Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Pressure building on Clegg..

Good morning. Call Clegg should make for interesting listening today. His evident frustration at the media acting as "self-appointed detectives" (or as the Mail rephrases it: "a free press") lays bare the pressure he is under. Writing for us, Mary Riddell argues that even a by-election victory might not save him if his story doesn't stack up. Yesterday's 8pc in a ComRes poll is, she argues, "a measure of public disgust". Daniel Finkelstein uses his Times (£) column this morning to claim that, under Mr Clegg, the Lib Dems are a party that has failed to grow out of interest group politics. But even if that's true, who else is there in the party's firmament who is both willing and able to build the bridges with the Tory leadership necessary to keep the Coalition going? David Cameron has been very circumspect in his comments so far, but he too may face a grilling over his Deputy's decisions come PMQs at noon.
Most problematic for both is the fact that Mr Clegg's story appears to have more holes in it than a block of emmental. We report that Sandra Gidley, a former MP and once the party's health spokeswoman, claims she personally warned Mr Clegg in 2007 that allegations had been made about Lord Rennard. If true, the implication is that Lord Rennard's involvement with the coaching of prospective female MPs continued after the party leader was made aware of claims against him. The public image of the party can hardly have been burnished either by allegations in the Mail today that Lord Stoneham threatened one of Lord Rennard's accusers. The party looks in disarray.
The citizens of Eastleigh go to the polls tomorrow, and the ante-post favorite seems to be fatigue. The Guardian reports that even a visit from Paddy Ashdown failed to excite residents who, in the words of one "can't be arsed" to open the door anymore, so bored are they with the sight of door-stepping MPs summoned from Westminster by the party machine. At least he kept the press corps entertained - Michael Deacon's account includes Lord Ashdown's claim to have "invented balloons". One thing which comes across in the Guardian article, Paul Routledge's Mirror commentary and the reports of staffers returning from Eastleigh is how well organised the Ukip campaign is on the ground. Rowena Mason writes that they have certainly led the most colourful campaign on the ground, and are, in Nigel Farage's words "coming up on the rails". The pre-election talk of a battle for third with Labour now seems academic. The question is how close to second they come.
Our publication  this morning of evidence that Iran is developing a second facility with the potential to assist in the production of a nuclear bomb will raise pulses in Whitehall. While Jack Straw, writing for us yesterday, argued that Britain should not go to war over an Iranian bomb, as our leader puts it, the situation is more complicated than that:
"While nobody wants a war with Iran, or all the hellish consequences it would stir up, the consequences of Tehran getting the Bomb remain pretty hellish, too. It is not just that ruling out military action would weaken our bargaining position – it is that if Iran continues its current duplicitous conduct, it might be the only way to prevent a still greater disaster."
And on the topic of Middle Eastern military action...Mr Tony was on Newsnight yesterday complaining that people are still "very abusive" to him over Iraq and adding that he had "given up" justifying himself over accusations which had "taken a toll" on him. But at least Iraq is "safer today", right? "No, I wouldn't say that," answered Mr Blair, "it's going to take a generation". 
Dave aside, the Chancellor is looking short of allies at present. The Times(£) reports that £10bn of additional savings have been ordered for 2015-16 in the absence of welfare cuts. Eric Pickles has joined long-standing opponents Theresa May, Chris Grayling and Philip Hammond after being told to cut 7.2pc in the 2015 financial year. The Mail adds that rebel Tories and Lib Dem Cabinet members are joining forces to argue that the instead of deeper cuts in departments already hit, the ringfence on international aid, the NHS and pensioner benefits must go. The frustration cuts both ways - the FT (£) reports that George berated ministers for slow progress in implementing enterprise zones and rural broadband provision.
Away from the Cabinet table, the offers of help are becoming increasingly radical. Paul Tucker, Sir Mervyn King's understudy, spoke yesterday of introducing negative interest rates to spur the British economy. Although he was talking of the deposit rate, not the base rate, the idea of charging banks to hold reserves at the BoE hardly fits with the post-crisis desire to move banks onto a sustainable footing. We live in interesting times.
"Diabolical!" is the Mail's verdict on the news that the "man with no shame" has still not gone. At least one Cabinet member and several junior ministers would like to see Sir David Nicholson resign over the Mid Staffordshire scandal, we reveal. The demands for accountability follow the submission of an Early Day Motion by Charlotte Leslie, signed by ten Conservative MPs. Downing Street hardly offered Sir David a ringing endorsement - "the Prime Minister understands why there are strong feelings," a spokesman said last night. Of more pressing concern to Sir David must be the lack of budgetary control in the NHS. Figures obtained by the Mirror show that dozens of hospitals have required emergency funding totalling £543m over the last two years, with one trust requiring a £55.2m bail-out. Too big to fail, central government handouts, unaccountable chief executives - the NHS is starting to look a lot like the banking sector.
A £25bn Tory plan to renew the Trident fleet on a like-for-like basis will receive Labour backing at the next election, the Independent reports. Danny Alexander's report into alternatives to a full renewal is out in the Spring, and officially the party will keep its options open until this point, but the intervention of Lord West, a former defence minister who uses anIndependent op-ed to plead with the party to keep its options open, can be seen as indicative of the way the wind is blowing internally.
There continues to be no love lost between former education minister Tim Loughton and Team Gove. The Independent reports that Mr Loughton, who blames one of Mr Gove's advisers for an unattributed Spectator quote saying he was a "lazy, incompetent narcissist", has tabled a series of hostile questions aimed at forcing out Dominic Cummings, one of the Education Secretary's cl0sest SpAds. It should give Mr Cummings a break from feuding with journalists, at least...
The 2.4pc hike in pension contributions for those working in the public sector will be evaded by one group of assiduous public servants. MPs face only a 1.85pc increase in their pension contributions, the Sun reports. Very good of them to find that.
Former Downing Street economics adviser Moira Wallace will become the first female provost of Oriel College, Oxford, Richard Kayreports. The former director of the Government's Social Exclusion Unit will take up her post in September. 
The roses are a Tony Blair legacy, the vegetables come from Sarah Brown and the play area is a David Cameron innovation. Welcome to the Number 10 garden which features in this morning's G2. A public ballot for viewing tickets opened this week. It is overlooked by the Chancellor's flat which "must have inhibited the Blair family's enjoyment when there was Brownite glowering to be done," the paper notes, rather uncharitably.

