Friday, 21 June 2013

A reminder of Tory backbench rage..

Good morning. Today we are told is the happiest day of the year. Optimism is in the air, and Conservatives are fizzing with bright ideas to transform the country. A number of Tory MPs have published an alternative Queen's Speech packed with wheezes they say will transform Tory chances in 2015. Peter Bone (Con - Wellingborough) is one of its authors and declares: "This is serious attempt to deliver policies that the British public really want. There are ideas here that could form the basis of a future Conservative manifesto." How exciting. How happiness inducing. Well, up to a point.
Study the detail and it quickly becomes apparent that Mr Cameron will not share the joy. The alternative Queen's Speech is packed with suggestions that appear designed to embarrass him. Would Mr Cameron want to bring back the death penalty? Privatise the BBC? Rename the August bank holiday "Margaret Thatcher day"? Ban burkas in public? It's a slow Friday, and most people are preoccupied with the weekend, the beginnings of summer and the prospect of Wimbledon. These suggestions will quickly fade from view. But they are worth noting because they remind us the capacity of some on the backbenches to cause mischief for the Tory leader. Isabel Hardman describes Tory backbench rage as "tidal" - it goes in and out. But it's always there, and those who nurse rage against Mr Cameron will always be on the lookout for ways of holding him up to ridicule and exposing what they see as his ideological shortcomings. In the process of course they've an impression of a party that remains capable of great frivolity. Which in government is never impressive.
Ukip are finding the increased scrutiny not always to their liking. The Mirror leads with a splash on Nigel Farage's tax affairs. Mr Farage created an offshore trust fund on the Isle of Man in 2003, although he never used it. Mr Farage described its creation as a mistake on three counts - saying "I’m not rich enough to need one"; "Things that we thought were absolutely fair practice 10 years, 20 years ago, 30 years ago aren’t any more"; and that "it cost me money". Somewhat uncomfortably for Mr Farage, he recently criticised tax havens, including the Isle of Man, in the European Parliament. As Ukip becomes a more serious electoral force, so there will be more people who wish to take it down. They had better get used to it.
No one ever said it would be easy. But Michael Gove has won. That's the verdict of Anthony Seldom, who will today say that "A revolution has taken place in schools which happens only once every 25 years in Britain", according to The Times (£). Mr Seldom will add that "The grip of the old education establishment — local authorities, trade unions, bureaucrats, education departments in universities — has been forever broken." While Labour oppose free schools, their support for "parent academies" seems a sign that Mr Gove's battle is almost won. To Fraser Nelson, the new battle line in Britishh politics is: "Who to support? The parents or the bureaucrats?" Labour's opposition to "surplus" places - which come about when parents don't want to send their children to the worst schools - places them on the wrong side of it.
Meanwhile, Mr Gove's education department have reached a settlement on the Comprehensive Spending Review. It's a reminder that,as I blogged yesterday, the 2013 Comprehensive Spending Review is proving much less difficult than expected; Eric Pickles has also accepted a 10% budget cut in 2015-16, notes The Times (£), leaving Vince Cable as almost the last man standing. But those who wanted more drama shouldn't despair too much: it's next year's CSR that we should be worried about.
George Osborne might have found a new friend. Jeffrey Osborne yesterday suggested he'd been keen on a duet with the Chancellor - which prompted George to tweet: "Jeff, you wouldn't suggest a duet if you'd heard me sing."
Disappointing news on the universal credit programme is leading to "finger pointing" in Whitehall, reports the FT (£). The National Audit Office is preparing a report into the scheme for the autumn, which is expected to be highly critical. Concerns expressed include the technology underpinning the scheme, meaning that the October date for the full launch may not be met. HM Revenue & Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions are blaming each other for difficulties in ensuring that changes in people’s work circumstances are logged. The DWP have insisted that the scheme "is going well". Nothing worthwhile is hassle-free.
Ed Miliband will say tomorrow that companies sitting on land must "use it or lose it" to ease housing pressure. In a speech in Birmingham, Ed will outline plans to fine building firms if they refuse to develop land that has been given planning permission. But it's not yet clear whether the proposals will become policy in Labour's next manifesto.
Nick Clegg is being accused of dismissing violence against women after saying he did not know "whether that was just a fleeting thing" when asked to comment on the picture of Charles Saatchi with his hand around the throat of Nigella Lawson. As Michael Deacon notes, Mr Clegg's tweet that his appearance on LCB yesterday had been "really enjoyable" seemed hard to take at face value.
There's never going to be a popular time to cut funds awarded to investigate MPs, and now is no exception. The Committee on Standards in Public Life is seeing its budget drop from £638,000 in 2011 to £400,000 with its secretariat reduced from four in 2010 to three now,reports The Times (£). Former chairman Sir Alistair Graham has complained of "a determined effort to emasculate the committee."
Lord Wood of Anfield has discovered a new swagger after defeating Zac Goldsmith in our poll to determine the more handsome MP. Rumours abound that it was not an entirely fair vote, with Lord Wood extremely active in hustling for votes from colleagues and even old friends in the States. The vox populi have not convinced all of Lord Wood's Labour colleagues, with Douglas Alexander's texts to Lord Wood helping to bring him back to earth.

George Osborne got what something he wasn't expecting from the G8 summit: 
‏@George_Osborne: One unexpected breakthrough from G8 - offer to sing with legend @_JeffreyOsborne. Jeff you wouldn't suggest a duet if you'd heard me sing

In the Telegraph
Best of the rest
Ben Macintyre in The Times (£) - America's idea of good mobsters goes on trial
Martin Wolf in The Financial Times (£) - British bank reform needs to go further
Mary Dejevsky in The Independent - Obama and Merkel - serious leaders for perilous times
0900 London: Jeremy Hunt speech on "silent scandal" of errors in the NHS. Department of Health press office
0930 London: Public sector borrowing figures are published by the Office for National Statistics.