Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Lords passes gay marriage.. Ben Brogan's morning briefing

Good morning. There will be relief in Number 10 that gay marriage got through the Lords with a minimum of fuss. I suspect Mr Cameron will be discreetly pleased by the images of the retro-Tories with brylcreemed hair and large pocket kerchiefs speaking against the measure. He wants this to be an indicator of the party's ease with the modern world, and so when Conservatives who look distinctly - how can I put this - traditional oppose him, it helps his case. Does it? Downing Street is banking on public indifference, and certainly instant acceptance of gay marriage. The polls suggest voters are no exercised about the issue.
Older voters, who are more likely to vote, and vote Conservative, are less impressed, and that's where the Tories are suffering. Many are taking their frustrations to Ukip. But the betting must be that whatever is said at Westminster, this is not the issue that will decide the fate of the Tories in 2015. Where it will cause headaches for Dave, however, is among his MPs. I am struck by the violence of emotions voiced by some MPs who are raging at the way Mr Cameron imposed this policy on them. A former minister, for example, says he will 'never forgive' the PM 'for what he has done to this party'. The danger is that gay marriage fades as an issue in the news as the country embraces the change and gets on with it, but that a significant section of the Conservative parliamentary party doesn't let go, and nurses its anger on this one for months and months.
In the circumstances, yesterday was an altogether simpler affair for Dave than he must have been envisaging. Lord Deer's wrecking amendment was easily defeated, 390-148, in the House of Lords. That will be a considerable relief, although not all significant Tory peers got into line. Barnoess Warsi abstained, continuing her split from Dave, while another former Tory chairman, Lord Mawhinney, was vocal in voting against it. 
All the talk of substantive political reform after lobbygate already has a rather hollow air to it. Nick Clegg's proposal to allow 10 pc of a constituency electorate to trigger a by-election if an MP is heavily censored by the Commons sleaze committee fails to live up to rhetoric of "big reform" according to Douglas Carswell, as The Times (£) notes. Mr Clegg's proposals to support the expulsion of crooked or lazy peers don't address the real problems either, as we note:
There is far less rot within the Westminster system than many voters suppose, but various issues urgently need to be addressed: the susceptibility of MPs and peers to undue influence; the abuse of all-party groups and similar forums; and above all the public’s inability to do anything about these problems. 

It seems Mr Miliband will announce that Labour will not reverse the withdrawal of child benefit from higher rate taxpayers. Coming on the back of Ed Balls's announcement that Labour would remove the winter fuel allowance from wealthy pensioners, it amounts to a significant shift away from the universality principle. It also indicates that Labour's campaign argument in 2015 will be shaped by an attack on the wealthy.
Labour's leader is preparing for a policy declaration much more significant than the bit of leg showed by Ed Balls on Monday. In her column today, Mark Riddell explains how Mr Miliband will use his speech tomorrow to move towards a "something for something" culture:
The Chancellor’s planned limit on annually managed expenditure (AME), which covers pensions, debt interest repayments and most welfare spending, will let Mr Osborne ask just what Labour would do instead. The answer Mr Miliband will supply tomorrow is to keep a safety net for the victims of recession while capping structural payments, such as housing benefit, with a shift to building homes instead of paying ruinous rent.
Mr Miliband is facing increasing criticism from his Shadow Cabinet over his refusal to back a referendum on EU membership. Half the Shadow Cabinet now want a commitment on a referendum, joining other Labour big beasts Jon Cruddas, Jim Murphy and Keith Vaz, as the Mail reports. For Mr Miliband to come to that position now would amount to a significant u-turn. It's a problem that, unless swiftly addressed head-on, will become more acute as 2015 looms.
There is no shortage of prurient speculation in Westminster about the identity of the sitting Tory MP accused of making advances with his wife on a housekeeper. Hardly the press politicians need.
RBS could be split into a "good" and "bad" bank, with the state holding onto the "bad bank" with RBS's toxic assets, according to the FT (£). The split is not yet a recommendation but is being strongly considered by Andrew Tyrie's parliamentary banking commission.
John Bercow is facing more trouble of his own making. As we report, the Speaker of the House is facing criticism for pro-immigration comments that contradict the custom of Speaker neutrality. On a trip to Romania last week, Bercow praised Eastern European immigrants for displaying more "aptitude and commitment" to work than British people. 
If there's one thing that Dave could do to increase the public's regard for politicians, it's make substantive progress on tax avoidance. Ahead of the start of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland on June 17, Mr Cameron plans to meet with senior ministers from Britain's overseas territories to encourage them to share tax information, reports The Guardian. 
Writing in The Times (£), Tim Montgomerie says that Michael Gove lacks leadership ambitions. Wanna bet on it? Toby Young launched a Twitter wager with Mr Montgomerie - the prize is a large lunch - that Gove will launch a leadership bid within the next 30 months. I rather wish that I had made Tim the offer first.

 He hasn't even announced it yet - and already Mr Miliband's suggestion of a cap on AME spending is being criticised:

@tpearce003: Am really worried about the suggestion that Labour will cap AME spending. Hoping the spin on radio is wrong. 

In the Telegraph
Best of the rest
Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) - He's beating the Blob, but Gove won't be PM
Daniel Finkelstein in The Times (£) - They've all discovered the economic big idea
Muhammad Yunus in the FT (£) - Asian innovation could heal western healthcare
09:00 London: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg launches Opening Doors campaign on recruitment practices with Dragon's Den star James Caan. Guildhall, Gresham Street.
09:30 London: Office for National Statistics will publish a report on 170 years of industrial changes in England and Wales, drawing on census data 1841 to 2011.
12:00 London: Prime Minister's Questions. House of Commons.

19:30 London: Launch of London branch of Better Together campaign against Scottish independence. With speeches by Alistair Darling, Danny Alexander and Lord Strathclyde. Great Hall, One Great George Street.