Having a 'Boris' on top hasn't done Michael Fabricant any favours:

@Mike_Fabricant: "When I 1st got into Parliament, 1 Cons MP exclaimed 'My God! Look at his hair! There letting anyone in now'. I fear he still thinks that!" 


In the Telegraph

Mary Riddell - If Nick Clegg's story won't stand up, this scandal could finish him
Best of the rest
Daniel Finkelstein in The Times (£) - The Lib Dems are not a serious national party
Tito Boeri and Luigi Guiso in the FT (£) - Italy needs to solve the crisis of its political class

TODAY: Culture minister Ed Vaizey announcement on architecture policy.
09:00 am: British Property Federation conference, with speeches by housing minister Mark Prisk and Labour's Jack Dromey. Conference opens at 09:00, Mr Dromey speaks at 02:40 and Mr Prisk at 04:30. Deloitte, 2 New Street Square.
09:00 am: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's radio phone-in on LBC 97.3. Brought forward from Thursday.
09:00 am: Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw speech to the Policy Exchange. 10 Storey's Gate, Westminster.
09:30 am: Damian McBride gives evidence to the Commons Public Administration Committee on the future of the civil service. Committee Room 16, House of Commons.
09:30 am: Justice Secretary Chris Grayling gives evidence on rehabilitation to Commons Justice Committee. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
09:30 am: Second estimate of Q4 GDP is published by the Office for National Statistics.
10:30 am: Mayor of London Boris Johnson visits Feltham to launch plans for free school. Reach Academy, Bridge House, Hanworth Road, Feltham.
12:00 pm: Prime Minister's Questions. House of Commons.
05:00 pm: Education Secretary Michael Gove at CentreForum event on achievement in schools. The Commonwealth Club, Northumberland Avenue.