuss investment in London's infrastructure and will share their views on how to guarantee London's future prosperity. Mansion House, Walbrook.