Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Clegg chides Tory right.. Ben Brogan's morning briefing

BREAKING NEWS: David Cameron has spoken to Today about his priorities and where the Conservative Party goes from here.
Mr Cameron said that the coalition lasting until 2015 was "absolutely my intention and it has always been. Anyone who doubts that there is life left in the Coaliti0n, there is more to come, right up until polling day."
"I think the key thing is to demonstrate that we have an agenda for the rest of this parliament, reforming welfare, renegotiating Europe, and turning the country around. People in this country want a government that is on their side."
He also reiterated his plans for Britain to compete in the global race:
"Britain does best when we engage with the world, when we're outward-looking. And the way we compete in the global race is by having good schools, lower taxes. I don't agree with the narrative that says we should draw up the drawbridge or look backwards." 
Mr Cameron was asked about the 'swivel-eyed loons' comment and whether this reflected wider Tory attitudes:
"That is simply not the case. It's not what I think, it's not what the people around me think... I think of the volunteers in my own constituency - they're not just my friends and supporters, I am one of them."  
Mr Cameron said that his policy on Europe is now set: 
"It doesn’t matter the pressure I come under from Europe, or inside the Tory party, this policy isn’t going to change." 
Mr Cameron also conceded that gay marriage had been "divisive" and said that he would return the government to his key agenda:     
"On the gay marriage issue, it's one that divides the country, it certainly divides the Conservative Party... I think it’s important that we have this degree of equality, and I say this as a massive supporter of marriage...Is this the first of many issues like that? No it isn’t. The government is going to be absolutely focused on the big picture."”

Good morning. If the Blue team aren't quite sure where to go from here, it's just as well that Nick has offered some friendly advice. In a speech today, he will reprimand the Tory right for "playing games" on issues like Europe and gay rights "simply because they cause the biggest political punch-ups". Instead, Nick will tell them to "get back to governing" and that they should be focused on the "most profound economic challenge in living memory", as The Guardian reports.
It's an interesting intervention from Nick, and a reminder of his new-found assertiveness. It would hardly have been possible a few months ago, but - rather remarkably - there is now a case for him being the most secure of any of the three main party leaders. The speech seems to be doing two things. On the one hand, he is trying to restore calm, reiterating his commitment to the coalition surviving a full five-year term. But meanwhile he simply can't resist giving Dave a kicking.
The headlines accompanying news of the speech suggest the desired effect; the Times (£) says he is chastising the Tories while the Sun leads with 'Stop the loonacy'. It all amounts to groundwork for Nick's key sell in 2015: that, while the Tories have tried to lurch right at every turn, the Lib Dems have been committed to serious, grown-up government anchored in the centre ground. And, especially with Labour's direction-of-travel under Ed, that political space looks less crowded than for some time. 
As I have argued before, the personal capital Dave and Nick have invested in the coalition means both are better off hanging together than separately. To those Lib Dems who wish the coalition would just go away, Nick offers an uncomfortable truth: "It is a nonsense to think such a move could suddenly win back those people who have never liked us going into government with the Conservatives."
Dave has had enough of the messes of the past fortnight and has told ministers to "clear the battlefield" and refocus on key Tory issues like welfare, the economy and education, reports The Times (£). It follows Dave admitting in Total Politics: “Could we improve the communication of the message? Yes, of course, I think you can always do that.”   
But there are increasing signs many backbenchers would rather like to clear the battlefield of Dave himself. The Times (£) said that several MPs expect a flurry of letters to be sent to 1922 Committee chairman Graham Brady demanding Dave's resignation. The spectre of a no confidence vote, which 46 such letters would trigger, remains unlikely - but less unlikely than Dave would hope.
'Loongate' won't quite go away, especially with Jeremy Paxman's claimsthat he has head members of Dave's inner circle describe Tory association members as “mad, swivel-eyed loons”. Meanwhile today's Mandrake claims that Lord Feldman didn't bother to vote in a local by-election last year: hardly news to reassure Tories that the inner circle are in touch. To the Tory grassroots, gay marriage is a "tipping point", reports the FT (£). 
And Lord Tebbit's comments in the Big Issue - saying that Dave and co had "fucked things up" and, based on the way things are going, "Maybe I'd be allowed to marry my son" - hardly suggest the Tories are ready to clear the battlefield just yet.
Ed's speech to company executives today, including Google's Eric Schmidt, will warn that a future Labour government would taken a tougher line against those avoiding UK corporation tax, reports The Independent. But it's less an ambush than an agreed exchange: Ed told Google last year that he would raise the tax issue today.
Shadow business secretary Chuka Umumma spoke to Daybreak earlier about tax avoidance, saying it "wasn't fair or acceptable" that big businesses contributed a lower percentage in taxation than smaller firms:
"This is a serious issue because business and society, we're mutually dependent... if one factor in that relationship doesn't meet its obligations then the whole system can fall apart."
Based on the headlines over the past week, you would have been forgiven for forgetting that Labour exist. Yet in the aftermath of the latest Tory bout of squabbling, it is worth reminding ourselves that they don't have a monopoly on political problems. Labour's polling record in this Parliament is much more Neil Kinnock than Tony Blair. For all the unpopularity of the coalition, Ed Miliband has failed to develop a compelling and coherent alternative; that he has not means it all remains very much to play for. As Mary Riddell writes for us, plenty of unresolved Labour tensions are bubbling under the surface:
The Labour leader is being urged, directly or through relayed murmurings, to use next month’s spending review to give details of extra expenditure in his first months of office and the measures he would take to bring down the deficit over the longer term. As well as arguing for extra spending on housing and jobs, some senior figures are hoping to prevail on the leader to dump the VAT cut championed by Mr Balls on the grounds that it no longer fits the Labour message.  
George might be nervous as he awaits the conclusions of the IMF's report, which are presented today. While the inflation figure fell to a seven-month low of 2.4% in April, the FT (£) reports that the IMF will stick to its verdict that Britain should reduce its pace of deficit reduction. As school reports go, it's not the best.

