Good morning. Earlier this year, Nick Clegg mocked the Conservatives as "a kind of broken shopping trolley. Every time you try and push them straight ahead they veer off to the Right-hand side." Now Jeremy Browne, a staunch Cleggite who was surprisingly sacked as Minister at the Home Office in the reshuffle, has used the shopping trolley line on the Liberal Democrats. The party is a "shopping trolley that defaults to the Left", Mr Browne warns in an interview with The Times today. Rather than focus on what they've stopped the Conservatives from doing, as Mr Clegg focused on in his conference speech, Mr Browne urges the Lib Dems to take credit for the Government’s "central pillars" - reducing the deficit, crime and education reforms and even curbing immigration. It is the latter which Lib Dems feel least happy claiming as their own policy, with Sarah Teather stepping down indicative of an unease many in the party feel about immigration reforms making it harder for children to join working parents in Britain. And Mr Browne's impotence in preventing the "Go Home" vans is considered an important factor in his sacking last month; he reckons it led to a "black mark" against his name.Still, he describes his sacking as "a bit puzzling" and, given that he was replaced by Norman Baker, few would argue with that.
Many have remarked that the Lib Dems seem much more comfortable in government than the Conservatives, largely because their MPs actively voted for Coalition. But Mr Browne suggests this is a rather simplistic analysis: a "substantial number" of Lib Dems are content to be considered a "peripheral force that campaigns against the Conservatives" and would still like the party to be "left to its own devices defaults to the Left and to being the party of protest". He warns that this approach brings danger for the party: "You can’t be half in and half out of government. We have to avoid the trap of looking like a party that is a reluctant party of government and looking uncomfortable and that we’d be grateful to be relieved of our collective responsibilities."
So is Mr Browne about to defect to the Tories? He reveals that he received an approach by Grant Shapps, as had been speculated. But he said no: "one, because I had no intention or desire to defect to the Conservatives . . . and, secondly, that it could, and probably would, be misconstrued if I had a meeting at all". As Westminster denials go, that doesn't rank very highly. Given that his Taunton Deane constituency is one of the Tories' top targets - and Mr Browne is so highly regarded by many Tories that he would have a good chance of a Cabinet berth in a future Conservative government - I suspect Mr Browne will be given plenty of chances to change his mind.
Alan Milburn's social mobility report has trigged plenty of chatter. ToPhilip Collins in the Times, the message is simple: "It's a depressing picture: Britain is now a country where it is extremely hard to break out of poverty." One of Mr Milburn's suggestions was that pensioner benefits should be looked at for the good of "the yoof". Fraser Nelson agrees, writing that we are witnessing a "gerontocracy, a system where countries are run for the benefit of the old because they tend to decide elections." And pensioners often realise it, with Fraser saying that "British pensioners are more ready than politicians think for a serious discussion about how the burden should be shared. As the Prime Minister once put it: we are all in this together." This comes as Jeremy Hunt will today denounce the "national shame" of the "forgotten million" older people left alone and without any regular social contact.
THE NEW BANKERS
Forget banker-bashing: that's so 2008. The new villains are the energy companies. Both The Sun and Mirror lead with news of the 10 per cent increase in British Gas prices. The Mirror's headline - "I'm putting your gas bill up 10%... now where's my £2m bonus?" is a reminder that the Conservatives cannot be seen to be relaxed about rising energy prices, and Tory MPs are well aware of this. Robert Halfon calls on Dave to go to Brussels and demand that the Treasury be permitted to lower VAT from its current level of 5 per cent, the lowest permitted under EU law. As we write, "Greater transparency to allow consumers to establish where profits and losses are being made within the industry, and a much more flexible marketplace, are the minimum reforms that are needed."
A few people were appalled that Jo Swinson, who is seven months pregnant, was left standing at PMQs. It seems that Miss Swinson was not one of them. An aide said: "The suggestion that somehow 'poor woman, you're seven months pregnant, you must absolutely want to sit down' is quite sexist - she can fend for herself. That's what she thinks."
NHS RISKS "BANKRUPTCY"
The Labour peer Lord Warner has compared the NHS to British Leyland, and warned that the NHS is facing "bankruptcy" because it will not be able to cope with the "demographic timebomb" of Britain’s ageing population.
BOOST FOR BUSINESS BANK
Ron Emerson has been named as the new chairman of the British Business Bank, as the FT reports. Jeremiah Cable yesterday said that he hopes the Bank will enter a "substantial expansion phase" and £10 billion of extra public and private finance over the next five years.
LABOUR MOVES AGAINST PRIVATE DEFENCE PROCUREMENT
Labour is raising concerns about plans to privatise defence procurement, which it has previously supported. The FT reports that the future of one of the two bidders, Serco, has been thrown into doubt. An aide to Vernon Coaker warns, "Unless we get some pretty straight answers we will call for it to be pulled altogether."
TWEETS AND TWITS
Chris Heaton-Harris has that Friday feeling
@chhcalling: I once went out with a contortionist. Boy did it hurt when she broke it off.
In the Telegraph
Fraser Nelson - The young pay a heavy price for the support given to the elderly
Jeremy Warner - It's recovery – but not as we want it
Isabel Hardman - One dud free school is not a broken system
Telegraph View - Energy bills are unclear and unfair to customers
Best of the rest
Philip Collins in The Times - How upward mobility went down the drain
Polly Toynbee in the Guardian - If Britain's charities are gagged, who will stop this lobbying bill?
Steve Richards in The Independent - The police have been exposed over plebgate. Now give Mitchell his job back
Philip Stephens in the Financial Times - America and Europe go their own way
Immigration Minister Mark Harper to publish the second inter-ministerial group report into human trafficking.
9.30am Council of Mortgage Lenders releases its lending estimate for September.
10am Petition demanding a halt to the Government's planned "re-privatisation" of East Coast Main Line handed to Transport Secretary.
SNP conference, Perth. Nicola Sturgeon addresses conference.
12.40pm Jeremy Hunt speech at the National Children and Adult Services Conference, Harrogate.