Monday, 25 February 2013

Coffee House Evening Blend..

Today in brief

  • The police contacted the Lib Dems about the Lord Rennard allegations as the focus turned to how much Nick Clegg knew about the claims.
  • George Osborne and Ed Balls sparred over the loss of the AAA credit rating.
  • John Kerry said the US would not take sides on the Falkland Islands.
  • Cardinal Keith O'Brien stepped down amid allegations of inappropriate behaviour.

The Analysis

'It's hardly Jimmy Savile'

Breaking: Cathy Newman has just tweeted that the Metropolitan Police have contacted the Lib Dems about the Lord Rennard claims to 'ascertain if criminal activity has taken place'. More details on Channel 4 News at 7pm.

The Lib Dems appear to be holding a series of seminars in how to ensure a story doesn't go away. First we had Nick Clegg's confusing statement last nightabout 'indirect and non-specific allegations' which appeared to contradict Channel 4's account of how it researched the story (we have a list of key questions here). Clegg's claims that he only heard the allegations about Rennard's allegedly inappropriate behaviour when they were broadcast was looking a bit shaky this afternoon when the Telegraph's Robert Winnettrevealed the paper had sent Nick Clegg's aide Jonny Oates specific allegations about the Lib Dem peer in April 2010.
On the World at One, a prospective parliamentary candidate, Jasper Gerard, showed just how strong party loyalty can be when he tried to minimise the allegations as 'historic' and 'hardly Jimmy Savile'. Simon Hughes also dropped some dark hints about the timing of the broadcast, which Cathy Newman hasresponded to on her blog. But will the story affect the Lib Dems' hopes in Eastleigh? Isabel spoke to one Tory MP who said that the Lib Dems were like 'cockroaches': remarkably able to shake off both the Huhne and Rennard scandals. But James says some Lib Dems are worried that this could follow the same path as Cleggmania in the popular press.
The party has now set up an independent hotline for whistleblowers. It will be interesting to see whether other allegations surface about other 'sex pests': wenoted this morning that this is unlikely to be the only alleged incident of inappropriate behaviour. In the meantime, it might be worth re-reading this2011 piece on the priapic predators of the Westminster jungle.

Osborne's Ballsy response to AAA downgrade

George Osborne was playing historian today as he responded to Ed Balls’ urgent question on the credit rating downgrade, charting Labour’s role in the UK’s loss of the AAA rating; particularly the deficit it bequeathed the Coalition. But he was in revisionist mood when it came to his own stance. As Ed Balls repeatedly leant across the despatch box and tried to hand the Chancellor a copy of the Tory 2010 manifesto in which the party lists ‘we will safeguard Britain’s credit rating’ as the first of its eight benchmarks, George Osborne told MPs that what he had always said was important was the confidence of the markets. 
Did we learn anything from the Urgent Question? Nothing about Labour's economic policy, or any change of heart from Osborne, certainly. But amidst all the jeers and ridiculously loyal questions was just one hint of what Osborne faces on his own backbenches: Philip Davies calling for 'proper tax cuts'. The Chancellor will have been heartened, though, by the overall support he received from Tory MPs. They were clearly enjoying his confident response: the Chancellor is often accused of arrogance, but the flipside of self-assurance is that it doesn't half come in handy when your back is up against the wall.
Number 10 this morning dodged questions on whether the government could expect to retain the new AA1 rating to the end of this Parliament. But as Jonathan reported this morning, the markets seem considerably less excited than Parliament.

Tomorrow's agenda

  • Full results of the Italian general election expected. Exit polls make Pier Luigi Bersani of the centre-left Democratic Party the heavy favourite to become Prime Minister.
  • Cabinet meets
  • 19.00: Ed Davey speaks at a Reform event on energy policy.

Some vital statistics

  • Latest YouGov: 11pt Labour lead (Lab 44%, Con 32%, LD 11%, Ukip 9%). Implied Labour majority of 116.
  • Next government chances, as implied by bookies: Lab majority 40%, Con majority 22%, Lab-LD coalition 15%, Con-LD coalition 12%, other 11%.
  • Government borrowing cost (10-year bond yield): 2.10% (-0.02pts).
  • Eastleigh by-election chances, as implied by bookies (with changes since Friday): Lib Dems 61% (-13), Con 25% (+8), Ukip 12% (+6), Lab 1% (-1), other 1% (0).