BREAKING NEWS: Philip Hammond has been on the Today programme attacking the Liberal Democrats' position on Trident:
"I think it’s frankly either naïve or reckless.
"We do not believe that with nuclear threats if anything proliferating, this is the time to downgrade.
"The part-time deterrent will save us only trivial sums of money, about £50-60m a year in net present value terms over the life of the system. And in the context of the overall Defence budget that’s about 0.17% - that’s a tiny saving for a huge gamble with Britain’s security."
TORIES STOP THE BLEEDING TO UKIP
Good morning. The new Guardian poll will add to the perception that it has been a good month for Dave. It shows the Conservatives on 36 per cent - level with Labour. Obviously there are plenty of caveats - it's just one poll and isn't in line with other recent surveys, as Labour and Ukip have both emphasised. Still, it's sure to give the Conservatives plenty of cheer just two days before Parliamentary recess. Ukip's support is down to seven per cent - a sign that the Tory bleeding to Ukip has been halted at last. A divided Right would seem to represent Ed Miliband's best chance of winning a Parliamentary majority, and Tory MPs are concerned at the damage that Ukip could do winning six per cent of the vote in 2015. In itself this poll doesn't prove anything, but it acts as another counter to Tory defeatism.
Attention is also turning to what exactly a Conservative government after 2015 would do. The Times (£) report that George Osborne is considering a further trimming of the welfare bill. The story is that the £26,000 Benefit Cap could be reduced to £20,000, building on what is so far one of the Government's most popular policies (despite the disputes about the statistics used by Iain Duncan Smith). Such an approach reflects Mr Osborne's "no new taxes" approach to the savings needed after 2015. The relative lack of difficulty in settling on the Comprehensive Spending Review seems to vindicate such an approach. But, with Nick Clegg seemingly set on vetoing further welfare cuts this Parliament, they will probably have to wait until after 2015.
OPINION SETTLES BEHIND KEEPING TRIDENT
We publish a letter today from five former Defence Secretaries. They might disagree on much, but they are united on the need to keep the nuclear deterrent in full, rejecting the suggestion of Danny Alexander that the number of Vanguard submarines could be halved from four to two:
We cannot possibly foresee what threats will develop over the next 30 years. Reducing our submarine-based Trident capability would weaken our national security for the sake of a very small fraction of the defence budget.
Labour's exact position remains under review, but they are unconvinced by the argument for a cheaper deterrent. In practical terms, this means the Lib Dems would have to accept defeat on the issue in any coalition negotiations after 2015. As we argue, their position on Trident amounts to a deeply unsatisfactory fudge: "If they want to argue against a deterrent, then they should do so openly, rather than seek to promote watered-down versions that would simply render it useless."
NHS BLAME GAME CONTINUES
Rows between the Conservatives and Labour on the NHS continue. While ministers say they will abolish the Liverpool Care Pathway following an independent review, a separate report by Professor Sir Bruce Keogh will expose a history of failings at 14 hospital trusts with high death rates. Andy Burnham has reacted by criticising "a mistake of monumental proportions for David Cameron to go back on his pledge of no top-down re-organisation and instead throw the NHS into a huge upheaval" in a piece for us. But the failings of the 14 hospital trusts raises uncomfortable questions for Labour, according to former No 10 special adviser Sean Worth. He writes for us that, despite past mistakes, "there is little hope of Miliband being able to change Labour’s current policy of taking the NHS back to a state-only system of “preferred providers” to deliver hospital care."
LOBBYGATE RUMBLES ON
The row over Lynton Crosby's links to tobacco rumbles on, with Jeremy Hunt today facing questions in the Commons over how plain packaging was abandoned until after the next election. Minutes of a meeting between officials and a tobacco company linked to Mr Crosby had yet to be released, as The Times (£) reports. Ed Miliband has described Mr Crosby's links as amounting to a "clear conflict of interest". Questions have also been asked over why Mr Cameron has not published a register of ministers' financial interests since December 2011. While Dave opposes a salary increase for MPs, this leaves him vulnerable to charges of having one rule for the generals and a different one for the troops.
YEP, TOO MANY TWEETS
What was Dave's line about Twitter again? He provided a reminder of it by linking to a fake Iain Duncan Smith Twitter account yesterday. Time to stop interns having control over Twitter accounts, perhaps? A No 10 spokesman last night said only: "The PM's tweets are entirely his views."
THE COUNTRYSIDE GETS POLITICAL
The Campaign to Protect Rural England could be important players at the next general election. In response to the Coalition's proposed planning reforms, they plan to ask every Conservative, Labour and the Liberal Democrat candidate to sign a charter to save the English countryside. CPRE want developers to build on brownfield sites, protecting greenfield areas.
WIN €100,000 FOR GETTING BRITAIN OUT OF THE EU
The IEA have announced a new €100,000 prize for the best roadmap of how Britain could leave the EU and the geo-political and economic landscape that would follow, with Lord Lawson leading the judging panel.Full details are here. Gisela Stuart, who is also on the panel, writes for us that, "Unless there is a credible scenario for a UK outside the EU there is little point in debating whether we should stay or leave."
TWEETS AND TWITS
Is the heat getting to Chris Heaton-Harris?
@chhcalling: I'm organising a "Fruit Preservation Society" evening. I'm just sending out the 'Save the date' cards.
In the Telegraph
Gisela Stuart - We must answer the 100,000-euro question
Philip Johnston - Britain’s gone from nanny state to naggy state
Telegraph View - Deterrence can’t be done on the cheap
Best of the rest
Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) - Using NHS as a football will be a Tory own goal
Janan Ganesh in The Financial Times (£) - Happy days for the UK’s kingmaker
George Monbiot in The Guardian - Cigarette packaging: the corporate smokescreen
Ian Birrell in The Guardian - The civil service: a monster in Whitehall
Today: Government publishes bill for statutory register of lobbyists.
12:00 London: Danny Alexander outlines findings of the Trident Alternatives Review. Royal United Services Institute, Whitehall.
14:30 London: Foreign Affairs Committee holds one of its twice-yearly evidence sessions with William Hague. House of Commons committee room.