Friday, 8 February 2013

EU edges towards a deal..

Good morning. There's a long day of negotiations ahead (keep up withour live coverage), but at the moment, Dave seems to be having a good summit in Brussels. Our report on the proposals put before European leaders this morning suggests that a £30bn real terms budget cut between 2014 and 2020 is likely, with a £1.7bn cut to the EU's administrative budget. If the proposals are adopted, and British officials are stressing that this is a big "if", then this is a significant triumph for Dave, who was widely seen as stuffed following a Commons vote for a real terms budget cut. In a wider sense, his Europe speech was also a call to arms for Europe itself, not just Britain. An outbreak of fiscal sanity on the Continent implies that it is hitting home despite the mockery which greeted it in some corners.
Haggling between leaders has taken place through the night, with Herman Van Rompuy eventually producing a budget some €12bn lighter than the previous suggestion. The €960bn for budget commitments (the maximum the EU can spend) proposal is significantly lower than the €1,033bn originally proposed by the European Commission, the FT (£) reports. The budget payments (amount actually expected to be spent) figure may be as low as €908bn - well below the French "absolute minimum" of €913bn.
Dave, who powered through the night on espresso, fruit and haribo, will have one sticky point to explain. The British contribution will go up. This is largely thanks to the surrender of much of the British rebate by Tony Blair, and the transfer of wealth between north-west Europe and the new Eastern European states. In fact, each net payer will pay more (except Italy, a nice election present for Mario Monti). We knew that beforehand, however. At least the rebate isn't shrinking (unlike the Dutch one, they stand to lose 45pc). If this initial apparent success holds, Mr Cameron will be entitled to resounding congratulations from his party. His achievement will be on a par with Mrs Thatcher and the rebate or John Major and the opt out at Maastricht. He has delivered a reduction in the proposed EU budget, and saved the rebate.
Michael Gove decided "not to let the best be the enemy of the good" when dropping his plans for a single exam board for each core subject, he told Parliament yesterday. The education reform project simply cannot be accomplished in one swoop, he argued. It doesn't mean he's happy about it, our story that the European Union is to be dropped from the national curriculum could be seen as a side-swipe at the procurement rules which prevented him from going ahead, but as the FT (£) notes, he is still on the brink of achieving curriculum and league table reform. The Times (£) believes that the timetable may also need changing, but the gist of the reforms remains intact.
Reaction to Mr Gove's setback has been determinedly tribal. TheGuardian sums up the reforms and their focus on heroes and heroines as "big on facts, light on real reforms - but ideal for University Challenge", while its editorial calls him a "bright boy" lacking in humility. Our leaderdeclares the response to Mr Gove's tacking as "juvenile", while Blower's cartoon casts Mr Gove as Marechal Foch, attacking boldly against all odds. Fraser Nelson takes the view that Mr Gove is doing better than yesterday suggests:
"In the office of the Education Secretary hangs a poster showing a bombsite, with a picture of a child sitting at a school desk in the middle of the rubble. 'The fate of our country won’t be decided on a battlefield,' it reads, 'it will be determined in a classroom.' He suffered an embarrassing defeat yesterday, losing the battle of the EBacc. But he is, still, winning the war."
Mark Carney's first appearance in Parliament, giving evidence before the Commons Treasury Select Committee, was a barnstorming success. TheFT (£) reports that the "rock star" of central banking won over his inquisitors by agreeing to answer reasonable requests for internal discussion documents, and by telling them he didn't know whether RBS and Lloyds should be broken up. Quentin Letts was also impressed by Mr Carney's "jockey’s build and dainty, feminine fingers". In today'sTelegraph, Jeremy Warner also hails the new chief:
"He seems to be handling himself pretty well, and MPs on the Treasury Committee seem relatively impressed. He's already confirming his reputation as a smoother, less chippy performer than Sir Mervyn, and it seems certain he's going to be more consensual in his approach to policy than the incumbent."
The results of Lord Ashcroft's first Eastleigh poll show that the Conservatives are in pole position, albeit by virtue of doing marginally less badly than the Lib Dems. The Tories are ahead on 34pc (-6pc), the Lib Dems are on 31pc (-16pc), Labour in third on 19pc (+9pc), and Ukip at their heels on 13pc (+9pc). The polling breakdown indicates that clear conservative leads on the economy and Europe trump a Lib Dem lead on the environment. To push the advantage home, the Mail reports that Dave will be making a personal appearance to support Maria Hutchings, who was also the Conservative candidate in 2010. Labour, meanwhile, are still searching for the right person, as Guido reported yesterday. Someone? Anyone?
President Obama's health adviser warned Labour in 2008 that the NHS's focus on targets meant poor quality care, we report. Although the party still retains a firm polling lead when the health service is brought up, news such as this, and the Mail's report that the legacy of the Labour era could be as many as 4,000 deaths a year in 26 NHS trusts, will prevent them playing their hand with much boldness in the years ahead.
Is this Owen Paterson's John Gummer moment? Mary Creagh piled in to Defra on Today, criticising the Environment Secretary's silence on horse meat. She has asked if she would eat a Findus horse meat lasagne, and said no. At some point someone is going to ask Mr Paterson the same question. Does he decline, or get himself pictured tucking in to one? He may think that wild horses wouldn't drag him into this, but that can't last.
Nick Clegg's weekly penance on LBC was ambushed by the Mayor of London yesterday. Bo-Jo used a pre-recorded message to demand that ministers abandon their "posh limos" and take to the underground. Mr Clegg, thinking on his feet, told "Boris from Islington" to "get out of his limo", the Mail reports. Inventive, very inventive.
Not content with telling the Daily Politics that his leader was a "work in progress" earlier this week, Jon Cruddas used a speech to the Resolution Foundation to demand Ed find another string to his bow other than simply opposing all the Coalition's works. He warned that the party had become "remote and administrative" and must avoid proposing "yet more state", we report. He added "simply opposing the cuts without an alternative is no good. It fails to offer reasonable hope. The stakes are high because when hope is not ­reasonable, despair becomes real." Hardly a ringing endorsement of predistribution, is it? 
The problem Parliament faces is that several MPs have never recovered from their youthful experiments with recreational drugs, according to Peter Lilley. We report that the former social security secretary used his interview with House magazine to argue that "God gave us a mind and a conscience and drugs effectively disable both your mind and your conscience. The only reason that I have a clear head on cannabis is that I've never taken any. Much of my friends, colleagues in this place did and don't seem to have recovered." Not you, Prime Minister, obviously.

What can Kerry McCarthy be implying?:

@KerryMP: "I met with two St Brendan's Sixth Form students in parliament this week, who were still reeling from having just met the Mogg...I think I managed to reassure them he wasn't your typical MP"

In the Telegraph

Fraser Nelson - Gove may have lost a skirmish, but he's still winning the war
Telegraph View - The Left has no right to lecture on education

Best of the rest

Philip Stephens in the FT (£) - The US won't, Europe can't - the future of intervention
Brian Wilson in The Guardian - Bread and Circuses
Philip Collins in The Times (£) - The NHS is run for the staff, not the patients
Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail - How to improve exams? Just ask the parents...

TODAY: European Council summit.
07:15 pm: Former Attorney General Baroness Scotland of Asthal to give Newman Lecture. University of Notre Dame London Centre, 1 Suffolk Street.