Good morning. It's a big day for Iain Duncan Smith, who will be defending the universal credit to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee in the Wilson Room at 4.30. The Commons public accounts committee has already written off £140 million, and it comes a few days after he admitted that 700,000 people would not by moved to universal credit by his 2017 target. He gave a preview of his arguments to Today, saying that the "vast, vast majority of people" will be on universal credit by the end of 2017." But Mr Duncan Smith added an admission: "I do accept, of course, that this plan is different fro the original plan." For Labour, racking up the pressure is seen as a way of reducing their credibility gap with the electorate on welfare. Speaking to Today, Rachel Reeves described the programme as "a shambles" and said "the whole project is now in disarray". Mrs Reeves also confirmed that "We believe in the principle of universal credit", a reminder that, despite the current problems, Mr Duncan Smith has done much to set the political agenda on welfare.
Nevertheless, there is no denying the difficulties for Iain Duncan Smith, or his clumsy attempts to get rid of the DWP’s permanent secretary, Robert Devereux. But sources now say that Mr Duncan Smith and Mr Devereux have found an accommodation. And the political damage to the Conservatives may be less then feared: the Tory high command reckons that those affected aren't likely to be Tory voters anyway. After New Labour, the public also have an appetite for a government being strict on welfare.
The Lib Dems are unveiling their strategy for the next general election. That means differentiation is the order of the day: Nick Clegg is planning a blitz of speeches in the New Year to stress the contrast between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives. In an early hint of what's to come, Danny Alexander yesterday said said that "there are big differences between our parties; we want to have both a strong economy and a fair society, we think that you need the Liberal Democrats to keep the country in the centre-ground so you can have both." What's the endgame to all this? There's some speculation that there may now be an early divorce, with the Coalition dissolving next Autumn and the Conservatives then governing alone until May 2015. But this could create the impression that the Lib Dems "run away from all their achievements in government", as one MP puts it. The alternative - going out of ministerial cars and into the election - would not be without problems too. Yet, after all the Lib Dems have done to project themselves as comfortable governing, it would be an odd reversion to the party's comfort zone to not stay the course. How the party reacts to the European election results - when it's conceivable they could come fifth - will be the acid test.
Here's an irony: MPs are rushing to criticise the parliamentary watchdog designed to protect their images. IPSA is set to call for an 11% rise in MPs' salaries on Thursday, prompting MPs and Cabinet ministers to see who can denounce the idea more convincingly. Jack Straw and David Ruffley are among the few MPs to suggest that the rise may have merits, with Mr Straw suggesting that it could help with "recruitment from people of modest background". Our leader argues that MPs rarely help themselves, saying that "MPs as a class are, as we have said, far more honest than many of their critics allow. But if they really do deserve a pay rise – at a time of acute pressure on the public finances – they must show a ruthless determination to punish those who misuse public money. On that score, some progress has been made – but there is still a way to go." The Times says that "If we want the best quality representation then we cannot begrudge paying them properly." But that's not a very popular view: The Sun warns that "There'll be hell to pay!" if the pay rises go ahead.
NO ENERGY FREEZE, PLEASE
Labour's plans to freeze energy prices could "bankrupt" investors in energy companies. That's not a CCHQ press release: it's the warning from the OECD's head Angel Gurria. "They'll probably go bankrupt. How are you going to get people to come in and invest to get their money back in 30, 40 years' time when you say there's going to be a freeze?" Mr Gurria said: "I think this is simply not consistent, not economically objective." George Osborne and others who support a "grown-up" response to Labour's populist turn will see it as further vindication.
NO APOLOGY FROM BALLS
It's worth recapping Ed Balls' interview yesterday. The Shadow Chancellor said that he "couldn’t give a toss" about speculation that he might be sacked, and six times refused to apologise for Labour allowing public debt to increase. But the interview was nothing compared to the challenges of performing Der Dichter Spricht, the final movement of Schumann’s Kinderszenen, at a concert hall in North London on Sunday morning. Diane Abbott's words would hardly have made Mr Balls feel much better: "One thing you should not under-estimate in Ed Miliband is the capacity for ruthlessness. If he feels it is right to bring in Alistair Darling, or whatever, he will do it."
SHOULD LABOUR HAVE PICKED THE OTHER MILIBAND?
A headline that Ed Miliband could have done without: Lord Puttnam, a film producer and Labour peer, has said that Labour “handed a considerable gift to the Tory party” by picking Ed as party leader over his brother David. Lord Puttnam told World This Weekend: "Ed’s done well (but) David, in the last two years, as a leader would have been a much more difficult proposition. The day-to-day contest in Parliament would have been a lot tougher for Cameron and Clegg." He also complained of "a lack of candour" at the top of the party: ""You get the feeling of slightly staged events. I think there’s a lack of a broad conversation where really great ideas get picked up and properly discussed."
LABOUR CHOOSE FALKIRK CANDIDATE
Labour has finally chosen its candidate to fight Falkirk in the general election. They have picked Karen Whitefield, a former MSP - and, as the Mail points out, a campaigns officer for the office and shopworkers’ union Usdaw. Miss Whitefield aims to "unite" the party behind her. The Conservatives are in no mood to let Labour off the hook, with Priti Patel saying that, "Despite Ed Miliband promising to cut his links with his union paymasters, clearly nothing has changed as they parachute in another one of their chosen candidates".
McINTOSH UNDER PRESSURE
Anne McIntosh's political future is under threat after Conservative party officials in her Thirsk and Malton constituency refused to endorse her as their election candidate, accusing her of failing in her constituency duties. But Ms McIntosh is a political fighter: she faced a similar threat four years ago but local party members voted to overturn their executive board's decision and reinstate her as candidate.
UKIP COUNCILLOR WANTS TO "SEND THE LOT BACK"
A Ukip councillor, Victoria Ayling, has been videod saying she wished to "send the lot back". Mrs Ayling, a former Conservative election candidate who defected this year, was defended by Nigel Farage, who said that Ukip would stand by her.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Twitter has its flaws:
@NadineDorriesMP: Twitter doesn't do irony.
In the Telegraph
In the Telegraph
Boris Johnson - I was planning on a dash for the aspirin – and then you rang in
Elizabeth Truss - A gender gap that simply doesn’t add up
Telegraph View - MPs must show that they deserve a pay rise
Best of the rest
Emma Duncan in The Times - Osborne’s festive bells simply don’t ring true
Peter McKay in the Daily Mail - Why desperate Ed is daft to bring back the Blairites
Edward Luce in The FT - Obama cannot lead from behind on trade
John Harris in The Guardian - Under the iPads and PS4s the ghoul of debt is lurking
0945 London: London Mayor Boris Johnson outlines new cycling plans for capital. City Hall
1430 London: Tributes to Nelson Mandela in Parliament. House of Commons
1600 London: Culture Secretary Maria Miller and Business Minister Michael Fallon give evidence to Lords committee on UK soft power. Committee Room 1, House of Lords
1600 London: The Office for Budget Responsibility give evidence to the Commons Treasury Committee on the Autumn Statement. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House
1615 London: Communites Secretary Eric Pickles gives evidence to the Commons Communities and Local Government Committee. Grimond Room, Portcullis House
1630 London: Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith gives evidence to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee. Wilson Room, Portcullis House