Tuesday, 22 October 2013

What's Clegg's master plan?

Breaking news: William Hague has been speaking about Syria on the Today programme.
"The longer this conflict goes on, the more sectarian it becomes and the more extremists are able to take hold.", Mr Hague said.
"Neither side is winning this conflict militarily. Neither is able to conquer the other."
Perhaps tellingly, when Mr Hague was asked whether Assad was stronger now than before, he did not offer a conclusive response. 

Good morning. There's no point pretending - it's a bit thin this morning. The Government has just about landed the nuclear announcement, the reaction being largely one of resigned inevitability that something necessary should have been done ages ago and that the delay (©Ed Miliband) will cost a bomb. The more intriguing story by far though is the Coalition row over Nick Clegg's change of heart on free schools. The Guardian reveals that the Lib Dem leader had lunch with David Cameron yesterday in part to discuss what Mr Clegg's ambush ("it was a classic Saturday night special," one member of Team Cameron says) means. One version has it that the Lib Dems didn't realise that what they thought was a nuanced shift in position would be presented in the Observer as the outbreak of World War III. The Tories are puzzled about the contradiction in his approach. Mr Clegg may well be setting out a change for the next LD manifesto, but how can he turn his back on a policy that was a central part of his record in government, as Iain Martin asks? The impression had been that both sides would stand by their achievements while setting out what they would do differently if they were in power on their own account after 2015. The idea would be to avoid disowning the Coalition's work. Yet Mr Clegg appears to be doing just that. So what are the implications? Will the campaign now be marked by a running fight about what the two sides did in office? Will Mr Cameron disown green taxes? Or tax giveaways for the poorest?  

On the Tory side there's a worry that this marks the beginning of electioneering too early. They had anticipated things would not kick off for another year or so. As Rachel Sylvester argues in the Times, voters are unlikely to be impressed by politicians fighting when they should be getting on with the work of government.  Expect to hear more of the charge doing the rounds yesterday, that Mr Clegg's new opposition to free schools is part of a core vote strategy - his 10pc to Ed Miliband's 35pc - designed to focus the party's efforts on the votes they need to be sure of being in power with either main party come 2015. By this theory, Mr Clegg needs to pander to those who the Lib Dems traditionally rely on, such as disgruntled Left-leaning teachers who despise the free schools policy. That's no doubt a crude simplification. The one consequence of Mr Clegg's speech, that no number of cosy lunches can fix, is that every yank of the chain weakens No10's faith in the core relationship of the Coalition. It also allows them to speak of Mr Clegg with derision. Until now the centre has avoided the kind of briefing wars that do governments great harm. This week we have had a preview of how nasty things could get among colleagues.


The rows over Britain's brave new nuclear future continue. Michael Fallon envisages that nuclear power will provide a cheaper and less controversial alternative to wind farms. The hope is now that a new generation of 12 nuclear reactors can be built to keep the lights on. We argue that 
"We may be paying over the odds for new nuclear power, but at least it provides the certainty that has been lacking for so long. Alongside other projects, it should help to ensure, in the long term, that the lights do indeed stay on." But the benefits for local workers may be less than envisaged, with Ed Davey's comments yesterday about the nuclear deal guaranteeing jobs for British workers an aspiration rather than a guarantee, as The Times notes.


Andrew Mitchell has described the apologies of officers accused of trying to destroy his political career as "simply not good enough", his friends told The Times. Look out for the Home Affair Select Committee hearing evidence from senior police about Plebgate tomorrow.


Cabinet Office civil servants are having an email-free day on Thursday after Stephen Kelly, the Government’s Chief Operating Officer, said he could be left "absolutely overwhelmed and bombarded with the inbox in front of me." Maybe the Morning Briefing should take Thursday off too.


Douglas Alexander has called on the Prime Minister to boycott next month's meeting of the Commonwealth heads of government in Sri Lanka. Mr Alexander writes for the Guardian that "Even at this late stage, the British government is in a position to exert considerable influence. David Cameron should use the upcoming summit as an opportunity to send a clear signal that the Commonwealth is no hiding place for countries that are unwilling to uphold the human rights of their citizens."


Public sector workers, look away now. Your pay packets could be in more trouble. Sir Nicholas Macpherson, the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, yesterday told the Public Accounts Committee that, “for all the complaints”, public sector pay was still too high and that "My guess is that the public sector is going to contract." The director general for public spending, Sharon White, was equally blunt: “For the 2015-16 new government, this is going to be one of the big issues — public sector pay in the round,” she said. In the meantime, some Tory backbenchers are concerned about the electoral ramifications of opting for a pay freeze for NHS workers, instead of a planned 1 per cent salary rise.


MPs are railing against plans to scrap MPs' daily dinner allowance of £15 as part of Ipsa's proposed new deal on MPs' salaries, as The Times reports. At least the free snuff on offer as MPs enter the debating chamber isn't under threat, as Andy McSmith notes.


Gyles Brandreth, the former MP and broadcaster, who has applauded the rise of the “autocutie”. Labour’s Gloria De Piero and the government ministers Esther McVey and Anna Soubry all received promotions in the reshuffles, and Mr Brandreth applauded their progress." Jeer at the one-time breakfast babes if you will, but they’re used to getting up at 5am, mastering a complicated brief when half-asleep, focusing on the key points and creating a soundbite that says what needs to be said as clearly and concisely as possible”, he told the Radio Times.


Ed Balls has been speaking about International Stammering Day on Daybreak this morning. Mr Balls spoke about his response to the autumn statement last year: "The thing that was upsetting for me was for people to say I wasn't confident or I wasn't doing my job. It was just: I've got a bit of a stammer, sometimes it comes out."


Chris Heaton-Harris on top form:

@chhcalling: Sweet dreams are made of cheese, who am I to dis a brie.

In the Telegraph 

Philip Johnson - We can't allow Brussels to lay down the law

Douglas Carswell - Immigration, the EU and BBC bias

Iain Martin - It's hard not to be cynical about politicians 

Telegraph View - A price worth paying to keep the lights on

Best of the rest

Rachel Sylvester in The Times - Voters don't want two tribes going to war

Douglas Alexander in the Guardian - David Cameron should boycott the Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka

Owen Jones in The Independent - Rising energy costs: the bullies at the Big Six must be stood up to

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times - Cameron must fear a narrow election win

Today: Defence Secretary Philip Hammond attending the Nato Defence Ministerial meeting, Brussels.
Second reading of the Immigration Bill, House of Commons.

Danny Alexander announcement on the infrastructure guarantee scheme.

9.30am Cabinet meeting.

10.30am BBC Trust chair Lord Patten and BBC director general Lord Hall give evidence to Commons Culture Committee. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.

11.15am International Development Secretary Justine Greening gives evidence on Syria to Commons International Development Committee. Committee Room 15.

1.30pm Boris Johnson gives evidence to House of Lords Olympic Legacy Committee. Committee Room 3, House of Lords.

2.30pm Chairman and chief executive of Care Quality Commission give evidence to Commons Health Committee. Committee Room 15.

2.45pm William Hague press conference following Friends of Syria meeting, Foreign Office.

3.30pm Jeremy Hunt speech at the Kings Fund conference.