Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Tory disunity..

Good morning. At around 7pm this evening, parliament will vote following a debate on the second reading of the Equal Marriage Act. The yawning divide between the Tory traditionalists and the Cameroons remains unbridged. At least 100 Conservative MPs look likely to vote against gay marriage, and with abstentions, the party looks likely to march fewer than half of its potential votes through the aye lobby. Our story about the joint letter to the Telegraph from George Osborne, Theresa May and William Hague notes that even in the Cabinet, the divides are stark. David Jones and Owen Paterson are against the bill, while Philip Hammond has been found something to do abroad, but IDS and Chris Grayling are behind it, according to the Mail. On the backbenches, Brian Binley's blog heralding gay marriage as the worst thing since the "social tsunami of the 1960's", captures the mood of the antis. The Guardian's attempt to argue that a yes vote is the Thatcherite option appears to have fallen on unfertile ground.
How much this damages the Conservatives is a source of debate. Ask most backbenchers and they will tell hair-raising yarns of constituency association resigning en masse. The polling in today's Sun also suggests a wounded party - 71pc think of the Conservatives as a divided party, Labour's poll lead is now 15pts, and support for same sex marriage is soft, the margin of strong supporters exceeds strong opponents by only 4pc. ConservativeHome suggests the picture is a little brighter, YouGov's Stephen Shakespeare discounts ComRes's finding that 14pc of Tory voters would not vote for the party thanks to its stance.
The Conservative press is as divided as the party. The Times (£) comes out in support of Dave, although it cites Lord Melbourne's dictum that nobody ever does something foolish except for some strong principle. The Mail, on the other hand, is unimpressed with "a distinctly unTory attempt to legislate in defiance of the facts of life". G2's feature on the Tories recalls a party as bitterly divided as Labour were in the 1980's. Dave is often accused of lacking fixed principles. Carried out in the teeth of fierce opposition, this is arguably the greatest conviction call of his leadership. His greatest challenge may be uniting the party again afterwards.
The report into the scandalous neglect which occurred at two NHS Trust hospitals in Mid Staffordshire will be published tomorrow. A copy of the public inquiry's findings will be handed to Jeremy Hunt this morning.Our story that some NHS bosses have long adopted a "hope that no one notices" approach in some areas demands a serious response. Sir David Nicholson, the NHS chief executive, will be particularly in the firing line, having had oversight of Mid Staffs in 2005. The Guardian's profile suggests his ability to navigate the Byzantine management structure of the health service is a significant asset to the Government. Moreover, the Prime Minister has a serious opportunity to wrest Labour's monopoly on the NHS from their grasp - these abuses happened on Labour's watch. However, as I argue in today's column, the headlines will stick to the Conservatives:
"Self-evidently what stands in the way of a compelling Tory offensive is not Cameron the confident Prime Minister, but Cameron the indifferent Conservative leader. No doubt his response to the Mid-Staffs report tomorrow will be statesmanlike, but on an issue of central importance to the voters, he needs to demonstrate that the party he leads is capable of having a conversation with the British people and not just itself."
The full force of Fleet Street's vitriol is unleashed on Chris Huhne this morning, following his guilty plea on a charge of perverting the course of justice yesterday. The Mail's leader says it might have been possible to feel sorry for Mr Huhne were it not for "his brazen lies...indestructiblearrogance and self-pity...[we] can breathe a sigh of relief that this ruthless liar will never hold public office again." The personal nature of the case coverage is striking, as Rachel Sylvester argues in the Times (£), the division between the personal and the professional life of a politician is now fully submerged. 
Focus now turns to the by-election in Eastleigh. Nigel Farage is threatening a star-turn, a move that would almost certainly keep the seat in the yellow column and crystallise Dave's Ukip problem. There will be no coupon, and as the Mail predicts, a state of all out war looks likely as Dave has ordered his troops to "go for the kill". He has no choice. Peter Oborne's column makes the point that neither Coalition partner can afford to lose given the level of internal dissent on their benches:
"The truth is that the Prime Minister lacks the authority to attempt [a coupon election]. The Tory party in its present febrile and disloyal state would not allow it. Mr Cameron’s foot soldiers viscerally dislike the Coalition, and long to wage war on their Lib Dem enemies in Eastleigh (an emotion keenly reciprocated by many Lib Dems)."
The problem with protected spending in big budgets like health, schools and international aid is that when you do need to cut, its the same departments suffering in each round. Now that the Treasury has launched another spending review,Whitehall departments can expect to have seen their budgets experience a total cut of around 30pc in real terms between 2010/11 and 2015/16, the FT (£) reports. The mostsensitive of these areas is defence, particularly given Dave's quasi-pledge to maintain spending levels. As we report, the MoD's top mandarin appeared before the Public Accounts Committee yesterday, telling them that further cuts to troop numbers would be necessary if the departmental spending award did not rise.
Given the Prime Minister's recent discovery of his inner Tony over Mali, troop cuts could be as operationally troubling as they would be politically difficult, but what else is there? The FT (£) reports that Philip Hammond, Theresa May, Chris Grayling and Vince Cable have all told George to back off, but Dave and Nick are keen to keep cutting departments in the same proportions already established. That leaves local government to face the music once more, and a foreign office which stands to see its budget halved between 2010 and 2018 if cuts continue at this pace. Nor is EU reform going to help. The Mail reports that Dave intends to demand £810m in cuts from the European Union budget over 2014 to 2020. MEPs are likely to vote through increases to the CAP tomorrow. He has his work cut out.
Dave is a "bad boss", the Sun says, citing  anonymous interviews ministers have given to Reform for their report on the future of the civil service. Whitehall is stuffed with "appalling staff [who are] promoted just to get rid of them", while "people management is very bad", another complains. The think tank also argues that civil servants are moved too frequently, performance is ignored and ministers appear powerless to drive the Whitehall machine.
With Britain's electricity generation capacity set to fall sharply in coming years, yesterday's news that Centrica was pulling out of a deal to build four new nuclear reactors raised the serious prospect of the lights going out in the next decade. Fortunately, the Chinese might be prepared to help EDF with the scheme, the Mail reports. Energy security in the hands of Beijing's Communist portiburlo? Well, it's that or more gas imports from Russia. The war is over, comrade. 
The Coalition's brilliantly planned policy on childcare will include a facility to allow men and women to share the latter's statutory allowance of maternity leave, we report. Reforms will also include a move to give greater access to children for fathers following divorce, which should at least keep Fathers4Justice off the roof for a while.
There's praise for Dave's Europe policy from an unexpected source in the Ephraim Hardcastle's Mail column. Former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing has praised his EU speech for its "brilliant writing which no European diplomat would be able to emulate".

