Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Press & Politicians at loggerheads..

Good morning. The Royal Charter deal gets a near-universal raspberry this morning from those it is supposed to regulate. The biggest newspaper groups put their heads together and agreed to think about it, but you don't need to be Mystic Meg to work out that the drift is towards rejection. For my part - and this is a personal view - I've concluded that we should note the outcome, thank the politicians for their engagement, and quietly but firmly decline to take part. The glee with which most MPs voted in favour of this cockamamie scheme last night tells me this is the right course. That and the detailed accounts in some papers of Sunday night's talks: quite why Oliver Letwin thought it was a good idea to share a table with representatives of Hacked Off is a mystery. It should be remembered that David Cameron was always clear in private: if the press failed to get its skates on, or if the politics proved insurmountable, he was ready to stand aside and allow statute to be introduced. I suspect time will be allowed to let the dust settle, but it is far from certain that this scheme will fly. As for relations between press and politicians, I reckon something quite fundamental changed last night. The world will still turn, but we'll all remember who was on which side.
There is plenty of detail in this morning's papers about the negotiations on Sunday night. The Mail questions why four campaigners from Hacked Off were present, but nobody from the newspaper industry, adding that the Prime Minister had no idea they would be there when he dispatched Oliver Letwin on his diplomatic mission. The Guardian describes how George Eustice (who writes for them today praising Oliver Letwin's "patience of a saint") and Zac Goldsmith kept in touch with Harriet Harman by text to keep her updated on what they thought Number 10 would be willing to accept. History will record that the deal was done with Mr Letwin  resplendent in a pair of "mustard yellow trousers". It was, as the Times (£) records, an evening when even the most unexpected of events appeared possible - "some people even recall Mr Miliband making a joke", it notes.
Was it all worth it? The press think not. As the Guardian reports, a number of publishers are taking legal advice on whether to decide to join the new watchdog. Having read the leaders, it's unsurprising. Both us and the Times (£) suggest that MPs have "crossed the Rubicon" and moved decisively away from a free press. The Mail headlines its Leveson piece "oh, what a shambles" while its leader is implacably hostile to the "orgy of self-congratulation" indulged in by MPs over the compromise. The Sungoes further still - its front page is headlined "the ministry of truth" and compares the reforms to 1984's "chilling vision of a totalitarian state". Still, at least MPs were pleased with themselves, as Quentin Letts writes:
"Sticky self-congratulation – ‘Real power! Fantastic job! Great tenacity!’ – was more evident than self-regulation. The House was hot to boss the Press. At one point we heard a call for a national newspaper editor to be sacked. ‘Hear, hear!’ they ejaculated.  Another backbencher complained about the paper which first exposed MPs’ money fiddles. Eyes sparkled. They were getting their own back. Malvolio’s day of vengeance had arrived."
The situation in Cyprus is a mess (unlike our superb liveblog, which ishere). The Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers last night urged Cyprus to suspend the deposit tax on all balances below €100,000 and increase the levy on deposits above this threshold. An additional two days of bank holiday have been instituted, meaning that the banks will open again on Thursday. Markets across Europe have opened down this morning. Until there's a settled solution, the contagion risk remains high, and all the time that's the case, the Chancellor will be very worried. For all Britain's domestic troubles, a further downturn in the eurozone would scupper his hope of an upturn by 2015 here.
The pre-Budget announcement drip-feed divulged yesterday the final form of the working mothers' tax allowance which can be used to subsidise the cost of childcare. The scheme, costing £1bn, will allow families in which both parents work to claim £1,200 per child, per year from autumn 2015. There's nothing for stay at home mothers, and the vouchers will be available so long as nobody in the household has an income of over £150,000 per year. Will it solve Dave's women problem? Probably not, although it might help. It certainly won't solve his backbench problem - they want universal tax cuts, not complicated cross-subsidies targeting a single group (so Blair years).
What will George give them? Well, there's plenty more advice today - in the Mail Sir Terry Leahy calls for tax and spending cuts, while theGuardian has assembled a panel of wise men and women wanting everything from cuts to income tax to apprenticeship funding. Perhaps those are solutions for yesterday's world. The leader in the Times (£) makes the case that events in Cyprus have constricted the Chancellor's room for manoeuvre even more. With markets panicked, "the last thing Britain needs is for investors to be worried about the Government's determination to get its finances in order." So with no large sweeteners coming from Number 11 tomorrow, how will Dave pull victory from the jaws of defeat in 2015? As I write in my column today, Lynton Crosby is already making his mark. From here until polling day, the party will concentrate on the ideas which matter to voters:
"The Chequers Group – Mr Cameron, Mr Osborne, Mr Crosby, party chairman Grant Shapps and key advisers – is in effect defining not a lurch to the Right but a new common ground... No one is expecting a bombshell tomorrow. In keeping with public preoccupations, there might be further action to curb petrol prices, help for savers by over-indexing Isa limits, further progress towards raising the personal tax allowance towards £10,000, in addition to measures to encourage infrastructure investment and house building, and today’s expected announcements on support for child care."
Consistency is a problem for the Downing Street press team. First Dave was snoozing soundly while his underlings negotiated a Leveson settlement, then it turns out he was wide awake and "across" the brief, just not there. Now there's what the Mail's front-page calls the "betrayal of our boys in Cyprus". Troops with accounts on the islands will only be compensated for "reasonable losses...connected with their service in Cyprus", meaning those who have transferred funds to the island from Britain will lose out, contrary to George Osborne's insistence 24 hours earlier that the military would not suffer.
They may have been domestic opponents, but Cristina Kircher lost no time in asking Pope Francis to intervene on Argentina's behalf over the Falklands. David Cameron would have been able to put the opposing view across, but has instead rejected an invitation to today's  inauguration ceremony. Instead he is sending Baroness Warsi and Ken Clarke, while the Duke of Gloucester will travel in place of the Queen. 
Communities near shale gas fracking sites ought to be offered handouts to accept drilling in the area, according to energy minister John Hayes. The Guardian reports that Mr Hayes was not clear on whether these incentives ought to be provided by the fracking company or the government.
The Mail's Health Hero Awards launch today with an interview with the Prime Minister in which he praises the Health Service, and in particular Dr Mando Watson, for their care of his late son Ivan. He also uses the interview to give his backing to Sir David Nicholson, arguing, "I'm not saying  everything is right in the NHS but this is someone who is demonstrating capability at the highest level of the NHS. I know the families in Stafford will not agree with me, and they have very strong views, but I have to do what I think is right for the NHS."
Boris has quite limited memories of Dave from Eton, but the latter obviously made an impression. "I do remember Dave," he told a BBC documentary, "someone said to me once, 'that's Cameron mi[nor] and there was this tiny chap, I dimly remember." As we report, he also speculated on the leadership: "Obviously, if the ball came loose from the back of a scrum - which it won't - [being prime minister] would be a great, great thing to have a crack at. But it's not going to happen." Of course not. Perish the thought.
While Boris Major is busy mayor-ing in London, the man the Mail dubs "mini Boris" has been blazing a trail in the Commons. Jacob Rees-Mogg gives the paper an interview in which he corrects one long-standing factual inaccuracy. When campaigning with nanny in Central Fife in 1997, he took his mother's Mercedes Estate, not one of his two Bentleys. Sadly, like Boris Major, he believes he will "never, ever, ever" be offered a place in a Cameron Cabinet. Wrong image. "I had more chance of being the new Pope," explains.
Labour's press operation were the Leveson winners, swamping the news channels yesterday before the Conservatives had got their message together. Pity poor Gavin Barwell who has some bad headlines today thanks to a quick witted reply from the Labour press team twitter account. As the Mirror reports, he complained after seeing anadvertisement for "Arab girls" on their website. Unfortunately, a quick wit pointed him towards a link explaining that the adverts displayed are personalised according to your specific browsing history.

