Thursday, 7 November 2013

Universal Credit blame game begins..

Ben Brogan's morning briefing..

Good morning. Universal Credit is the big daddy of government policy, and it's in trouble. It's complex, expensive, unproven and ambitious. It seeks to overturn the facts of the welfare state in a surprisingly short space of time. The policy is arguably the most ambitious thing the Coalition is doing. And it's got everyone, from Dave down, nervous. Really, really nervous. Today, the fear factor increases with the publication of the PAC's report on Universal Credit. The previews in the papers make for grim reading. Margaret Hodge and colleagues have laid in to its "extraordinarily poor" and "alarmingly weak" management, enough to prompt suggestions that Iain Duncan Smith and Francis Maude are contemplating postponement. Although the management systems have been "reset" with new people in charge, it seems likely that the timetable for implementation, which has been the subject of constant criticism since it was first mooted, will be allowed to slip. Number 10 is anxious that it will cause political difficulties by antagonising the 'hard working' people Dave wants to win over just as they are thinking about who to support in 2015. What the Treasury thinks is unprintable (though Matthew d'Ancona helpfully detailed what George Osborne really thinks of IDS's intellectual abilities in his recent expose of the Coalition).
Then along comes this morning's Times splash, which cuts to today's big issue: the blame game. The headline doesn't do justice to the story, which is that IDS - or those acting for him - pressured Tory members of the committee to stick the blame on Robert Devereux, the permanent secretary at the department. "It was obvious there was some kind of coordinated effort going on. Some of the Conservative members wanted us to be much tougher on the Permanent Secretary than the rest of us were comfortable with," its (presumably Labour) source says. In reply a spokesman for IDS says he "publicly backed" his Perm Sec. Which is true as far as it goes. But it's well known in Westminster that Mr Duncan Smith and his allies want Mr Devereux sacked. It had been agreed that if he was named and criticised in the report he would be ejected. But the report doesn't name him - it just refers to the "accounting officer". So where are we left? Mexican stand off? The Tories want the Perm Sec to carry the can for the managerial failings. And it looks like the non-Tory bit of the PAC has made that difficult by not putting Mr Devereux's name up in lights. Is that because Margaret Hodge would rather the politicians take responsibility for what happens in their departments? It's an interesting philosophical question: after three years in government, who should we blame when the Coalition's plans go wrong? Who blames the blamers, or something. Expect a ding dong.     
A bad taste has been left in the mouth by the prioritising of shipbuilding jobs in the Clyde over those in Portsmouth. The message is not a subtle one - vote for independence and thousands of Scottish jobs will be at risk. As the FT notes, "instead of depicting Wednesday’s announcement as an unavoidable decision by BAE, ministers chose to use it to make political capital against those campaigning for Scottish independence." Yep, you could call it a bribe. But as I write in my blog, throwing pork Scotland's way over the next 10 monthis is not without risk: "Mr Cameron might also consider that, as John Major found out, there is precious little gratitude in Scotland for English charity. Bribes poisoned the Act of Union, and bribes can poison the campaign to save it. It is worth considering how the efforts to save the Union will colour the relationship, whatever the outcome." We argue that "the independence vote is not just a Scottish issue and the case for maintaining the Union needs to be made just as forcibly south of the border as it is in Scotland" though The Sun praises Dave as "rightly more concerned about the UK remaining together than about keeping power at any price." Turning to the "other" referendum, Sue Cameron observes the similarities with the 1975 EU referendum and says that "Our EU exit is looking more like a mirage." A recent YouGov poll found that if David Cameron recommended staying in after renegotiating a deal, 52 per cent wanted to stay in the EU and only 28 per cent wanting to leave.
We have a bout of spy-mania: the heads of the security services will be live on TV at 2pm today when they appear before the intelligence and security committee. The main focus will be on GCHQ boss Sir Iain Lobban in light of the recent revelations by Edward Snowden. Nick Hopkins has 10 questions that the Guardian thinks should be asked in today's session. The intelligence and security committee chairman Sir Malcolm Rifkind seems to be licking his lips: "Intelligence oversight has all the powers required and this public hearing will be the first of many", he says.  
Can you spot the difference? Not the Mail, who mark the Home Secretary's new boots by asking: "Is Theresa May turning into Cara Delevingne?"
Dave has often been criticised for tarnishing all members of trade unions with the same brush as Red Len. Yesterday he adopted a cleverer approach, saying "There are millions of people in our country who can be very proud of being trade unionists, the problem is they’re led so badly by bullyboys." As James Kirkup notes, the lions-led-approach is more likely to win the votes of union members - often disproportionately represented in marginal seats. But if Dave wants to be bold he could go much further: Robert Halfon has called for the Tories to offer free membership to win trade unionists support.
PMQs may have been a dreary affair but it wasn't for Stewart Wood, who took his seat alongside Scandinavian actress Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, who plays political journalist Katrine Fonsmark in Borgen. Our spies tell us that Stewart's fascinating piece on the patallels between Ed Miliband and Bill de Blasio ("he put inequality at the centre of public debate"; "he conducted a campaign that was populist – not just in policy pledges, but in character") had to wait until after they'd had lunch.   
No snoozing at the back! Alastair Campbell is giving a series of lectures on the media and politics as a visiting professor at Cambridge. He has been invited as 2013's "Humanitas Visiting Professor of Media". The first lecture is next Wednesday and explores the power of journalism and its centrality to a liberal democracy.
The Morning Briefing email is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter 

It's Movember folks. The @parliamentmov account has some cracking mos

In the Telegraph 
Best of the rest

Digby Jones in The Times - Either we get huge EU reform – or we leave
8.30am Francis Maude to announce half-yearly efficiency savings in the civil service.
9am Nick Clegg's phone-in on LBC.
11am Theresa May speech about police reform and Police and Crime Commissioners. Policy Exchange.
12pm Bank of England decision on interest rates and QE.

2pm Intelligence and Security Committee's first open evidence session. Sir Iain Lobban, Director, GCHQ; Andrew Parker, Director General, Security Service; and Sir John Sawers, Chief, Secret Intelligence Service will give evidence. It will be the first time the three heads of the Intelligence Agencies have appeared in public together to talk about their work.