Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Transforming the LibDems..

Ben Brogan's morning briefing:

Breaking News: William Hague has been speaking about Syria on the Today programme:
"Great progress has been made in negotiations between the US and Russia and we are trying to build on that."
Mr Hague confirmed that "We will not be sending British troops to Syria for any of these matters."
He added that resolving the situation was "an enormous task. This is probably the largest stock of chemical weapons in the world... We have to do everything we can to revive the wider political process in Syria."  
Good morning. For months yesterday's debate on the economy at the Lib Dem comference had been seen as an indicator of how far Nick Clegg has taken his party. By winning the vote emphatically, Mr Clegg has confirmed what many have suspected since the Eastleigh by-election victory - not only is he safe, but he is well on the way to transforming the party from being one of protest. They will remain in government until May 2015 - and maybe a lot longer.
Perhaps, as I explore in more detail in my column today, we are witnessing a remarkable inversion in British politics. The Lib Dems were once the party of self-indulgence and contempt for its leader - that now sounds rather more like the Tories. Meanwhile, the pragmatism and hard choices required to win and hold power - traditional Conservative traits - are now displayed by the Lib Dems.
There was no better indicator of Mr Clegg's standing than how Vince Cable was received. He reverted to all his familiar tunes - the Tories were "callous" and guilty of "dog-whistle politics" - but somehow it didn't quite seem to matter. The Cleggites view him less as a threat to their man, and more as an elderly uncle to be indulged. Indeed, Mr Clegg was told on Sunday night that Mr Cable would vote with him on economic policy yesterday, but allowed the Business Secretary to play to his gallery by suggesting until the last minute that he might not. When Mr Cable arrived,to Michael Deacon he was "wearing the expression of a man who only came in to shelter from the rain and is already wondering whether he wasn't better off outside." 
Mr Clegg enjoyed another important victory - against reinstating the 50p tax - although activists did demand an urgent review of the so-called bedroom tax, voting overwhelmingly to rethink the policy on account of it discriminating against the most vulnerable.
Rachel Sylvester makes the case for Nick in The Times (£) by drawing a new comparison. "Perhaps Mr Clegg, not Mr Cameron, is now the 'heir to Blair', emulating the man who won three elections by defining himself against the extremes on either side. Yesterday he was wearing a purple tie — the colour used by new Labour to symbolise its merging of Labour red and Tory blue. The conference slogan in Glasgow — 'Stronger Economy. Fairer Society' — is a clear echo of Tony Blair’s promise to combine economic competence with social justice."
The Lib Dems may be rebranding themselves as a serious party of government, but it seems like their press office still has a bit of catching up to do. An email was yesterday sent to the media - a “gold-plated cock-up”according to Lib Dems - with a crib sheet for MPs on “lines to take” during intervews. Nothing much to report here - MPs were reminded that they should say that the party met for conference "in a confident mood" and had "a strong record of achievement in Government"; they were told to say that Labour "cannot be trusted to build a stronger economy", while the Tories "on their own can't build a fairer society". A more interesting part of the document said that the Lib Dems "are looking at how the richest 10 per cent of people, those earning over £50,000, could make a further contribution." Speaking this morning Danny Alexander said, "there’s absolutely no truth to any suggestion we’re looking at taxes at that level, what we passed yesterday was a policy about putting in place a mansion tax."
The wearing of the niqab in court has become an explosive issue after a judge's ruling that Muslim women will be allowed to stand trial wearing a full-face veil but must remove it while giving evidence. Jack Straw writes in the Mail: "Surely it is important that the facial reaction of a defendant is seen throughout the case and not just when she is giving evidence? This case has meant that the issue of women wearing veils in court is now a major national talking-point and we politicians have a duty to tackle it, too."
The sell-off of the Government's shares in Lloyds Banking Group has begun. £3.3 billion worth of shares - around six per cent - is to be sold off, with US investors set to buy as many as half the 4.2 billion shares on offer. It is viewed by the Conservatives as further proof of the recovery, and George Osborne will reinforce his commitment to sell Lloyds at a profit when he addresses the Tory conference, reports the FT (£). The government is expected to yield a gain of at least £60 million on the initial batch of shares sold.
The England Lions player Manu Tuilagi has apologised for his "bunny ears" gesture behind Dave after a reception for the victorious British and Irish Lions squad at Downing Street yesterday. (NB: You may need to add us as a contact or adjust your email settings to download the pic onto your browser.)
A year on from "Plebgate", Chris Mullin has come to Andrew Mitchell's defence. In a piece for the Guardian, Mr Mullin writes that "it is not in the public interest that the police should be allowed to reshuffle the government on the basis of evidence of which some is clearly fabricated" and hopes that the Police Federation gets its comeuppance.
Tim Loughton has caused a storm after suggesting that Sarah Teather failed to support married couples in office because "she certainly didn't produce one of her own" and “doesn’t really believe in family”. Mr Loughton has taken to Twitter to apologise for comments he says were aimed at the "lack of LibDem family policy not of Sarah Teather personally who I always respected".
It might not be as glamorous as an American election - few MPs spend their summers reading the trendy new book on German political campaigning - but this week's German elections are just as important for Britain. A new report by Global Counsel sheds some light: "after five decades, the idea that Germany owes a special debt to European integration is losing its force." Most pertinently, "there is scope for a new Anglo-German policy alliance on the EU if the occupant of No 10 Downing Street is canny and persuasive enough to seize it." Angela Merkel is widely expected to win re-election in Sunday's polls.  
Manu Tuilagi says sorry to Dave:
@Manutuilagi: Apologies for messing around on Lions photo. No offence intended. Great day at Downing Street. Thanks to Prime Minister for hosting us. 
In the Telegraph 
Benedict Brogan - Now it’s the Lib Dems who talk of power, and the Tories who plot
Best of the rest 

Chris Mullin in the Guardian - The long arm of Plebgate

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times (£) - Vote on EU will not help Cameron’s critics
Jack Straw in the Daily Mail - A sensible ruling, but we should go further
Rachel Sylvester in the Times (£) - Nick Clegg is becoming the heir to Blair
Liberal Democrat Conference highlights:
0900: Emergency debate on Syria
1120: Debate on Trident and defence in the 21st century
1415: Debate entitled "Dignity at home: Transforming home care"
1455: Danny Alexander speech
1720: Debate on high street gambling

9.30am Inflation figures for August published by the ONS.