One seasoned Boris watcher was not surprised by yesterday's developments:

@MarkReckless: "RT @BBCPolitics: Boris Johnson 'would like to be PM' http://bbc.in/XlYfd5  > breaking news from the BBC, next investigation bears in woods" 


In the Telegraph

Benedict Brogan - Crosby's cunning plan for a Tory victory - no more stupid ideas
Best of the Rest

Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) - Cameron needs a lesson in style from Bowie
Terry Leahy in the Daily Mail - My Budget for Britain by Mr Tesco

TODAY: Prime Minister David Cameron and Defence Minister Mark Francois are to present the first Arctic Star medals and Bomber Command Clasps. 10 Downing Street.
09:30 am: Cabinet. 10 Downing Street.
09:30 am: Inflation figures for February are published by the Office for National Statistics.
09:30 am: Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of UCAS, and Professor Les Ebdon of the Office for Fair Access give evidence to the Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.
09:30 am: Office for National Statistics (ONS) releases its house price study for January.
09:30 am: Whistleblower Gary Walker to give evidence to the Health Select Committee. The Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
10:30 am: Announcement on funding for universities and colleges in England for 2013/14. Room 181, 18th Floor, Centre Point, 103 New Oxford Street.
10:30 am: Commons Culture, Media, and Sport Committee takes evidence on the Leveson recommendations from Max Mosley and the National Union of Journalists. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
02:15 pm: David Anderson, the independent reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation, gives evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Committee Room 4A, House of Commons.
02:45 pm: Commons Home Affairs Committee takes evidence on child grooming from the Muslim Council of Britain and the Children's Society. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
03:00 pm: Agriculture Minister David Heath gives evidence to the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on measures to tackle bovine TB. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.