Thursday, 18 July 2013

MPs buoyant..

Good morning. It feels rather like the beginning of the school holidays today, as the House rises. In these stuffy conditions we all need a break. Dave is no different, which must explain his helicopter ride yesterday

Still, Mr Cameron might feel he deserved it. After being on the backfoot since last year's budget, the Conservative parliamentary party head off for summer in relatively buoyant mood: look at how well-received Dave's performance was in yesterday's PMQs. For those in marginal seats, suddenly an election seems a little less worrying.

Yet there are still some barnacles to clear off the boat. The scrapping of a minimum alcohol plan has led to the resignation of a group of government advisers and had Sarah Wollaston unhappy yesterday. Another issue on which Dr Wollaston has expressed her concerns, the postponement of introducing plain packaging on cigarettes, continues to lurk uncomfortably in the background, with Mr Cameron unable to say at PMQs whether he discussed it with Lynton Crosby.

There is also the matter of a reshuffle to consider. The Coalition have avoided the New Labour disease of constantly changing ministers before they had time to master their briefs, but Dave has made little headway on his target that one-third of ministers should be women by the time of the next election. Just 23 out of 121 government ministers are currently women, as The Times (£) reports, although, in Dave's defence, female Lib Dems are a rare breed. We don't know what Dave has in mind, but betting must be that, when it does happen, the reshuffle will be designed to be low-key. As Peter Oborne writes, Mr Cameron has recorded a quietly formidable set of successes during his three years in office, and "Coalition ministers are entitled to set off on holiday with a feeling of richly deserved pride and satisfaction."

The outgoing head of the armed forces, General Sir David Richards, has warned that Britain has to be prepared to “go to war” if it wishes to restrain the Syrian regime.Sir Richards has also warned that the Government has to clarify its "political objectives" in Syria before a coherent plan for dealing with the Assad regime can be recommended. But General Richards perhaps didn't receive the send-off he envisaged: Defence Secretary Philip Hammond was notably absent, as was his predecessor Dr Liam Fox. Only one former Defenece Secretary, Des Browne, attended the farewell drinks.  
Labour could be bankrupted unless they do more to appeal to trade unions. That's the verdict of Len McCluskey, who warns Ed Miliband in The Times (£) that increasing the minimum wage and abandoning austerity is the way that Mr Miliband can appeal to trade unionists. In a funny way, Mr McCluskey rather has a point: unless Mr Miliband can find alternative ways to attract new funding for Labour, he will remain over-reliant on the trade unions for cash - and vulnerable to the charge that they are influencing policy.
Maria Miller has entered the row over John Inverdale's comments about the Wimbledon women's champion Marion Bartoli's looks by writing to the BBC. Mrs Miller wrote that it is "a matter of some concern to me that any comment on the looks and stature of a female athlete could be made in the context of one of the highlights of the UK’s, and indeed the world’s, sporting calendar." It's enough to earn the front page of the Mail, and you can read the full letter here.  
The Bank of England may slowly be moving away from quantitative easing and towards a more "mixed" strategy, including guiding markets. It marks a radical change in the Bank's policy within days of Mark Carney's arrival, as the FT (£) reports. The assured Mr Carney - though they call him Mark - is earning his cash. But he will know there are no quick fixes to the UK's financial problems; if he has any doubts, the OBR have issued a reminder. The OBR have said that Britain faces another £19 billion of austerity in 2018 to prevent healthcare and pensions blowing a £65 billion black hole in the public finances by 2062 - and debt soaring to 99 per cent by this date. The Government's cap on car home expenses will add 0.3 per cent of GDP to spending by 2062, even though it will only benefit one pensioner out of 200 in its first decade, and one in eight ever. It's very dreary stuff to ponder in the heat, but these are problems that won't go away. 
Chris Heaton-Harris admires the Tories hard at work: 
@chhcalling: Found lots of Tory MPs on the EU Referendum Bill Committee in Tea-room recharging & ready to go through the night to get it passed. 
In the Telegraph
Best of the rest 
David Aarovitch in The Times (£) - After Liverpool we need a better way of dying
Rafael Behr in The New Statesman - The Tories think they're winning - but it's the coalition

0850 London: Office for National Statistics (ONS) media briefing: Quarterly Crime Statistics.
0900: Call Clegg on LBC 97.3 radio.
1730 London: House of Commons breaks for the summer holidays.