The gloating tone of many tweets on Chris Huhne's fall appals Zac Goldsmith:

@ZacGoldsmith: "Huhne has lost his career, family & freedom... over a mundane driving offence. I'm shocked by how much pleasure this has given so many."

In the Telegraph

Benedict Brogan - Voters won't listen if the Tories talk only among themselves
Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) - There's no such thing as an MP's private life
Polly Toynbee in The Guardian - The gay marriage debate has uncovered a nest of bigots


TODAY: Mid-Staffs hospital inquiry report handed to Secretary of State. Robert Francis QC, Chairman of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry, will deliver his report to the Secretary of State today, the day before it is released to the public and Parliament.
09:30 am: Information Commissioner Christopher Graham gives evidence to the Commons Justice Committee. Wilson Room, Portcullis House.
10:00 am: Trial of Chris Huhne's ex-wife Vicky Pryce over a speeding offence a decade ago. Pryce denies perverting the course of justice by taking Huhne's points in March 2003.
10:30 am: Hacked Off and Press Council of Ireland give evidence on press regulation to the Commons Culture Committee. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
12:00 pm: Visit of US Vice President Joe Biden to London. Arrival at 10 Downing Street for talks with Nick Clegg, lunch with David Cameron and meeting of National Security Council. 10 Downing Street.
02:00 pm: Ed Miliband meets SPD candidate for German Chancellor election, Peer Steinbruck. Photo-op and brief statements. Leader of the Opposition's Office, Norman Shaw South, Houses of Parliament.
04:00 pm: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg gives evidence to the Commons Liaison Committee. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
07:00 pm: Vote expected following debate on second reading of same-sex marriage bill. House of Commons.