Michael Gove's hyperactivity seems immune to all the tumult around him. He has announced that 102 new free schools (down from 109 this year) have been given the go-ahead to open. As the Guardian reports, one of these is an unorthodox secondary school offering "cross-subject projects", while fifteen are designated faith schools. Meanwhile Gove's plans to allow heads award higher pay rises to the best teachers would lead to larger class sizes, according to Chief Inspector of Schools Sir Michael Wilshaw in The Independent.
Given the seeming exhaustion of much of the coalition's agenda, fracking is one of the policies to watch over the next two years. As the FT (£) reports, an Institute of Directors report released today claims shale gas reserves could "be a new North Sea for Britain" and meet over a third of annual gas needs. Ministers are also preparing to announced new tax breaks for shale gas next month.
Chris Grayling is sick of 'dishonest' sentencing that allows inmates to walk away less than halfway through their sentences. Following pressure from backbenchers including Philip Davies, Grayling says he hopes to provide "reassurance" on prison terms in the coming months, notes the Daily Mail. Perhaps his reasoning is that if Tories get no early release from the coalition, why should life be different for prisoners?

Stewart Jackson has a warning for David Cameron:
@SJacksonMP: So same sex marriage passes the Commons. Cameron - who has no mandate - might reflect on Pyrrhus: "One such more victory and we are doomed" 

In the Telegraph
Jeremy Warner Stocks are booming, so beware the bus
Best of the rest
Daniel Finkelstein in The Times (£) - Why I'm ducking out of the Scottish debate
Matthew Norman in The Independent - Labour's unlikely heroes
Today: EU Summit in Brussels. Heads of state including David Cameron, Angela Merkel and François Hollande meet to discuss tax policy and monetary union. 
08:50 am London: Nick Clegg to give a speech on coalition.
09:30 am Public sector finance figures for April released.
06:00 pm London: 'Inside the coalition negotiations' event with Lord Adonis and David Laws at the Institute for Government.  
06:30 pm London: ‘When the money runs out’ Policy Exchange lecture by HSBC Chief Economist Stephen King. The Ideas Space, Westminster.