Thursday, 24 October 2013

Clegg ambushed over green levies..

Breaking News: Nick Clegg has been speaking on the Today programme.
Speaking about the PM's comments about reducing green levies yesterday, Mr Clegg said: "It wasn't something I was expecting and it's not something I fully agree with." He said that "something must be done" about fuel bills and "We need to strike a difficult balance between getting bills down, keeping the lights on and investing in green jobs."
On schools, Mr Clegg said that "This idea that greater freedom means no core standards, in my view, is a nonsense". He said that the Lib Dems would not seek to sack unqualified teachers: "You don’t chuck them out – you make sure they seek a qualification"

Good morning. Following Nick Clegg's surprise on free schools, I reported No10 concerns that the Coalition could be undermined if the two parties started pulling apart earlier than anticipated. David Cameron's panicked response on green taxes yesterday proves the point. His offer to unwind green levies before the election has riled the Lib Dems, in the same way that Mr Clegg's U-turn on free schools has infuriated the Tories. If it wasn't for the yards of royal christening coverage (except for the Indy, which nibbed the happy event at the bottom of p27), yesterday's PMQs would have received greater prominence. The coverage may be reduced, but the consequences will be felt. It seems to me - and I wasn't around yesterday so I'm more behind than usual -  that there are two questions to answer. The first concerns Mr Cameron and the process which drove him to making his statement in the Commons. No10, I am told, sounded as surprised as the rest of us in the moments afterwards. Was he ramped? Was it a piece of red meat thrown off the back of the sled in a panic to distract the wolves? Was the idea cooked up in response to Sir John Major's call for a windfall tax? The Conservatives talk of grown-up decisions for a grown-up country, so it's worth working out whether there was anything mature about the deliberative policy process that led to Dave's offer. The casual way with which No10 said the measures covered by green levies could be simply rolled into general taxation (what??!!) suggests not. Labour MPs, who had assumed that Sir John's energy intervention was coordinated with Dave, were pleasantly surprised by it all. Compared to the death of "Vote Blue, Go Green", the announcement of an annual competition test - sensible if unglamorous - was completely drowned out.
The other big question to explore is where it leaves the Coalition. Mr Clegg ambushed Mr Cameron on free schools (not even half an hour's notice in this case) leaving the Tories to worry that electioneering was starting a year earlier than expected. The Lib Dems will think the same of Dave's green lunge. Can the Coalition withstand 18 months of this? The expectation had been that political differentiation wouldn't really start until this time next year. If it's started, then it could have all kinds of consequences. What other policies might start to be unpicked?
Actually, there's a third issue to consider on the back of the energy row. Mr Cameron inveighs against green taxes, Mr Clegg fights back, and meanwhile they have to put their heads together to decide what if anything they do about the Grangemouth plant closure. The loss of 800 skilled jobs in Scotland and the impression of a multinational corporation shafting Scotland will play straight into the debate about the Union and its future. The FT leads on it today, pointing out the stark consequences for the industry and for wider UK manufacturing. The contrast between politicians jockeying for advantage on energy at Westminster while the energy sector in Scotland is in turmoil will have its own consequences. 
Nick Clegg will give his heavily trailled speech on free schools at 10.40 today. Mr Clegg will call for the requirement to employ only qualified teachers and teach the national curriculum to be extended to academies and free schools, as the Indy reports. He will also call for a "champions league" of head teachers to resurrect failing schools.
Tim Montgomerie has a fascinating piece on George Osborne in The Times today. Or - more accurately - the two Osbornes. As he writes, "There is a Bad Osbo who obsesses about political tactics and a Good Osbo who takes long-term decisions" - and Mr Osborne is often at his best when he is prepared to be unpopular. There is no better sign of the rejuvenation in the fortunes of Osborne Construction (as Crispin Blunt described the British economy in the Commons yesterday, to the Chancellor's visible delight) than the sense that the netx generation of Tory modernisers look to him above Dave, as Rafael Behr argues.
As many as 60 Tory MPs could vote against HS2 next Thursday,according to The Times. But the real question about HS2's future still concerns Labour. The Party still publicly backs the project but will tell its own MPs that they can choose whether or not to attend the vote. Labour sources privately concede that the political logic for opposing HS2, and splitting the funds between some capacity improvements in the rail network and house-building, will be hard to resist. Expect a firm decision from Labour early next year.
There's still no sign of a resolution in the Plebgate affair. At the Home Affairs Select Committee yesterday, three police officers refused to issue any apology, though David Shaw, the chief constable of West Mercia Police, issued a "profound and unreserved" apology to Andrew Mitchell, which Mr Mitchell accepted. Nevertheless, it's clear that the counterattack orchestrated by Mr Mitchell and David Davis is having an impressive effect, "squeezing information out of police sources, then deploying it, through the media and in private discussions, to build political sympathy", as James Kirkup writes.
The mystery of Sir John's speech continues. To Peter Oborne, it was an expression of his unhappiness "with the tougher, more Eurosceptic and hardline Cameron who has emerged over the past 12 months." Meanwhile Norman Tebbit "cannot help wondering if his intervention was really more of a warning to the Prime Minister, not to raise hopes that there could be any worthwhile outcome to the proposed renegotiation of the European Treaties.cannot help wondering if his intervention was really more of a warning to the Prime Minister, not to raise hopes that there could be any worthwhile outcome to the proposed renegotiation of the European Treaties."
Simon Stevens, former health adviser to Mr Tony, has been appointed as Sir David Nicholson's successor as NHS chief executive. Mr Stevens has agreed to a salary of £189,000 - £21,000 less than Sir David received - and was praised by Jeremy Hunt for his decision to "lead from the front on the issue of high pay". Mr Stevens won admirers beyond the Labour party for his rigour, his openness, and his absence of ideology.
The Co-op Group will next week vote on whether to continue giving up to £1 million a year to the Labour Party, reports the FT. The Group is restructuring to try and improve its financial position. With the nature of Labour's future relationship with the trade unions still unclear, it could be a new funding headache the Party could have done without.

The death of "Vote Blue, Go Green" did not leave Zac Goldsmith impressed:
@ZacGoldsmith: In 2010, leaders fought to prove they were the greenest. 3 yrs on, they're desperately blaming their own policies on the other. Muppets.:
Best of the rest

Tim Montgomerie in The Times - Osborne is best when he’s most unpopular

Rafael Behr in the New Statesman - The next generation of Tory modernisers looks to Osborne, not Cameron, for inspiration

Steve Richards in The Independent - The caring face of Conservatism? Look no further than John Major

Today: David Cameron attending European Council summit, Brussels.
9am Call Clegg on LBC Radio.
9am Alistair Darling will give keynote address at the Construction News Summit. Event haired by Andrew Neil at One Whitehall Place.
10.40am Nick Clegg speech on education.

11am Theresa May speech at the College of Policing conference.