Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Can Clegg stop the rot..

Good morning. The absence of other political news means that there is plenty of time to go over the gory details of the Lord Rennard affair, and work out what it says about the Liberal Democrats. The underlying lesson boils down to this: the decentralised and democratic structures that were so appealing to Lib Dems when they were an eccentric fringe party suddenly don't seem so clever. And Nick Clegg is coming out of it all very badly indeed. Note the last line of Cathy Newman's compelling account in The Times of how the silence was broken: "Nearly a year after we broadcast her allegations, we’re still waiting for Nick Clegg to appear on our programme about the Rennard affair, to tell us what he knows is right." In the Telegraph, Dan Hodges reckons that the significance of the Rennard affair is to prove that the Lib Dems could not make the transition from a party of protest to a party of government. Once again, Mr Clegg comes out badly, with Dan saying that he "has clearly learnt nothing about the basics of leadership and issue management at a national level. His statement 'I don’t think it is my job as leader of the party to try to micromanage this' wasn’t so much an abdication of responsibility as the political equivalent of removing his uniform, donning a dress and making a dash for the lifeboats."
It gets worse: Lord Rennard seems adamant that his political career should not end. His allies now warn Nick Clegg that he faces a "bloodbath" that will "rip the Liberal Democrats apart" unless he blocks an inquiry into Lord Rennard's conduct. Lord Rennard is also preparing to take legal action over his suspension from the Lib Dems, which is initially for 14 weeks, while the party investigates whether he had brought it into disrepute by refusing to apologise. A Times/YouGov poll shows the voters don't think very much of this all: 41 per cent think that he should leave the party, compared with 33 per cent who think that he should stay, and 41 per cent now think of the Lib Dems as sleazy. Can Mr Clegg stop the rot? Indeed, with the Lib Dems' structures being what they are, does he even have the power to?
This is an intervention Conservatives will feel they could have done without. With shades of Theresa May's "nasty party" comment, Treasury minister Nicky Morgan has popped up to tell the Tories they need to stop being haters: "If we talk about what we hate all the time, we're not talking about we like and what we want to do to help people who want to do well." It's hard to say who Miss Morgan is attacking - some will see the intervention as a counter to the Lynton Crosby school of doing politics, others as a way of imploring the Chancellor to sound just a little more jolly. In the Guardian, Melissa Kite gives the party five ways to start sounding a bit more upbeat.
As I detail in my blog, Owen Paterson's name is being advanced by the Right as a possible candidate to be Britain's next European Commissioner. Mr Paterson ticks a number of boxes: the Right wants to send someone into negotiations who will be unashamedly in favour of renegotiation, if not in favour of leaving, and he's also a polyglot. When Baroness Ashton steps down in the Summer, the Tory Right will press Mr Cameron to show he means what he says by sending one of their own into the lion's den.
This could be an explosive fight between the modernisers and the Right of the Conservative Party - but many will be surpised to see who is playing which part. The Times reports that Theresa May wants to curb use of stop-and-search powers - but Dave, worried about being soft on law and order, doesn't agree. The real significance is liberalising stop-and-search laws are seen as crucial to expanding Tory appeal with BME voters, only 16 per cent of whom supported the Conservatives in 2010.
Ahead of today's PMQs, Ed Balls could have done without this: the BBC using a photo of his girth (from 2008) as an example of men trying to lose weight. The alternative to "permanently leaner government", the Conservatives might say.
Will the EU Referendum Bill be approved by both houses before its deadline at the end of February? Not if Labour has anything to do with it. Peers have tabled over 50 amendments for the committee stage of the EU Referendum Bill, including holding a petition of a million voters, posing the questions in Gaelic, Doric and Cornish and giving prisoners the vote. No wonder that Lord Dobbs says that "Labour intend to filibuster this Bill."
Ukip has chosen its candidate for the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election next month - and it's a former Labour supporter. John Bickley, a self-made businessman and son of a Labour trade unionist who grew up in the constituency, will be officially launched as Ukip's candidate tomorrow morning.
Who was it who wanted to get rid of "green c***p" again? The Times reportsthat green taxes on energy bills will more than double by 2020, and tariffs to fund wind turbines and solar panels will lift average gas and electricity bills to £1,500 a year. Tim Yeo yesterday took to attacking the energy bosses in the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, telling them: "Your attitude is typical of a monopoly, particularly whose charges are not visible to the customers who are paying for them."   
Dave has received an endorsement from an unlikely source: Bill Gates. In an interview with The Sun, Mr Gates predicted that, "by 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world." He also praised the Coalition's decision to ring-fence the international aid budget, to 0.7 per cent of GDP, saying that "The UK's generosity is something people should feel good about" and the money wasn't being wasted: "Your ministry is smarter about doing measurement systems now, we work in partnership with them."
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The man with the Midas touch:
@chhcalling: King Midas accidentally touched two babysitters once and turned them into an Au pair.
In the Telegraph  
Best of the rest 
Cathy Newman in The Times - Lord Rennard: how the silence was broken
Daniel Finkelstein in The Times - Dave and Nick, time to prepare divorce papers
John Kay in The Financial Times - Look to the Bard for immigration lore 
Foreign Secretary William Hague to attend Geneva II peace talks on Syria.
9.30am HM Chief Inspector of Education, Sir Michael Wilshaw, gives evidence to the Commons Education Committee. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
9.30am Unemployment figures. Latest unemployment figures published by ONS.
9.45am Latest ruling on legal challenges brought against the Government's HS2 high-speed rail scheme.
10.45am Business Secretary Vince Cable gives evidence to the Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. Wilson Room, Portcullis House.
12pm Prime Minister's Questions.
12.30pm Culture Secretary Maria Miller gives keynote speech. Ms Miller will discuss The Value of Culture in front of figures from the arts, culture and heritage worlds. British Library Conference Centre, British Library.
2.15pm Commons Public Accounts Committee takes evidence on the impact of infrastructure investment on consumer bills.
3pm Environment Minister Dan Rogerson gives evidence to the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on the winter floods. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.

4.15pm Communities Secretary Eric Pickles gives evidence to the Commons Communities and Local Government Committee. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.