Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Cameron wins support..

Good Morning. Dave's not for turning. His speech yesterday was remarkable for its refusal to make any concessions on economic strategy to anyone. The Prime Minister picked up on the Chancellor's message from last week - no room for cuts, no space for spending, the ring-fence works, stick with the programme - and refused to concede ground either to the Tory rebels or the Lib Dem expansionists. He will be delighted with the response of the Mail. The paper's leader "has three words of advice for [malcontents]: calm down, dears." Downing Street will be delighted and relieved at what amounts to a pledge of no trouble. Belated support has also arrived from the backbenches. We report that Eleanor Laing has advised Tory MPs "talking openly about challenging" Dave to "be quiet...get their heads down and work together." Then there's the minister attempting to put the brakes on the May campaign, telling the Times (£) that  "she is 100pc charmless. The only thing less likely than Theresa May becoming leader is Eric Pickles running to the moon." Random, critical tweets from the backbenches should subside soon, too. Lynton Crosby will meet with Tory MPs later this week and remind them that they are participants, not commentators. As I note in my column, Dave has found himself caught between a pose of patrician insouciance and the desire to throw himself into the fray. It's time to lead:
"The Conservatives have got themselves into a vicious cycle that reinforces the well-worn claim that the party is fatally addicted to the disloyalty it showed Mrs Thatcher. But it’s actions that matter, not cod psychology. Mr Cameron wants his colleagues to show calm, courage and an unrelenting focus on the enemy. He must do the same."
There are hints that a corner has been turned. Today's ICM poll in theGuardian shows the Conservatives up to 31pc, closing the gap on Labour to eight points from 12. That said, the pollsters argue that the Tories stand to gain further by pushing a more hard-line stance on Europe, immigration and traditional families. That isn't Dave's style, and while compassionate conservatism may have taken a back seat recently, yesterday's pledge that the NHS would never be cut under his leadership was straight from the opposition era.
With Liam Fox "on manoeuvres" according to the FT (£), and Tory MPs treating the Budget "as a hustings" in Michael Dugher's words, the NHS as sacrosanct was never likely to go unchallenged. Fuel for the fire will be today's Reform report by Andrew Haldenby which argues that even if the economy returned to normal growth, there would still need to be cuts made to the size of the state in order to bring the deficit under control. Given that, he believes that "ring-fencing nearly half of all public spending is absurd", as he writes in the Times (£). Dave's problem is that Mr Haldenby isn't alone in that view - there is still time to make the argument for more of the same to the backbenchers, but at some point, Dave may need to accept that the concessions cannot always come from one side.
The sun never sets on Britain's overseas dependent territories, as the saying goes. That looks likely to be the case for some time yet since overnight some 99.8pc of Falkland islanders voted to remain part of Britain in a referendum with a turnout of 92pc. Only three people voted against, as we report. The Argentinians won't like it, the Americans won't recognise it, but this ballot locks in Britain to the defence of the status quo, and the islanders will be grateful for that.
As Chris Huhne was getting to know his new room mates, talk in political circles was already of a comeback. Paddy Ashdown told ITV's The Agenda that "I don't say he can't return to public life. He can in some form in no doubt after a decent period in which I think an important part of that will be silence and reflection." But as a politician? "You never say never in politics but if I ever said never about anything I'd say it about this." James Kirkup writes for us that "in a series of media interviews before his sentencing, Huhne sought to cast himself as a man full of sorrow," and suggests that he could be mulling a comeback following his jail term. Even by Westminster standards, that would be bold, but with Lord Oakeshott praising his "laser brain and stout heart" while Mike Thornton rhapsodised over his "outstanding service", he is not short of friends in the party. That said, with his new found humility, perhaps he would be more at home helping out at Toynbee Hall.
The Funding For Lending scheme has been successful in keeping mortgage rates low. It has been noticeably less so when it comes to getting funds to small businesses. The FT (£) reports that both George Osborne and senior Lib Dems are keen on extending the scheme beyond this year and forcing it to focus on SMEs. But will placing the scheme "on steroids" place mortgage lending for first time buyers at risk? Notnecessarily. Treasury sources are discussing "some kind of risk guaranteeto promote mortgages for first time buyers", the paper adds.
