Monday, 4 February 2013

Tory rift deepens..

Good morning. There's no sign that David Cameron is making any progress towards his goal of securing the support of at least half his MPs in tomorrow's vote on gay marriage. Current estimates suggest 120 will vote against, and a further 60 will abstain. It may be a free vote, but that will not diminish the embarrassment. All manner of rumours and accusations are flying around, not least Iain Dale's claim that a number of the MPs who will vote against gay marriage are in fact gay - two of them married. He has no truck with outing, he says, but the threat hangs in the air.
No one has yet produced any evidence that Mr Cameron will derive any political benefit. Instead the rebellion is being absorbed into the wider tale of Dave's dire relations with his backbenchers. No10 must hope that publication of the Mid-Staffs NHS report on Wednesday will give us something else to chew on, and a reason to turn the focus onto Labour's failings. In fact, this is a big week all around - George Osborne's banking reforms are being announced in a speech in Bournemouth this morning, while Thursday and Friday see Dave in Europe talking budgets at a Brussels summit.
Maria Miller's article in the Times (£) this morning is part of a last-gasp effort to persuade the rebels that they will be "on the wrong side of history". For most, it's being on the wrong side of the shires voter they can't countenance. With backbenchers reporting hundreds of letters and emails each day last week, mostly hostile, the disintegration of local associations is more salient for most than Dave's modernising agenda. Aswe report this morning, they also have the new Archbishop of Canterbury on board - he will launch his broadside against the plans in a series of interviews today. Phillip Blond's ResPublica are also set against. Their report, published today, argues that homosexual marriage will destroy the institution of heterosexual marriage, as the FT (£) notes.
The Bill is going to become law - Labour and Lib Dem support will ensure that. The question is, will the Tory split last, and how damaging is it? TheMail claims to have detected two additional plots on Mr Cameron's leadership - one by ex-army Tories planning a "military coup". It suggests that Dr Liam Fox is poised for a comeback as the party disciplinarian. I'm sceptical - relations between Downing Street and Fantastic Dr Fox are still strained, and the extent of Dr Fox's travels among the grass roots suggests he's more interested in being the next Tory leader than sustaining this one. Our leader strikes a stern tone, warning the rebels that they are turning the party into an "ill-disciplined rabble" and asks the boys on the backbenches to "keep things civil". As opposed to keeping things civil war, which I suspect is more likely.
George Osborne's banking reforms dominate the financial pages, and they're big ones. Firstly, there's language that sounds like a pledge (theMail has taken it as such) to stop bailing out troubled banks, although it may simply refer to losses incurred through investment banking activities. The end of too big to fail, or a case of public finances now being too weak to bail? In any case, the Chancellor will also warn banks that failure to "electrify" the ring-fence around retail banking activities will lead to them being forcibly broken up by the Bank of England, as the FT(£) reports. On the consumer side, the Chancellor will also announce reforms making the process of switching bank accounts swifter, news theIndependent splashes on.
It's just as well that the banking system is now on a more secure footing than in 2007. The same cannot be said of the public finances. The flat-rate public sector pension promise will cost £1,600 per household, per annum more than has currently been accounted for, according to the Centre for Policy Studies. Our report will add to the impression that spending discipline is not as tight as rhetoric on the topic. Gaby Hinsliff, writing in the Guardian, makes the point that Dave's pledge to stick with George until 2015 may not have been his most tactically astute:
"Cameron has narrowed his options. He can't swap chancellors – installing William Hague, say, or Philip Hammond – in the event of a triple-dip recession, without terrible loss of face. He has gambled his own authority on protecting Osborne's... So far, the plotting against him is largely a rebellion in search of a cause. But in clinging to his chancellor even as the economy chokes, Cameron should be careful he doesn't unwittingly give them one."
The follow-up to the acclaimed Dispatches documentary on plebgate will be screened at 8pm on Channel 4. This edition features an interview with an angry Andrew Mitchell, trailed in today's Independent. Thrasher will accuse Downing Street officials of conspiring to hide evidence of his innocence by obstructing his attempts to access CCTV footage of events. He names Sir Jeremy Haywood as the prime mover, not surprising given the criticisms of the Public Administration Select Committee, and hardly another victory for the perma-bungling Number 10 machinery. 
Being a pretty straight kinda guy, Mr Tony doesn't go in for anything as vulgar as political tribalism. Speaking on the Marr show yesterday, he said he was equally available to "David" and "Ed" if they wanted to have a chat. He gave Mr Miliband until the end of the year to set out a "clear orientation", the implication being that he has done no such thing so far. The Sun's Trevor Kavanagh writes that Tone regularly chats to the Prime Minister and has "no wish to see a union-dominated government unravelling all he tried to achieve in Downing Street." The new Conservative election strategist? In truth, as I write in my blog, he seems seized by a need to serve again in Labour colours:
"From talking to his friends I get a clear sense that Mr Blair would dearly like to find a way to make himself useful to the party... He hopes that the party might yet find a use for his campaigning skills and what he learned both about governing, but also about winning elections. The question is whether Labour or Mr Miliband want him back, and if then in what capacity. Now that would be a comeback."
Boundary reform might "halve the value" of Conservative votes in some constituencies, as we report, but activists should fear not. They're going to stage a Scottish resurgence. The party's decline north of the border, turning 11 seats in 1992 to one today is the subject of an FT (£) report stating that the Conservatives will offer further devolution of powers in order to woo the Albannach vote. Of course, by the time of the next election, there may be no Scottish MPs at Westminster. The paper also reports on the constitutional confusion which the independence referendum has created. The polling prospects are more confused than at first glance. Only a fifth of voters favour outright independence, but a clear majority favour further devolution of tax and welfare spending, a difficult pill for austerity London to swallow.
As Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling's disciplinarian credentials have seldom needed burnishing. Even so, he has occasionally found it necessary to "send a message" to his children by smacking them, we report. Spare the rod, spoil the child, and all that. Given rampant indiscipline in the ranks, it sounds as though the Whip's office could do with taking some lessons from Mr Grayling in the art of doling out tough love.
You know things are bad when Scotland Yard's finest are being compared to the denizens of Fleet Street, but Damian Green believes it's going that way. The policing minister has told the Times (£) that unless the force reforms and shows more "integrity", officers will find themselves as lowly in the public eye as journalists and bankers. Not as lowly as politicians, mind, but bad all the same.
The Chris Huhne trial starts today, as the Times (£) notes. Mr Huhne has pleaded not guilty to a charge of perverting the course of justice.

