Friday, 28 February 2014

Backbenchers don't believe Cameron..

Good morning. Or should I say guten Morgen. Angela Merkel comes to London today to urge Britain to remain in the EU, to reinforce the relationship between the two countries, and to face questions about "naughty nephew" Dave and his dream of a major renegotiation of the EU's framework. Francois Hollande was asked an awkward question about his sex life; Mrs Merkel may well be asked a tricky one about Mr Cameron and his European tastes. She brings something else too: experience of coalition. The PM was asked about it at PMQs yesterday by Richard Bacon, who suggested he should consider a German 'grand coalition' with Labour to shaft the Lib Dems. Mr Cameron voiced his admiration for Mrs Merkel and in particular her ability to win elections, but concluded: "The idea of a grand coalition is a bit too much for me".
At which point you could see in the Chamber various Tory MPs nodding agreement. My report of a few days ago that the PM is considering public pledge to rule out a coalition whatever the outcome of the next election has set the cat among the pigeons. Danny Finkelstein and Matthew d'Ancona yesterday said in terms that the Tories would be mad to limit their options.The FT has done a leader on the theme today - "ruling out a coalition would be irresponsible of any party". It points out in particular to Mr Cameron that "as the head of the coalition trashing multi-party rule is tantamount to trashing everything he has done in office". Nick Clegg yesterday dismissed the Tory move as a symptom of tribal politics.
What's worth pointing out is the reaction on the Tory benches. From the conversations I've had, the idea of ruling out a coalition has been met largely with disbelief or contempt. It's the contempt bit that I find interesting. On the right, the reaction has been to laugh out loud. "He's delusional," one MP tells me, "if he thanks we will taken in by this". The view seems to be that offering a no-coalition pledge would do nothing to win extra votes. The most telling reaction I've encountered has been among those MPs who just don't believe him. They say that Mr Cameron may well make the offer, but on the morning after the election he will be guided by the numbers, and if necessary will do a deal. It's this that is most damaging to Mr Cameron: many of his MPs will not accept his word. They are in the position of Gordon Brown, when he told Tony Blair: "There is nothing that you could say to me now that I would ever believe".
So when he meets Mrs Merkel, Mr Cameron might well ask her the secrets of her success, and in particular how she has come to be in power for so long. The biggest gift she can make him is her tips on the art of the deal. Which would include not revealing one's negotiating position too early, keeping red ones in reserve, and never saying never.

Iain Duncan Smith is speaking to the House today about the Government's child poverty strategy - but he won't be able to mention a new formal definition of child poverty. George Osborne has got his way in blocking IDS's plans, the latest stage in the ongoing feud between the two. But they come together to co-author an op-ed in the Guardian, writing that "To see why Labour's measure of poverty – defined as 60% of median income – is so discredited consider these perverse outcomes. Measured child poverty fell because the Great Recession reduced median incomes, but in the real world nobody's life was improved by that. Equally, raising the state pension results in higher measured child poverty. That doesn't make any sense." Few will be fooled by the spirit of co-operation - tensions from Mr Osborne saying "You see Iain giving presentations, and realise he's just not clever enough", as reported in Matthew d'Ancona's book on the Coalition, remain.
A rise in the minimum wage is happening - but it falls well short of the £7 rate that had been briefed. The Low Pay Commission recommends that the minimum wage be raised from £6.31 to £6.50 on October 1, which is the first above-inflation increase in five years (a 3% rise compared with forecast inflation of 2.3%) in five years. It's the sort of positive story that both Coalition partners will try to claim the credit for. Still, the question remains: is a 19p increase really enough to steal Labour's thunder on living standards?

This is a critical development in the independence debate: Standard Life has become the first major business to warn that it could leave an independent Scotland. Its annual report, published today, outlines contingency plans to relocate operations to England, "in order to ensure continuity and to protect the interests of our stakeholders" as the chairman, Gerry Grimstone, puts it. It constitutes another blow to the economic credibility of the independence campaign. Alex Salmond may think he can win by appealing to voters' hearts - but voters won't put nationalist romance before their jobs. But the significance extends beyond Scotland: if businesses speaking out against independence proves a successful tactic, it is one that will be at the heart of the campaign to stay in the EU if there is any referendum. As a shadow Cabinet minister puts it: "the chief executives of Ford, Honda and Nissan will decide whether Britain remains in the EU."
Theresa Villiers is holding talks with Peter Robinson over Mr Robinson's threat to resign as Northern Ireland first minister after the collapse of the case against the suspected Hyde Park bomber John Downey. Mr Robinson is demanding a judicial inquiry into secret letters given to 187 Irish republican paramilitary suspects. On the Today programme, former first minister David Trimble said that "we need to find out how this process came into existence and operated" and warned: "You can't have a situation where Sinn Fein and the government get together to undermine the Good Friday Agreement."    RBS PREPARE £500 MILLION BONUSES
The Today programme has been giving decent airtime to complaints (recorded in the FT) about RBS preparing to award £500 million in bonuses while recording an annual loss of £8 billion. Although a decrease on last year's £679 million is highly probable, Labour still spies an opportunity to cause some awkwardness for the Government, with shadow financial secretary to the Treasury Cathy Jamieson saying that "Taxpayers will be staggered if huge bonuses continue to be paid out at a time when significant losses are being made."
"I believe man-made climate change is one of the greatest threats this country and the world faces." Those words from David Cameron in PMQs yesterday would not have pleased all his Conservative Cabinet colleagues, as I note in my blog, and are a rare recent example of Mr Cameron taking an unequivocal position that is at odds with the view of many on his benches. But what happens, I wonder, when a Cabinet figure - Owen Paterson or Michael Gove, perhaps - comes out and says climate change isn't all it's cracked up to be?
The former Labour Cabinet minister Patricia Hewitt is facing questions over alleged links with the Paedophile Information Exchange after it emerged that the National Council for Civil Liberties campaign group that she used to be general secretary of were prepared to offer legal advice to adults who wanted to have sex with 14 years olds.The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim WigmoreFollow Tim on Twitter 
Latest YouGov poll: Con 34%, Lab 40%, Ukip 11%; Lib Dems 10%
Once more unto the breach:
@jreedmp: Ah, my old foe, the Caledonian Sleeper...we meet again.
In the TelegraphPeter Oborne - We can get rid of Assad or fight al-Qaeda – not both
Benedict Brogan - David Cameron believes man-made climate change is the greatest threat we face. Does it matter if his colleagues don't?
James Kirkup - Angela Merkel in London: Once again, our future rests on German leadership
Telegraph View - Merkel’s visit is a chance to explain our EU vision
Best of the rest
Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne - The Conservatives' child poverty plan tackles poverty at source
FT leader - The tribal voices of British politics
Fraser Nelson - Cameron’s Northern Alliance
Tim Montgomerie - Want to be a Tory MP? That'll be £40k please
Iain Duncan Smith to announce new Government child poverty strategy in written statement. House of Commons.

Sutton Trust report on school catchment areas.

9am Call Clegg on LBC 97.3 radio. 

10am Nick Clegg speech on the Government's support for young people. Southfields Academy, 333 Merton Road, London.

11am Energy minister Michael Fallon speaks to Institution of Civil Engineers nuclear power conference. One Great George Street, London.

**12pm German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits London. Approximate timings: Address to both Houses of Parliament in the Royal Gallery of the Palace of Westminster at 1200. Arrival at 10 Downing Street at 1310 for working lunch. Press conference at 10 Downing Street 1435, audience with Queen at Buckingham Palace 1600.**

6.10pm The BFI celebrates the 30th anniversary of Spitting Image