David Pitchford, drafted into the DWP in February to supervise the roll-out of the Universal Credit, is yet to decide whether the programme's October deadline is feasible, the FT (£) reports. The computer system which would link data from HMRC and the DWP is not ready, no decision has been made on how to carry forward the award of free school meals to those currently claiming one of six benefits and, in the words of one insider, "nobody knows if and when UC is going to begin, there's very little movement". Whitehall mishandling a large IT project? Best chalk that one under "black swan events".   
It's opposition day, and Labour had a very cunning plan lined up to split the Coalition. Their first motion calls for a mansion tax, although in a bid to win Lib Dem support, it leaves out a call to spend the money raised reintroducing the 10p tax rate. After appearing to waver on yesterday's Today programme, Vince Cable confirmed that the Lib Dems would not be backing the motion as Labour had "copied" a Lib Dem idea, we report. Instead, an amendment has been put down allowing the Lib Dems to express their enthusiasm for a mansion tax but agreeing to disagree with the Tories for now.
The second Labour motion, opened by Gordon Marsden, argues that the Government should use public procurement on contracts worth over £1m as a way of pressurising firms to increase apprenticeship places, an idea backed by the BIS Select Committee. Slightly embarrassing for Dave, given how he held an audience of apprentices spellbound with his speech yesterday.
Say what you will about Sir David Nicholson, and many people have, he is not a man to be unduly swayed by a hostile press. The Mail's "Man With No Shame" appointed Dame Barbara Hakin as his deputy yesterday. As we report, Dame Barbara has been accused of blocking an external review into mortality rates at United Lincolnshire NHS Trust and effectively forcing the resignation of the trust's chief executive after he raised concerns. Charlotte Leslie said the appointment gave the impression of a "tight-knit, mafia-like group centring around David Nicholson". On this evidence, it is difficult to disagree. 
Britain will not reintroduce the practice of "tied aid" contracts requiring British aid money to be spent on goods and services from British suppliers, Justine Greening said yesterday. However, she told stock exchange members yesterday that Britain's primary development objective would be to boost jobs abroad, creating markets for British exports and thus offering an indirect boost to the national economy. As Dave pointed out yesterday, we can't afford stimulus spending at home any more. Stimulus spending in India, on the other hand...
The Archbishop of Canterbury, who suffered the indignity of being called something very rude by Iain Dale last night, has backtracked on his criticisms of IDS's welfare reform. Noting that he claimed benefits while a parish priest, the Most Reverend Justin Welby wrote on his website that the system is "shot full of holes, wrong incentives and incredible complexity", the Mail reports. These being the same targets as IDS has in mind with the UC, the Work and Pensions Secretary may be forgiven for having done a Dale himself when the initial criticisms were made.
Ed Balls wonders why the axe might fall on a young upstart who has ostensibly had a good start to 2013 but couldn't keep those in the stands behind him happy:
edballsmp: "Very surprised to see that Reading have sacked Brian McDermott - feels very short-termist after they had a good start to the year" 

Guardian / ICM: Con 31%, Lab 39%, Lib Dem 15%, Ukip 7%, Other 8%

In the Telegraph

Benedict Brogan - If Cameron wants his troops to rally, he must act like a general
Christopher Howse - There will be smoke
Best of the rest
Rachel Sylvester in the Times (£) - Punih them, yes. But jail doesn't fit this crime
Steve Richards in the Independent - A new political chorus: we're all doomed!

TODAY: Commons debates Labour proposals for Mansion Tax. Health Minister Anna Soubry to publish Government's proposals on reducing levels of salt in food. Minister for Europe David Lidington to attend EU General Affairs Council in Brussels.
09:30 am: Cabinet. 10 Downing Street.
09:30 am: Exam boards give evidence to Commons Education Committee on 2012 English GCSEs. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.
09:30 am: Former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland gives evidence to Commons International Development Committee on violence against women. Committee Room 8, House of Commons.
04:00 pm: Prime Minister David Cameron before Liaison Committee. Questioning will focus on two themes: protecting the public - the Government's role and accountability; and developments in Syria and North and West Africa. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
07:00 pm: House of Commons debate on the Falkland Islands referendum result. The debate will be led by Guy Opperman, Conservative MP for Hexham. House of Commons.