Thursday, 7 February 2013

Gove's GCSE reforms diluted..

Good morning. Labour has jumped on the overnight news (in theTelegraphMail and Independent) that Michael Gove has pulled his plan to replace the GCSE. Stephen Twigg has been on Today talking about a "humiliation" for the Education Secretary, and Evan Davis in turn has pointed out that there are no plans for Mr Gove to come on and explain himself. The Tory version blames a combination of obstructionism from Nick Clegg and EU legal threats. Mr Gove and his deputy David Laws have thrashed out a compromise that will be announced today. But to judge from initial comments I've had since we first got wind of it yesterday any unhappiness Mr Gove may feel towards the Lib Dems is reciprocated in spades. "High handed" is one description of his Cabinet style I've heard from the yellow side of the Coalition. Something tells me we'll need to add this episode to our growing collection of Coalition fault-lines.
We report that a compromise deal will see the focus of GCSEs switch from coursework to longer exams with more essay questions. Plans to reduce competition between exam boards have also been scrapped because it is feared they would be illegal under EU procurement laws. Another headline policy. Another notable retraction. As with so many of them, you wonder why the Coalition doesn't agree a policy before they announce it.
David Cameron will be presented with the EU's latest budgeting proposals this morning at the start of a two day summit in Brussels. Unusually, leaders will not see the proposals until they are sat around the table. The Mail reports that Mr Cameron is targeting the EU's foreign service as he seeks a £25bn reduction in spending over the seven year spending window. He has already warned Herman Van Rompuy that he is prepared to use his veto should cuts fail to appear.
Even so, this will be a more conciliatory Dave than we sometimes see in Europe. The FT (£) reports that the Prime Minister will keep his rhetoric cool and his contributions "constructive" as he looks for a spending total of about €900bn and cuts to the Brussels bureaucratic machine. Relations between Dave and other European leaders are friendlier than might be imagined, at least according to William Hague. Our report of Mr Hague's evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee highlights his belief that Britain's referendum will allow it to "lead with ideas" throughout the continent. Watch this space for the EU reaction to British ideas leadership on budget cuts...
The latest on the great childcare vouchers fandango: very high earners will not be eligible for childcare vouchers after a Lib Dem intervention. Anyone earning over £150,000 per year will not qualify for help, the FT(£) reports. The Treasury is currently finalising a £1.5bn scheme to give a tax break of up to £2,000 per household to those families with young children. Gloriously, this will wipe out most of the £2.5bn saving made by scrapping child benefit for higher earners. Joined-up government.
Yesterday's IFS report into the state of the public finances was dire. TheMail has led with the news that 35pc will need to be cut from most departmental budgets after the next election, else income tax will need to rise by 3p. The Chancellor is borrowing some £64bn more than he projected in his 2010 budget. As the FT (£) adds, part of the problem is record low tax receipts which continued to decline relative to both national income and total tax take.
What to do? Like clockwork, Nick Clegg's mansion tax has appeared again. As we report, he will try to make the issue a central one in the Eastleigh campaign. George Osborne seems more minded to blame the Bank of England. Mark Carney gets his first grilling from the Treasury Committee this morning, and the interest rate decision is announced at noon. The Chancellor's call for looser monetary policy, reported in theFT (£), may be seen by the markets as a sign of things to come. Jesse Norman's pointed opposition in his Times (£) op-ed is probably closer to the public view. Both miss the point, writes Jeremy Warner, we need lower taxes:
"The Chancellor needs to be looking at the problem of how to fund legitimate entitlement spending from the other end of the telescope. He needs to be cutting taxes, not raising them, for this is the only effective tool he’s got for injecting incentives and demand back into the economy and kick-starting growth. Without growth, all these social commitments, defensible and otherwise, are unaffordable and unsustainable."
Our story that yesterday's report on dreadful institutional neglect at Mid Staffordshire's two hospitals could be eclipsed by investigations at a further five NHS trusts will worry both sides in the Commons. The failure of the report to play the blame game means that suspicions automatically fall on those sitting on the green benches. As Sue Cameronwrites for us, from plebgate to the NHS, there is a dearth of figures in high places accepting responsibility for wrong-doing.
That isn't to say papers haven't tried to attach blame. The Mail is particularly strong on Sir David Nicholson AKA "[the] man with no shame". It also disapproves of his background as an "ex-Commie". Lessons to be drawn? "Hospitals need more compassion, not cash", according to the Mail. "Sometimes money not reform really is the answer," says Steve Richards in the Independent. Clear as mud.
Mr Cameron may have won the battle (albeit he was battling against his own army), but the war drags on, not least in the Mail which reports anger at Mr Cameron's non-attendance of Tuesday's debate. TheIndependent reports that the Lords will seek to water-down the Act through a series of amendments which Tory MPs hope will attract a party majority when they return to the Commons, forcing Dave's hand. I suspect he won't be for turning, no matter the implications for party governance. That there is a huge gap between parliament's perception of the importance of this issue and the public one (compare theIndependent's interview with Mike Freer and Rod Liddle's Sun column) is not something the Prime Minister seems to be concerned about. Instead it's the mods - and as the Guardian reports, Tory MPs backing the bill were overwhelmingly young (58% born after 1970) and female (70% supported or abstained) - vs the traditionalists. As Peter Oborne writes, it's tearing the party apart at the grassroots:
"He is aiming to fight the coming general election as if he were part of a presidential system. Voters will be invited to elect Mr Cameron personally, not the party he represents. Indeed, he is seeking to place himself above party...But Tory membership is sinking. According to a report by the House of Commons library, it now stands at between 130,000 and 170,000, down from around 250,000 when Mr Cameron became leader, and three million in the post-war period. MPs I spoke to yesterday believe they may have lost 10 per cent or so of their remaining members this week alone."
There will be a truncated by-election campaign in Eastleigh after Nick Clegg opted for a February 28th poll date. Their campaigning so far has been centred around the £600 tax cut which will come from the increases in the personal allowance over this Parliament. How very Thatcherite.
The Coalition's crusade to bring net immigration down to 100,000 a year always had one glaring problem, the inability of the British Government to refuse immigrants from Europe. As such the Mail's report that the UK is now the most popular destination in Europe for migrants and attracted 590,950 long-term immigrants in 2010 puts the target into some perspective. Although the latest net immigration figure is 186,000, it is the incredibly rapid churn from so many new arrivals which must surely make the Big Society and One Nation Labour very difficult to translate into action.
Troops in Mali has become troops in Somalia, the Times (£) reports. The move is part of a plan to place British soldiers in the worst trouble spots as a preemptive check against Islamists. Mission creep, what mission creep?
Matt Ridley has won a by-election to take one of the seats allocated to Conservative hereditary peers in the Lords, the FT (£) reports. Lord Ridley, who was chairman of Northern Rock when it collapsed, beat a field of 26 others including Douglas Hogg.
Congratulations to all the winners of the first political book awards last night, especially the Telegraph's own and inimitable Matt Pritchett, who won Political Humour/Satire Book of the Year, and to Iain Dale for putting together what was evidently a village triumph (somewhere in my inbox is an invitation I forgot to reply to - sorry Iain!). Political Book of the Year was Caroline Shenton's book The Day Parliament Burned Down, while Ian Cobain won the debut award for Cruel Britania: A Sectret History of Torture.
Tonight's show comes from Stirling. The panel is Michael Moore, Charlie Falconer, Mary Macleod for the Conservatives, Humza Yousaf for the SNP and the Chief Executive of Stagecoach Group, Sir Brian Souter.