The depth of feeling on both sides of the debate has been draining for most MPs, not least Conor Burns who seems to have attracted the ire of both camps:

@Conor_BurnsMP: "The abuse I have had today from pro and anti on gay marriage has led to an absence of sleep tonight. Really hateful thoughts. Thanks both"


In the Telegraph

Iain Martin - As the Tories revolt, Ed is given an easy ride
Telegraph View - Mr Cameron needs a more civil partnership

Best of the rest

Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian - Cameron may live to regret his backing for Osborne
Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun - Blair may be the one to save Dave
Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) - Cameron's safe, but he urgently needs a plan
Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail - Why failing to stand up for marriage is the reason the Tories are always in crisis

TODAY: George Osborne gives a speech on banking reform at JP Morgan's Bournemouth office. Vice President Joe Biden visits Europe with his wife Dr Jill Biden. The Vice President will meet French President Frangois Hollande before travelling on to London.
09:00 am: Culture Secretary Maria Miller and Alan Davey unveil exceptional items accepted in lieu from the estate of Lucian Freud. The National Gallery, Room 41.
02:30 pm: The Prime Minister will meet the President of Somalia in Downing Street. 10 Downing Street.
03:15 pm: Ministry of Defence permanent secretary Jon Thompson gives evidence on major procurement projects to the Commons Public Accounts Committee. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.
04:00 pm: Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin gives evidence on rail franchising to Commons Transport Committee. Other witnesses from Atoc, Transport for London, Passenger Focus, Rail Delivery Group Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
04:30 pm: Parliamentary Banking Standards Commission takes evidence from Lloyds chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio and chairman Sir Winfried Bischoff. Wilson Room, Portcullis House.
08:00 pm: Channel 4's Dispatches follow-up to "Plebgate" investigation, with interview with Andrew Mitchell.