Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Deterrent? What deterrent? Ben Brogan's morning briefing..

BREAKING NEWS: Philip Hammond has defended his reluctance to cut his budget in an interview on Today: 
I'm not a holdout... We can look for efficiency savings which everyone should be seeking all the time. If we need to go beyond our efficiency savings, we would need to have a discussion over how and where these would be achieved. 
Good morning. No one ever said it was going to be easy. Facing resistance to cuts from a number of Tory big beasts - Philip Hammond, Theresa May and Owen Paterson, plus Lib Dems including Vince Cable - George Osborne will reconvene a "star chamber" to deal with Cabinet ministers who refuse to agree to the new round of £11.5 billion of cuts demanded of them for 2015-16. This amount to a formal interrogation by Mr Osborne and senior ministers at a special Treasury committee. But Danny Alexander's view that this would act as "deterrent" against ministers opposing cuts sounds more hope than expectation.
The National Union of Ministers look like they have simply had enough. And it's not hard to sympathise - under the latest round of cuts, some unprotected departments will be 30 percent smaller in 2015/16 than in 2009/10. As the FT (£) notes, the average of 6.6 percent Mr Osborne has asked unprotected departments to cut in the latest Spending Review would be a more palatable 4.5 percent if the ringfences were taken away.
While Mr Osborne has talked up the cuts already agreed, the other departments will not be as amenable. The seven departments who have agreed to cuts are: HM Treasury; Cabinet Office; Ministry of Justice; Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Northern Ireland Office; Energy and Climate Change; and Comunities and Local Government. Eric Pickles and Chris Grayling have already been praised for their commitment. But the bare facts remain soothing: though Mr Osborne says 20% of the necessary cuts have been agreed, this includes £1.5 billion of cuts from the budget that are being carried forward.
To realise the deficit reduction aims, our leader says a little more of Mr Grayling's ambition would not go amiss:
Given that this is the Government’s last real chance before 2015 to reshape the nature of the public sector, we urge it to embrace this approach – and to focus not on pruning individual leaves of the Whitehall tree, but lopping off entire branches.
Labour appear to be doing their bit for coalition disunity. As The Times(£) reports, Labour is considering allying with the Tories over the "snooper's charter", much to Lib Dem chagrin. Lib Dems could then get their own back - by backing Labour's motion for a mansion tax. This would not be binding for the Government, but it would leave Dave facing another Commons defeat - and reinforcing attacks on his party as that of the rich.
A senior Lib Dem said that they thought the Conservatives would not pursue the charter, recognising that it could lead only to "mutually assured destruction". The source presumably hadn't seen Nick Herbert'sTimes (£) piece, accusing opponents of the charter of "a paranoid libertarianism that denies any sense of proportion." Labour's stance on the Communications Data Bill, which would determine whether it passed, remains unclear, though former Home Secretaries Alan Johnson and Lord Reid support it. Meanwhile MI5 officers have described using the Woolwich attack as a reason to push forward with the Bill as a "cheap argument", reports The Independent.  
Andy Coulson has returned to the political fray to do a bit of stirring, aswe report. In an article for GQ, he writes: "Boris Johnson desperately wants to be prime minister and David has known the fact longer than most". He also outlines how Boris could become PM:
Stabbing David, or anyone else for that matter, in the back would be distinctly off brand - just not very Boris. He would much prefer to see David fail miserably in the election and ride in on his bike to save party and country.
Matthew Hancock is giving a speech across the pond today about how conservatives need to be on the side of small business:
We as conservatives, as supporters of free markets, must recognise human behaviour for what it is, and make sure the rules of the game free us from the overmighty - whether in banking, energy, or government - and support the challenger, the competitor, the entrepreneur and the innovator... Whether the business start-up or the aspiring home owner, Mrs Thatcher was on the side of the insurgent,and so must we be.   
Alistair Darling has urged George Osborne not to sell Government shares in banks at less than the sums they were bought for in 2008. The RBS share price is £18 billion less than the Government paid in 2008, and writing in the Mirror, Darling said: 
Selling the shares off cheap might be good politics in the short term but it is not good for the country. It’s an act of desperation... The government should put the interests of the country above its own.
Few have noticed, but Andy Burnham is perhaps the boldest member of the Shadow Cabinet, with his plans for integrated health and social care. Given the Government's difficulties on the NHS, there is scope for Labour to gain traction on the issue. But the question, as Mary Riddell writes forus, is what do Labour do with it?
The undiluted Burnham plan could be Labour’s flagship policy for 2015 – a solace to all generations and a signal that social democrats have the credentials to govern in hard times. Will Labour be bold enough to take the risk? If not, then long before the end of the next Parliament, the ruins of the NHS may be interred under the epitaph inscribed by politicians: Nothing Could Be Done.   
Given Chris Grayling's ambitions, opposition to his justice reforms is inevitable. But he probably wasn't anticipating this: 90 QCs have written a letter to us, describing Mr Grayling's legal aid reforms as "unjust", saying they could "seriously undermine the rule of law".   
In their rush to secure favourable headlines, politicians are using statistics in a way that is "no longer true". That's the verdict of the Public Administration Select Committee, who said that press releases needed to be made more "accurate and meaningful", as we report. All this unreliable data is leaving us "confused and disengaged".  
Against this backdrop, it probably wouldn't be very advisable for Parliament to ask for £1 billion. But that's what it could be doing, having yesterday issued a tender contract to review the feasibility of restoration. The Times (not online) notes that, were Parliament not a Unesco World Heritage Site, demolition and rebuilding would be advised. As it is, Lords and MPs might have to work while building continues around them. Whoever said they were out of touch?
Brooks Newmark offers praise for Mr Osborne:
@TweetBrooks: The austerity vs growth choice is a false argument. We must live within our means. George_Osborne showing growth returning with austerity.

In the Telegraph
Telegraph View - We need cuts, not slices
Best of the rest
Anne McElvoy in The Times (£) - Please, Dave, tell us why you want to be PM
Simon Jenkins in The Guardian - Our greatest miscalculation since the rise of fascism
Matthew Norman in The Independent - Bring on the hate preachers
Today: Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announcement on the Royal Docks Enterprise Zone.
Today: Education Minister Liz Truss announcement on bursaries for apprentices in early years education.

09:00 am London: Global University Summit, featuring speeches by Vince Cable and Boris Johnson. The Royal Horseguards Hotel, 2 Whitehall Court.