Do all political careers really end in failure? Not according to Paul Flynn:

@Paulflynnmp: "Chat between me and Cameron on our careers will be brief. Mine has been brilliantly successful. All I've ever wanted to be is a backbench MP"

In the Telegraph
Best of the rest

David Aaronovitch in The Times (£) - Confused of Westminster seeks a big idea
Steve Richards in The Independent - Sometimes money not reform really is the answer
Dominic Raab in The Guardian - A Tory type of fairness


TODAY: Prime Minister to attend European Council summit. Schools Minister David Laws announcement on schools.
09:45 am: Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt gives evidence to Commons committee on draft social care Bill. Committee Room 8, House of Commons.
09:45 am: New Bank of England Governor Mark Carney appears before the House of Commons Treasury Committee. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
10:00 am: Nick Clegg speech on taxation and fairness. Institute for Government, 2 Carlton Gardens.
10:30 am: Q&A with Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood. Room P, Portcullis House.
12:00 pm: Bank of England decision on interest rates and quantitative easing programme.
07:00 pm: Iraq War debate 10 years on. Clare Short, Haifa Zangana, Owen Jones and Mehdi Hasan will debate Bernard Jenkin, David Aaronovitch, Dr Ali Latif and Shiraz Maher over the invasion of Iraq. Great Hall, Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmiths, University of London.